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SA, where the cat’s colour is as important as its ability to ...

Ideas

SA, where the cat’s colour is as important as its ability to catch mice

In a country with a well-defined economic policy it wouldn’t matter, but SA’s policy is unclear and undefined

Pali Lehohla

SA presents itself as a country of deep conundrums, one in serious need of catharsis to achieve enduring social compacts. They are underlined by Saul seeking to be Paul and the Prodigal Son seeking cleansing after wasting his fortunes and being picked from a pigsty by his father. The book of Acts throws up several conundrums regarding Saul’s name-change to Paul, often referred to as the Damascus moment. Saul the persecutor is said to have been blinded by light on his way to Emmaus. Jesus ordered his rescue and restored his sight, after which he became the apostle Paul. Another transformative moment is captured in the Gospel of Luke, in which Jesus narrates the parable of the Prodigal Son, who through greed asks for his inheritance. His father obliges. He squanders it on wine, women and worldly wonders, ultimately becoming poor. He finds a job on a farm and works in the pigsty. It is here that his father finds him, cleanses him and restores him, but his siblings are unhappy about the gesture. This column focuses on the possibility of a Damascus cum pigsty moment for SA.

When Andrew Donaldson talks about the South African economy you need to pay attention. He recently spoke to financial journalist Alishia Seckam at the Think Big Series. He has been quoted as saying: “South Africa’s public-sector employment programmes were too small and unambitious.” In a webinar on budget prospects and how SA can extricate itself from the Covid-19, unemployment, poverty and inequality crises, Donaldson labelled budget proposals austere, saying the consequences of such will result in worse outcomes for SA. His remarks predated last year’s July riots, the recent floods and supply-chain disruptions.

SA’s deepening crisis has precipitated debates on the correctness or otherwise of policy positions and postures it assumed in the run-up to the 1994 settlement an thereafter. Donaldson, like many of us who were in the thick of things, albeit in different roles, was in the Treasury from the beginning of the transition and probably bore the fiercest critique on what became derogatively known as the class project of 1996 — to date an unsettled debate on what policy position SA best represents. Is it Gear (growth, employment and redistribution) or RDP (reconstruction and development)? Thus, when Donaldson speaks on policy matters, especially those drifting from Gear, you need to take note. This matter is not one of dogma or one that fails to appreciate the pragmatism captured by former Chinese president Deng Xiaoping when he said: “It does not matter what shade of red the cat is, as long as it is good at catching mice.” Far from it, in that Deng’s tactical compromise was in the context of a well-defined economic policy and paradigm in China. So when Donaldson makes these profound statements in the context of our unclear and undefined policy arena, the cat’s shade also matters. ..

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