During a recent conversation with a senior journalist she said whether or not we vote for the ANC, and whether or not we like the governing party, it remained for all South African citizens of the utmost importance to hope and to assist in better managing the country. It is, after all, also our right to get involved in the management of the country to ensure that our hard-earned tax money is used appropriately.
The one similarity between Solidarity as a member organisation and the governing party is that we as a trade union have to ensure that membership fees, just as tax money, are used effectively and prudently. Then there also are some of our members’ family members, relatives and friends who are not members of our organisation but who nevertheless want to see that we offer a good service to members and make a contribution to develop society as a whole.
Just as Solidarity would like to keep growing and to offer and achieve even more for our members, I can accept that the ANC would like to remain in power for ever; to grow the economy so as to earn more tax revenue; to create employment opportunities; to establish world-class education and tertiary institutions; to draw investors; to deliver quality service at all levels of government, and to achieve success with black economic empowerment.
With this in mind, government has been trying since 1994 to manage the country better by means of programmes such as the RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme), GEAR (Growth, Employment and Redistribution), the Africa Renaissance, Nepad (New Growth Path), Asgisa (Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative of SA), the industrial policy action plan, spatial development framework, phakisas on mining and oceans, and recently the NDP (National Development Plan). Unfortunately, none of these programmes has been successful.
Reaction to poor governance
Opposition parties and prominent citizens also regularly try to make the country a better place by forming coalitions in metropoles, disrupting sessions of parliament, establishing a new federation of trade unions, organising protest actions on service delivery, instituting legal action against government and demanding the head of the President through a politically correct forum, SaveSA. In addition, some big companies demonstrate their aversion to the way the country is being run by taking their business elsewhere, resulting in capable people who are job creators and major tax payers also to leave the country in protest – but all these efforts and reactions still do not result in a positive turnaround in the country.
In our efforts to make the country a better place, the Solidarity Movement on a daily basis is conducting campaigns to protect the interests of our members; to take on the government’s dominant ideological framework; to launch projects to alleviate poverty, protect civil rights, establish security structures, combat unconstitutional legislation, and if we could stop or delay an evil plan it does create hope, but in spite of all this the country is still being mismanaged.
The instant solution
Somewhere we are missing something, because it feels like the Bible Book of Ecclesiastes that all efforts to make the country a better place is simply chasing after the wind. I then look at my own workplace in the Solidarity Movement where things are done the right way and, as I have said, successes are achieved for the benefit of our members, supporters and fellow citizens, and then I wonder what is the difference between us and government. Flip Buys, chairman of the Solidarity Movement, gave the answer during the Solidarity Movement’s crisis meeting on 5 May 2015 when he said he believed the Movement’s success was rooted, apart from lots of grace, in the good staff appointments being made.
This is the instant solution to the country’s problems – good appointments!
The leadership philosophy of General Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the American forces during the Gulf War, was “appointing the right people is the most powerful instrument a leader has”. Schwarzkopf also said “if weak appointments are made, the leaders simply are going to fail”.
Steve Jobs, former head of Apple, emphasised that a chief executive officer’s main task was to make the right appointments, while Jack Welch, former head of General Electric, believed the right appointments were more important than devising a strategy. Jim Collins, author or the Good to Great series, supported this by saying the first task of a new leader should be “to get the right people on the bus; to get the wrong people off the bus; then to get the right people on the right seats, and only then to decide with the team where the bus was heading”.
Poor appointments in practice
If the private sector’s secret for success lies in appointments, the same principle should also apply in politics. Former President Zuma had good points, but wrong and poor appointments were some of his most important shortcomings and the entire country paid the price. By way of illustration, in a Rapport column on 19 February 2017, Tim du Plessis described Minister Lindiwe Zulu as “an abarrassment of a minister”, while she was the head of the important portfolio to grow small businesses in order to grow the economy and create jobs. And one of President Zuma’s most intimate cadres, Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, was minister of mineral resources at that time. Zwane was one of the worst ministers ever to be appointed to this important portfolio and he almost destroyed the mining industry, while his deputy minister, Godfrey Oliphant, an ex-miner and a mining expert, was constantly ignored for the job of minister, although he had the ability and standing to get the sector on track again. There is a crisis in local government and service delivery because of poor service delivery and a 184% overspending on their budget, but the “weekend special” of a minister of finance, Des van Rooyen, was heading this extremely important portfolio and was totally incompetent for the job.
In addition to all the wrong ministerial appointments, the leadership posts in the public service at all senior levels are also occupied by political appointments, and the specialists and knowledgeable people in government departments now mostly are held down below the “glass ceiling’ at middle management level. As a result, the important technocrats have only limited opportunity for inputs, while they have the enormous task of implementing and afterwards sorting out the mess of the ideologically disabled policies of those above them.
Government fighting its own people
During former President Zuma’s state of the nation speech in 2017, the Freedom Front Plus expressed their discomfort because everything that went wrong in the country was attributed to white people. The president replied that the ANC “did not hate white people”. This may be so and it is a debate that will be with us for a long time to come, but what is the governing party’s problem with its own people and especially the unemployed by undermining them to such an extent by poor governance? Government and Cosatu refer to the country’s so-called triple enemy of poverty, inequality and unemployment that ostensibly are caused by “white monopoly capital”. The real triple enemy of the country and in particular the poor is the outdated ideology that the state should control everything, individual craving for power and corruption.
Because the governing party’s poor appointments result in poor results and poor service delivery, radical legislation has become their instant solution to keep their election promises. But this is not working, because it is just as illogical as hitting a toy or an instrument with a hammer until it works.
What happens if a light eventually goes on?
All successful organisations and governments all over the globe have learned the value of good appointments, but our government still has to learn the value of sound and competent appointments across all levels of government and sectors. Once they have grasped this, the economy will start growing; government will collect more tax money; unemployment will decrease drastically; service delivery in most parts of the country will be at first world standards; informal settlements will shrink; crime will decrease; racial tension will switch to national pride; public schools will deliver the type of students to universities and colleges that can compete with the best in the world; affirmative action with a sunset clause will succeed thanks to a supply of competent people to the labour market; the Springboks, Proteas and Bafana Bafana will again become the top teams in the world; and America’s president Trump will be thanked for the high wall he has built around Nkandla.
Unfortunately, the unanswered question remains: what has to be done to make the governing party realise that the main victims of their poor appointments are their traditional supporters – the poor and the unemployed? Or is it a matter of choice – to keep your supporters poor, illiterate and dependent on the state?
Gideon du Plessis is General Secretary of Solidarity.