Sep 08 2008

From first to last in 15 years

Published by at 8:26 pm under Opinion,South Africa

First published on 25/5/2005 on my old blog

As a journalist in South Africa my two biggest and most pleasant surprises in the years between Nelson Mandela’s release and the 27th of April 1994 were the evolution in the economic thinking of the “democratic movement” (read government-in-waiting) and the incredible depth and quality of leadership in the movement. 

Ten years later the first continues to surprise me and the second has turned into a source of concern. 

About the first: In 2002 Stellenbosch academic Sampie Terreblanche revealed in an interesting book what was behind the ANC’s major change in economic thinking, namely a secret “pact” between Nelson Mandela and big business favouring liberal economic policies. 

Although I reported extensively on what the media called “the economic debate” in the years before and after 1994 I must confess that I never knew, or had the faintest notion, that such a secret “pact” existed, or could exist. 

I always just reported enthusiastically and naively on every new “breakthrough” in the debate for the “liberal side”. And when the “liberal side” finally and convincingly won the “war of economic systems” I thought the media was partly to thank for the result. 

Of course, since prof. Sampie’s book I know how naive I was. 

For the record, I thought the “moment of victory” for liberal economic ideas in SA came with the publication by government of its Growth, Employment and Redistribution program (GEAR) in June 1996. At least, for everyone standing on the sidelines that looked like the moment of victory. 

Of course, the real moment of victory came with the conclusion of the secret “pact”. Prof. Sampie reckons the secret “pact” was agreed in 1993. 

Which means I “wasted” 3 years in parliament between 1994 and 1997 trying to strengthen the hand of the liberal cause with my reporting. Little did I know I was fighting a war which was long over. 

It would be interesting to know which individuals (on both sides) were in on the deal. 

And whether people who played prominent public roles in this “economic debate”, such as then Sacob boss Raymond Parsons and then JCI economist Ronnie Bethlehem, knew about the “pact” all along…. 

And economist Rudolf Gouws was a friend of Bethlehem. Did he know? If he knew, did other Afrikaans-speaking economists know? 

If they did, everyone really played their hands very well. Because, no journalist ever knew (or at least, said anything in this direction). 

But, all of this is just one, long introduction. I really want to write about that “second big surprise” – the depth of political leadership at SA’s disposal in the mid-90′s. 

In the years after Mandela’s release the depth and quality of leadership in the broad-based freedom movement was stunning. In parliament, outside parliament, in labour organisations, civic organisations and government. 

Everywhere. And all were impressive. 

Young leaders (for example Marcel Golding) and old (Joe Slovo) , male leaders (Cyril Ramaphosa) and female (Jill Marcus). (To name just a few.) 

It was clear that years of struggle and living in exile had bred a huge crop of excellent leaders. It was a very relaxing thought at a time of great upheaval and uncertainty. 

It was what differentiated SA from the rest of Africa. 

In parliament relative strangers (to the mainstream media) like Jill Marcus, Maria Ramos and Alec Erwin were impressive like all hell. Trevor Manuel and Tito Mboweni went on learning curves so steep one sometimes feared they would fall over backwards. 

Outside parliament impressive people like Van Zyl Slabbert were waiting eagerly to contribute their experience to the new SA. 

Ten years later I fear for the depth and quality of the leadership pool. And often think of all the leaders we’ve lost – for whatever reason, I don’t know. 

Take the top position. In 2009 (15 years into our new democracy) we would have gone from Mandela, to Mbeki to Zuma. From having the best leader in the world to having the worst leader in Africa. 

In parliament the exodus of leadership with business and financial expertise began in the opposition ranks. By 1997 (when I left) most opposition politicians with business savvy had gone. And a great number of good ANC politicians had swopped politics for a life in business – noticably affecting the quality of debate (and probably of legislation) in parliament. 

I assume this trend continued after 1997. 

Probably the biggest loss was the departure of Cyril Ramaphosa shortly after he had overseen the writing of SA’s new Constitution in 1996. 

He was very impressive throughout the 2 years it took to write the Constitution – ask any National Party negotiator!

Since then he has added employer-side experience to his extensive labour-side experience. 

Now, there is a good candidate for president after 2009. (Is there anyone out there brave enough to enrage the ANC with a “Ramaphosa for President” campaign?) 

If we can’t have Ramaphosa, then Trevor Manuel would be a good alternative. But, Zuma? No thanks.

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