1. FAILURE TO IDENTIFY AND COMBAT THE THREAT OF AIDS
The pre-1994 government of FW de Klerk was slow to identify and deal with the threat posed to life, the economy and society by the rapid spread of HIV and Aids. 1994 presented an opportunity for a democratic government to adopt a progressive approach combining treatment, prevention and education. Unfortunately, this did not happen. A healthy skepticism of conventional wisdom on Aids turned to denialism in the highest echelons. More than a decade passed before government finally began seriously addressing treatment. In the meanwhile, the epidemic brought death to the door of tens of thousands of families.
2. THE FAILURE TO BUILD CAPACITY IN THE PUBLIC SERVICE
The “sunset clause” in the transition should have prevented the flight of old order skills from the civil service post 1994. It didn’t. It was inevitable that the new government would identify old order bureaucrats – sometimes with justification, sometimes without – as “obstacles” to transformation. The problem was that the baby got thrown out with the bath water and solid technical criticism of proposed policies was ignored at great cost. This and the departure of old order civil servants left government unable to follow through and implement sound policies. Key failures have been in the health department where the broadening of health services has been accompanied by poor service and in education where outcomes-based education has not been supported by sophisticated teaching skills.
3. THE POLITICISATION OF CRIME
For several years after the 1994 transition, crime was not prioritised by the new government under President Nelson Mandela. The origins of this were political. The new government was distrustful – with some grounds – of the police leadership who had been at the forefront of apartheid repression. Mandela himself believed there were institutional backers of the hostel violence which flared up in the early 1990s. This gave organised crime several years within which they could establish a powerful presence, buying influence which continues to this day. The eventual response was to establish a “clean” agency outside of the police to tackle organised crime – The Scorpions. But it was too late. As the Scorpions began to uncover powerful politicians involved in organised crime, they came under political attack. They are now being closed down for good by the ANC.
4. THE SQUANDERING OF DIPLOMATIC AUTHORITY
POST 1994, South Africa was the darling of the world, an example of how a human rights struggle had led to a peaceful transition to a constitutional state which was among the world’s most progressive. South Africa’s diplomatic authority drew from this well of moral authority and principles governed diplomacy. When Nigeria violated human rights, South Africa under Mandela led the charge to get it expelled from the Commonwealth, for example. But this human rights based foreign policy soon gave way to “quiet diplomacy”. Instead of speaking out on human rights, South Africa began to downplay human rights in favour of a pragmatic approach, apparently in a bid to extend its influence. The result has been that we have lost our human rights halo and we have been embarrassingly manipulated by the likes of Robert Mugabe into appearing to back his delinquent regime.
5. THE FAILURE TO EMBED DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTIONS
SOUTH Africa entered the world of nations in 1994 with a powerful, progressive constitution and an array of impressive institutions designed to see to it that we never returned to the inequity of apartheid. Parliament’s windows were opened to the nation and the public were invited to participate in the making of legislation. Fast forward to 2008. These days, 100 000 submissions by the public against the disbanding of the Scorpions are treated with angry disdain by MPs. The highly effective Public Accounts Committee has been turned into a party rubber stamp. The truth is that there has never been a belief in the ruling party in the sanctity of institutions such as Parliament. Instead it – and other “independent” watchdogs have been seen as “sites of struggle” to be mistrusted until party loyalists hold the whip. Party appointees have come to dominate independent institutions. In this environment, the patently rotten arms deal has been defended in the face of massive evidence of corruption – some of it to be found in judgements delivered by the high court. Now even the judiciary and the Constitutional Court are seen as “counter-revolutionary” threats to be weakened and cowed by politicians.
Aids does appear, finally, to be receiving serious attention by government. And the ANC have also acknowledged their big mistake in ridding, in a clean sweep, the public service of most of the highly experienced white employees they inherited from the old order. That’s two positive developments.
However, against the overwhelming odds threatening this country’s future stability, those two positives are about as effective as a flickering candle in a black blustery night.
The disbanding of the Scorpions is so clearly a blatant manoeuvre to protect those in the ANC who have good reason to fear the crack crime-busting unit, that the party’s credibility must be almost beyond redemption, internationally.
And the utter contempt shown by ANC MPs for public opinion (clearly in favour of retaining the Scorpions) is a forceful reminder of just how arrogant they have become.
This government’s failure to uphold the principal of human rights at the United Nations which has earned South Africa the label of a rogue democracy, is yet another indicator of the decline of a movement which in 1994 showed such moral promise.
I can’t wait to read: “The five biggest successes of the new South Africa.” Hopefully the piece will give us readers cause for a bit of optimism. The Lord knows we need a little cheering up.