Less moaning and more meaningful action, please

Ideas

Less moaning and more meaningful action, please

There's a lot of blather about unemployment, women abuse and corruption, but no political will to act

Columnist

Why is SA so dull, so poor, at growing its economy and creating jobs? Why is it that, quarter after quarter now for a decade, the release of the unemployment figures plunges one into a major depression?
Last month it was the unemployment figures. This month it is women empowerment and the non-stop deluge of stories of women abuse across the country. No one asks: why haven’t we seen real change in the status of women in general and why haven’t we seen a dramatic drop in the number of violent, murderous attacks on women? Why do things remain the same?
Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that we like a big speech, a nice function with a huge marquee and loads of tenders for chairs covered in white cotton, but no real policy change when it comes to these and other issues. We moan about the lack of jobs – listen to every politician in parliament, including those of the governing party – but say nothing about making the hard decisions that need to be made to turn the tide.Eskom is broke. Yet its workers demand exorbitant salary increases. When the case is made that there is just no money, they do not just go on strike, some sabotage the electricity grid. We know what Eskom needs now: belt-tightening by executives and workers, stopping the corruption that runs rampant in that entity, collecting debt from those who do not pay, and focusing on providing an excellent and reliable service.
The government is broke. It has been getting deeper and deeper into debt for the past 10 years. Government debt has ballooned from below 30% of gross domestic product to 50% in 10 years. What do government workers do? They demand – and get – above-inflation salary increases.
Change is not easy. Negative cultures breed quickly and calcify. In the civil service, clock-watching, instead of the ethos of BathoPele (People First – remember that slogan?), now seems to dominate.
In business it’s worse. Corruption runs rampant. Everyone wants a cut. It is a time of greed, of me, me, me. Deals are carved up for the benefit of those who have a hotline to power. Big money is offered to those who are prepared to discard principle. This is the negative culture that breeds and grows and multiplies, and one day you wake up and realise that you can’t stop it any more. But why? Why can’t it stop?To my mind we have reached a point in SA where we need to stop lying to ourselves and start thinking deep and hard about, firstly, doing things differently and, secondly, actually implementing the things that work but won’t make us many friends.
Think about corruption. We know it’s a drain on the economy – money that should be going to services for the poor is diverted to corrupt politicians’ pockets. If we are serious about fighting corruption surely we should be doing far more than is being done to put prominent people in jail?
We lack the political will. It’s easy to just let it be business as usual.
Why isn’t someone having a frank and tough talk to trade unions about tightening their belts? We lack the political will. Why aren’t we stripping so much of the bureaucracy out of starting business here so that more young people can start enterprises and employ people? We lack the political will.
Political will is what you see when you look at the swiftness with which the new Ethiopian leader is implementing reforms. Political will is when you hear South African businesspeople return from Rwanda and say, wistfully: “If we could do what they do to attract business ... Or clean their streets ... ”The point is that you have to start something and finish it, resolutely. You can’t grow spineless midway. Former president Jacob Zuma once vowed to confront the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union over absenteeism of teachers in schools. Within a year he had stopped talking about the issue. The list of failures of this sort in our politics is endless. We talk, we don’t do. We lack the political will to implement tough, necessary but unpopular policies.
So. Next time some loud-mouthed politician says they stand against violence on women, dare them to introduce a parliamentary bill to send women batterers to life in prison (it might not be the solution, but it would help). That won’t happen, though. They will make a speech and not be held to account for it.
We need to see some political will in action. Please.

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