Thursday, February 20, 2014

South Africa: The future of South Africa: seven things that need to happen

Source: ISS
The future of South Africa: seven things that need to happen

A new paper by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), called South African Futures 2030,several plausible scenarios for the country, based on the most likely implications and actions by South Africans and their leaders.

Of these, the most prosperous scenario is dubbed ‘Mandela Magic’. In order for the country to be set on this pathway, seven strategic interventions are required.

The first is the reform of the state’s political institutions, Parliament in particular, to bolster accountability. Implementing the recommendations of the Van Zyl Slabbert Commission would go a long way in facilitating accountability between party leadership over rank-and-file legislative representatives, and the voters who the latter purport to represent.

Appointed in 2002, the commission recommended that the electoral system be changed to a mixed-member proportional system, with 75% of legislative representatives elected from 69 multi-member constituencies, and the remaining 25% from the party list, to ensure overall proportionality. In addition, Government needs to fully implement its stated intention to tighten regulation to avoid conflicts of interest. The ruling party needs to ban slate voting during its internal election processes, end cadre deployment in favour of merit and adopt general instead of narrow numerical goals regarding representation.

The second is a focus on values and ethics. While South Africans have among the lowest direct experiences of paying bribes in return for public services in Africa, public perceptions of corruption in the country are nevertheless remarkably high. This is due to the tolerance shown towards the abuse of public funds for personal gain that was widely reported to have taken place at the highest levels in the country.

To shed that perception, politicians need to lead by example, and Government has to demonstrate the importance that it attaches to the Chapter 9 institutions and other structures that deal with corruption. Action must be taken in every instance of abuse of public trust, and politicians need to be seen to take this action.

The third is to fix education, the most powerful policy tool that can shape South Africa’s future and uplift its citizens. South Africa has lost almost two decades in reconfiguring its education system – a failure in policy and implementation that contributed to the exclusion of many potential employees from a labour market that rewards good education, technical skills and entrepreneurship. Providing relevant education should be a top priority for all South Africans, for it is truly transformational and equalises opportunity.

Economic growth (to bring about increased employment) is the fourth priority. South Africa needs a growing economy as the backbone of its efforts to reduce inequality and implement responsible redistributive policies. Income inequalityharms growth and is socially disruptive at its current levels in South Africa.

The barriers to employment, such as rigid labour legislation, therefore need to be lowered, while innovation and entrepreneurship should be encouraged in order to unlock the potential of micro, small and medium-sized businesses. An environment needs to be created in which employers are willing to take on new entrants to the labour market so that they can accumulate the required work experience to make them valuable and productive employees.

Lowering the barriers to entry into the economy by cutting red tape and simplifying procedures is essential. In the process, Government needs to ensure that the hard-won gains of the Labour Relations Act of 1995 are not lost. Additional measures, as set out in the National Development Plan (NDP) to reduce inequality will also be required – although none can compete with a top-quality education system in terms of delivering opportunities for the poor and boosting employment rates.

In line with Nelson Mandela’s vision, the fifth priority for South Africa is the revitalisation of a common and active South African citizenship, as reflected in Chapter 15 of the NDP 2030. Government will have to embark on an extensive outreach process to provide formal opportunities and platforms for public participation as well as access to information (which it largely already does).

An active citizenship means individuals accepting responsibility for improving local issues where they can make a difference, such as refurbishing a local school, general civic engagement or involvement in local community organisations. It also implies the steady replacement of racial categorisation by a class-based analysis, along with a conscious effort to reclaim the non-racial traditions within the ruling party.

In the area of foreign policy and trade, the sixth priority is the need for regional integration and the revitalisation of the Department of National Defence and Veterans. South Africa cannot grow in isolation and its future will be influenced by what happens in the immediate neighbourhood, both positively and negatively.

If South Africa is to convert its leadership ambitions in Africa into practice beyond relying on its mantra of inclusive solutions, difficult decisions need to be taken in the defence domain. Despite having the largest defence budget in sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa is only the eighth-largest supplier of troops and police in Africa, and its future capacity is in decline. Time has come for a radical intervention if the country is to avoid future embarrassment.

To grow, South Africa needs to commit and stick to a single, clear plan that can ensure a predictable and stable future, along with an education system that produces appropriate skills and rewards excellence.

The authorities need to communicate and explain such a plan at every opportunity. Information needs to be provided to measure progress and impact. In today’s global world, and in a country that is integrated into the global economy, a high-growth path needs to be market- and business-friendly.

Given South Africa’s unemployment and inequality challenges, it is imperative that it increases employment levels and implements measures to create a more equitable distribution of wealth and opportunity. The NDP provides a framework, although, like all plans, it would need to be amended and improved over time.

To translate strategy into implementation, the NDP must be converted into national and departmental action plans that are regularly monitored and measured. If it is to be effectively implemented, the NDP must continuously address accountability failures and the service-delivery crisis in the public service. It must also provide clarity on the blurred boundaries between local, provincial and national spheres of government, and on the ways in which affirmative action (and lack of entry criteria) is implemented in the civil service. This is the final and seventh priority.

Jakkie Cilliers, Executive Director, Institute for Security Studies