While debates will rage about whether the Multi-Party Charter will have the numbers it needs to win or not (or whether it will lead to the worst possible outcome of an ANC/EFF coalition), I do think it is useful to ask how the coalition grouping should approach governance should it win.
The question is, what should it prioritise to attract investment, boost government revenue, cut sovereign debt, and ensure a steadily improving country for all South Africans regardless of where they are on the economic rung?
What are the pressing issues?
It seems to me that they can be bunched into three separate categories: infrastructure development, economic vitality, and public service competence. Here, I think it is vital to point out from a strategic point of view that South Africa is not an island, and any plan to set it on the path to prosperity cannot discount broader geopolitical forces and some of the structural weaknesses in countries that highly skilled South Africans move to.
It is worth saying that despite the wreckage job done on this country by the ruling party, South Africa remains a place with fantastic weather, relatively cheap quality housing (something that is not true of developed nations), a world-class banking system and telecommunications industry, a free press and world-class schools at the top end in the form of elite private schools, low fee private schools and former Model C schools, and a very good private healthcare system.
It is worth pointing out that highly skilled South Africans emigrate because of infrastructure and safety issues (crime) and a feeling that the country lacks a future and a dynamic job market. Many still return despite this, as pointed out in an SABC interview by Simonne Adcock, a Generalist Senior Recruiter at REDi Recruitment. She goes on to say that one of the key reasons expats return home is for family, as their families are still based in South Africa:
'The standard of living might be higher (internationally), but the way we live in terms of space and freedom – security issues aside – South Africans actually have a pretty great way of life, and people miss that abroad.'
I would argue that any plan the Charter might have must address how to attract back skilled South Africans, as they are force multipliers who will increase government revenue (the ability to pay debt and finance desperately needed infrastructure programmes). Also because their spending power will stimulate demand in the economy which can be leveraged by entrepreneurs to create businesses and therefore jobs.
It is quite clear to most South Africans that a good deal of our misery is tied up in aging infrastructure that is either poorly maintained or intentionally sabotaged to feed tender contracts to “fix” the infrastructure. While infrastructure development and maintenance are the job of local municipalities, they are interdependent with national, provincial and district government functions. Municipalities also depend on SOEs such as the power utility Eskom and the water boards to function properly.
Municipalities cannot influence local economic development in isolation from national and provincial governments. The charter must look to exert pressure on municipalities from both the national and provincial level and execute plans to fix the infrastructure within their purview, while keeping an eye on 2026 and the local municipal elections. Devolving powers to the lowest possible level as per the charter agreement must be part of this strategy. This should be done carefully as part of a push to win more municipalities in 2026, especially key urban municipalities like Johannesburg, Tshwane, Ekurhuleni, eThekwini, Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City.
Public Service Competence:
This ties into the necessity to end cadre deployment and have a professional public service appointed purely on suitability, qualifications and experience. Johann Kirsten and Helanya Fourie of the Bureau for Economic Research point out in a 2021 article in The Conversation how municipalities can play a key role in economic development:
'Our research note identifies several cross-cutting problems within South Africa’s local government sphere. We look at service delivery and explain how issues in supply chain management and the audit process can cause poor or non-delivery of basic services. We also highlight some financial performance metrics that contribute to poor outcomes. Examples include low expenditure on repairs and maintenance and inadequate debt collection rates. Finally, personnel vacancy rates are high. And there is a lack of competencies. Political influence and interference in the appointment of managers and other municipal executives contribute to the problem.'
While this is obvious, it is worth stating that infrastructure development and maintenance need a professional, competent and committed public service, something the charter members have agreed to. The authors of the piece go on to argue for enacting a mechanism that sanctions or removes municipal officials who consistently underperform. The charter must give careful thought to this. It would enable them to flush out and remove corrupt and incompetent officials.
While infrastructure development and a professional public service are important, they must be seen in service of the goal of getting South Africa to become an economy that is growing and creating good jobs, so that South Africans across the economic spectrum can provide for themselves and their families. We have a large unskilled and young workforce and a billion people north of us who need goods like clothes, pots and pans and other wares. The Charter must prioritize seeking investment that will put South Africans to work and make them as productive as possible while fighting off the unions who would frustrate their efforts.
It seems to me that any kind of welfare in this country should be serving the elderly and disabled. We should aim to ensure that every child has access to a good education (school vouchers). There should be a universal healthcare system as in Switzerland and Singapore, that has plenty of incentives and a role for the private sector. Otherwise, it should all be about putting able-bodied South Africans to work.
Pragmatism and skill
Simply put, the first step is hope that a functioning Multi-Party Charter will prove to be the desired elixir for a weary and battered Republic. But that hope must soon be followed by pragmatism and skill and (hopefully) patriotic leaders who understand – like the Irish leaders of the Tallaght strategy – that this country is at a crossroads and any petty squabbles and short-sighted politicking will not be worth whatever Pyrrhic victories flow from them.
We, the voters, deserve better than that, and so do all the children in this country who will inherit the results of decisions made by our politicians in 2024 and beyond.
The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR