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Power politics is ruining SA. We need a dramatic shift in focus

With 45% of the population unemployed, we can’t afford to allow greed and power to distract us from our priorities

By Justice Malala

There is much we can learn from the pupils who protested against apartheid education back in June 1976.

They were focused. There was a real and urgent crisis facing them and the country. First, they were being force-fed Bantu education, a malevolent and racist system of teaching the aim of which was to keep them in menial jobs and ignorance. Second, they were being threatened with being taught in Afrikaans, the language of their oppressors. The pupils didn’t hold endless talk shops. They marched on the authorities. The regime responded with murder: 176 people died in the days immediately after June 16, with some estimates ranging up to 700 dead in the months afterwards.

What we can learn from that terrible winter’s day is this: the pupils were facing an urgent, major crisis and they took steps to deal with it head-on. They did not get distracted. They did not dilly-dally. They faced it.

In contrast, look at us today. SA lurches from one scandal to the next. We are mired in ANC factional politics which, today, resembles the ruinous actions of Zanu-PF to the north of us. Our society and its focus have been dragged into the back-stabbing, the blackmail, the sloth and the bickering of the ANC’s corrupt, dirty, internal battles.

On the international stage, we were a laughing stock last week. We have moved swiftly from a president who handed over the running of the country to his financial backers, the Guptas, to one who stashes money in the furniture at his farm — and is now being blackmailed with exposure of more stories.

In society, we are so busy giving running commentary on the ANC’s miscreants, we have taken our eyes off the ball. We have lost sight of what our real priorities are. SA faces many real, urgent and major challenges. At 34.5%, we have the worst unemployment figure in the world among countries surveyed by Bloomberg. The unemployment rate is worse if you use the expanded definition (that is, if you count those who have given up looking for work), which stands at a staggering 45%. That means half the workforce is at home. If they have a home, that is. More than 7.9-million people are unemployed today.

We have to probe why it has been so hard to prioritise, coordinate, cohere, cascade down, streamline and pinpoint the necessary catalytic interventions necessary to embed and institutionalise the NDP.

Prof Tinyiko Maluleke

That is a crisis. Yet, in SA, we devote far more column inches and airtime to the people who did not go to the police to inform on President Cyril Ramaphosa for his misdemeanours or crimes until it suited their agenda. Today, some of our MPs devote far more parliamentary time to threatening Ramaphosa with exposure of money being counted on planes than on the real crises facing the country. They don’t even try to at least do both things. They just focus on what the one ANC faction tells them.

This is astonishing given the problems this country faces. In April this year Prof Tinyiko Maluleke, the deputy chairperson of the national planning commission, said the body would be focusing on implementation of the national development plan and its priorities of fighting poverty, hunger, inequality and unemployment. Why focus on implementation when the commission’s work is to plan?

“If implementation is slow or non-existent, planning alone is clearly insufficient,” Maluleke said. “We have to probe why it has been so hard to prioritise, coordinate, cohere, cascade down, streamline and pinpoint the necessary catalytic interventions necessary to embed and institutionalise the NDP within the departmental, provincial, and municipal plans.”

This lack of focus and implementation is deadly. Children are dying of malnutrition in SA. Our people are starving, and yet we read that the 10,6-million people who applied to receive the R350 social relief of distress (SRD) grants from April 1 have not yet received payments for April and May. What do we think they have been subsisting on in such inflationary times?

These should be national priorities. Yet here we are, swept up in the power politics of the ANC. The answer to our problems is staring us in the face. We are too busy with the noise, instead of the substance, of politics. It is time to reflect, deeply, about our priorities and focus on resolving them with or without the ANC.

What do we want? Well, many in the ruling party merely want power — and the doors that power can open for them to loot. The country needs something else entirely: the transformation of SA into a powerhouse that feeds its people, educates its children, employs its workers and ensures health and comfort for its elderly and the frail.

We need to focus on these priorities the way the Singaporeans and other winning nations have done. We are doing the 1976 generation — and all freedom fighters — a huge disservice by being distracted by selfish, manufactured crises aimed at amassing power for the greedy few.

Justice Malala is a Sunday Times columnist

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