It is difficult to escape the sense of an endgame in progress, not between the ruling ANC government and its assorted opposition, but within the ANC. Thus the cleavages between parties has now finally come out in the open inside the ruling party, too.
Between the forces of modernism and tribalism, populism and order, radicalism and pragmatism, ethics and its absence. And a few shades in between. It is hardly straightforward. For is it merely a duel between corrupt cadres and clean ones? Or does it go deeper, also regarding the policy frames they stand for? The future outcome depends on it, whatever shade gets on top and gains a free hand in shaping things (until eventually also checked by new forces brought forth by an evolving SA society).
What we have at present is the worst of all worlds. A corrupt clique stealing the state systematically blind, along with a micro policy mix fixated with a flawed developmental state concept (SA variant Mark X) seeking to force demographic change in a worsening stagnation reality.
This worst of all worlds gobbles up state resources while putting the productive private sector on the defensive, making businesses and professionals inclined to seek opportunity elsewhere in the world. This combination invites further stasis, in job levels, poverty, inequality, even if its composites change over time.
Three more approaches are possible:
One in which corruption survives, but where a different policy paradigm reinvites business back into the game, restarting the growth engines, if with an imperfect income & wealth redistribution
One in which corruption is replaced with clean government, but where the policy paradigm remains one of an incoherent developmental state (SA variant Mark Y) still failing to instill confidence in private growth engines, thereby preventing growth from making a comeback, still failing to escape stasis
Lastly, the best of all worlds, where clean government weeds out corruption thoroughly, but also adopts a different policy paradigm, re-engaging private confidence, restarting growth, with planned income and wealth redistribution socially optimising the fruits of growth.
Henry Kissinger loved to explain 50 years ago that the bureaucracy’s idea of giving advice is to offer two clearly unpalatable options, with the remaining option the obvious one to go for, and this just happening to be the wish of the bureaucracy, too. Are there any other options?
The radicalised factions certainly offer a whole slate of them, going by election mandates (We, the People). But I don’t need yet another live experiment to prove what works and what doesn’t.
Anyway, I don’t think anyone is asking advice. What we will be getting is already floating around in a particular head. We will only find out that agenda once the fight is over and there is only one winner left standing.
From my vantage point, I can only see two emperors-elect in the field, the ruling one and his deputy. They may be recognised by their proxy battles, not getting involved themselves, but sending in trusted lieutenants. Just like the Cold War, just smaller scale….
This is more obvious of Jacob, so far the master of stealth, as than it is of Cyril, the uber master of super stealth, the latter by virtue of talent and the unenviable reality of being the underdog, whereas Jacob has at his disposal all the levers of institutional power, force, destruction.
Such irony. Jacob got invited to balance the Thabo ticket, delivering Kwazulu. Cyril was brought in by Jacob as acceptable NDP figleaf while the real agenda was greedy self-serving radicalised transformation, for him presumably to be discarded when the time was ripe.
How such miscalculations keep on being repeated.
In the event, hubris got the better of the president, civil resistance to his rule mounted, and instead of effectively neutralising it, he and his growing band of associates apparently have been digging ever deeper holes.
We have now arrived at what looks like matchpoint and the knockout blow, where the president has to neutralise the clean government types in order to proceed with his rule and consolidate its grip for future generations. This simultaneously becomes the moment where the clean government crowd has to decide whether that is really acceptable.
These groupings are by now well defined, even if the machinations are often of the background variety. It would seem both camps have decided 3 August is D-Day. Moving earlier could cause mishap for either.
The president knocking out Gordhan pre-maturely, pre-emptively, would impart deep financial market mayhem & fallout (though would it really matter to him – even so, perhaps he doesn’t want to weaken his weakening hand unduly in the final roll of the dice?).
Similarly, moving against the leader ahead of an election might do too much irreparable damage to the brotherhood, keeping the longer term in mind – no use in winning the battle & losing the peace.
Either calculation could be wrong. Both seem to apply. Post-election, one expects to see the ultimate spectacle in sumo wrestling, outshining even 2007. But then this time both principals are masters. Or appear to be.
Following this tiff, we will have an opportunity to examine which scenario world will open up for us. The existing one Worst of all Worlds growing progressively dimmer over time?
The Best of all Worlds finally succeeding in escaping 70 years of adventuresome nationalism, setting us on the road of breaking out, achieving genuine structural change regarding living standards, unemployment, poverty and inequality?
Or one of the imperfect half-way station options, either getting growth going again half-heartedly but retaining bad corruption, or getting puritans in the saddle who keep searching for the ideological holy grail without ever finding it?
The price we are paying here is for 400 years of ineptitude coming to a head. Not falling off the high wire would be an achievement. A very imperfect start was made in 1910 with Union.
Another building bloc was added in 1994 with full democracy. But the completion of this very complex project awaits. And yours may well be the lucky generation to see it to fruition. Or the unlucky one being devoured by it.
And basically two individuals will decide this, if with a supporting cast of many thousands (and many more tens of millions of television viewers and social media practitioners, locally & abroad).
We can’t complain of life being boring down here. That was a past and will likely be a future problem. But not here and now.
This article is written by Cees Bruggemans, Bruggemans & Associates, Consulting Economists; and published here with Cees Bruggemans’ kind permission.
ABOUT CEES BRUGGEMANS
Dr CW Bruggemans is: Chairman, Bruggemans & Associates Consulting Economists; Consulting Economist, Avior Capital Markets; Consulting Economist, Bureau for Economic Research (BER), and Stellenbosch Honorary Professor of Economics, University of Stellenbosch