Needs of SA's majority must be put ahead of elite, narrow interests

President Cyril Ramaphosa has been battle to stem the pushback in the ANC against his attempts to clean up on corruption. /Gallo Images
President Cyril Ramaphosa has been battle to stem the pushback in the ANC against his attempts to clean up on corruption. /Gallo Images

SA has a good democratic architecture with a protection of civil and political rights, an independent media, separation of powers and independent judiciary, institutions designed to protect ordinary people from abuse of state power and a vibrant civil society.

Nevertheless, the phenomena of state capture that has swept over the country, details of which are being laid bare at the state capture commission chaired by deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, has tested the integrity of the various sectors, including the media.

A year into the Zondo commission, what has become evident is that although SA invested in the establishment of strong institutions and the rule of law, these have been undermined by the deepening socioeconomic malaise. It is common cause that SA faces existential or structural problems that predispose society to persistent unemployment, inequality and poverty - which are inextricably linked. But these are not insurmountable. Other societies have found ways to change course and improve lives.

At 29%, unemployment is at its worst levels since 2003, and the shedding of jobs and failure (or unwillingness) to create new jobs is a clear signal that business confidence is low. And it's not just a matter of encouraging foreign investment, but a question of enticing local investors to see value in putting their money, ideas and effort behind SA Inc.

The CR17 leaks put into perspective the significance of politics on the country's economic trajectory. Not only have the leaks highlighted the disproportionate influence of money on the county's politics. The details emerging about those who received money from President Cyril Ramaphosa's campaign for the ANC presidency demonstrate how societal dependency on the state through patronage, the tender economy, and grants due to an exclusionary economy makes politics all the more susceptible to manipulation by moneyed interests.

Ramaphosa was seen as more desirable than his predecessor former president Jacob Zuma, when in the lead-up to his ascension to the presidency of the ANC and the country he punted a new dawn. When he took over following his victory at Nasrec and Zuma's resignation, Ramaphosa seemed to inspire confidence. He was held in a good light internationally as having the right image as well as ethical and moral gravitas to lead a country shaken by allegations of large-scale state corruption and looting.

Even so, he inherited a divided ANC and not only has he failed to get his detractors behind him, but he has been unable to stem the pushback against his attempts to clean up the mess through numerous inquiries and the commission into state capture.

In their book Why Nations Fail, Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson draw a distinction between inclusive and extractive political institutions. They define inclusive as pluralistic and sufficiently centralised to enforce law and order to support economic activity, trade and human security.

They highlight the link between economic and political institutions and note that: "Extractive political institutions concentrate power in the hands of a narrow elite and place few constraints on the exercise of this power.

"Economic institutions are then structured by this elite to extract resources from the rest of society. Extractive economic institutions . must inherently depend on extractive political institutions for their survival.

"Inclusive political institutions, vesting power broadly, would tend to uproot economic institutions that expropriate the resources of the many, erect entry barriers, and suppress the functioning of markets so that only a few benefit."

The political settlement of the early 1990s produced the consensus that led to the creation of a democratic SA with inclusive political institutions. But these have been suffocated by the political power play and elite collusion and substituted by extractive institutions to coexist with the extractive and exclusionary economy.

The CR17 leaks, although not indicating any illegality on Ramaphosa's part in terms of breaking any laws regarding party funding in 2017, do show that he is not above the fray of the elite contestations that lead to the prioritisation of narrow interests above those of the country's majority. It remains for Ramaphosa to demonstrate that he has the will to take a different course.

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