Particularly over the past decade, every aspect of the South African society has been eroded by skewed transformation policies. Initially the erosion of our institutions, on its path to total destruction, manifested almost unnoticed and unhindered, simply because very few dared to criticise it openly.
Those who dared venturing into this ‘forbidden territory’, had to do it so carefully and so diplomatically, that it caused far too little discomfort. Even well-meant criticism was simply brushed aside and depicted as anti-transformation, anti-revolutionary and labelled racist – reminiscent of the past.
King Solomon cautioned that “when the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong”. Ecc. 8:11.
The full impact of many misguided policies is still awaiting South Africa. If the decay of the last decade, in almost all spheres, caused by distorted transformation policies, cadre deployment and patronage, with accompanying disastrous inefficiencies, entitlement and corruption - policies which only cause steep social and economic decline with not a single example of success - was to dawn upon South Africa suddenly, the nation would be horrified. Unfortunately, it is only slowly dawning upon us, bit by bit. Like the frog in warm water, we are almost getting accustomed to it, resigned to the inevitable, even apologetic about it, tolerate it and, worst of all, even justifying it - the good men standing by doing nothing or simply not enough.
But then, with a stroke of luck, ESKOM happened. When the lights went out, everybody (that is with the exception of the populists and the nationalists) realised that it is these policies, more than anything else, that have caused the downfall of ESKOM, with the risk of collapsing South Africa.
There must have been a realisation, at least with some, that exactly these policies inevitably have a similar effect on every institution where these policies have left its mark - education, health, infrastructure, the SABC, the Post Office, SAA, Transnet - the list goes on and on. It is, however, not only the institution being severely affected; it is the social fibre of society which is eroded. The erosion happened slowly at first, even hard to detect. Then it accelerated, became more visible, coinciding with society being unable to respond - out of fear of being out of touch and out of favour with the so-called ‘progressive movement’.
In ESKOM’s case we are fortunate that the lights actually went out - at least for a brief period; hopefully long enough for the wise among us to perceive the consequences of continuing with these foolish and reckless policies and actions. It forced our leadership to act - somewhat decisively - at least in the case of ESKOM.
In other spheres of society, unfortunately, the ‘lights do not go out’; at least not suddenly. Poor education, as an example, can continue into perpetuity - sucking up billions, wasted on poor educators (of course there are many exceptions). The danger here is that our eyes simply get used to the fading ‘light’, but the eventual impact, as in many critical areas, will be worse than the lights actually going out, as in the case of ESKOM.
WAS SONA AND THE BUDGET SPEECH A TURNING POINT?
Then came Wednesday’s budget speech. Although Minister Mboweni had to work with what was handed down to him - a country mismanaged to the brink of total ruin, a ‘dark valley’ - his message was honest and his views refreshing.
The fact that the President was closely involved in the preparation of the budget speech, adds even more to the invitation of hope. It strengthened within me the emotions of hope and expectation.
Is the overall political leadership going to take wisdom from the ‘ESKOM scenario’ and from the direction given by Minister Mboweni? If they do, we may just escape a much more serious predicament than just the loss of power. If they don’t; well, what will it take to realise the foolishness of these policies – perhaps another Zimbabwe or Venezuela?
If South Africa continues on its current path, where important sections of our society, which is capable of making life saving input, are marginalised, even eliminated, the eventual consequences will indeed be disastrous, leaving nothing and no one unaffected.
This opinion piece is by Gerhard Papenfus, Chief Executive of the National Employers’ Association of South Africa (NEASA).