Our future and our way of life are at stake By Ray Hartley
The rise of the movement to place in power Jacob Zuma at best an incompetent, at worst a man who believes it is acceptable to take bribes poses a grave risk to this country.
To date the political battle between President Thabo Mbeki and Zuma has been cast as simply another political power play. It is more than that.
It threatens to unstitch the political and economic fabric which has been so carefully sewn into place over the past 11 years.
The ascendancy of Zuma from icon of the left to mass populist figure has just begun; it is hard to see how those within the ANC who remain opposed to corruption will turn the tide.
They have allowed Zuma to seize the initiative and have failed to offer the public a credible leadership alternative to fill the vacuum which Mbeki will leave when he steps down in 2009.
They appear to be relying heavily on institutional action to save the day, waiting for the criminal justice system to deliver a knock-out blow by finding Zuma guilty of corruption.
Zuma and his growing band of supporters are meanwhile outflanking them by challenging the very foundations of these institutions.
They are fighting for and winning the battle to have the Scorpions stripped of their independence.
They are openly striking at the credibility of the judiciary and demanding that they have a veto over who is appointed judge *1 in Zuma’s trial.
They have already discounted a guilty verdict and made it plain that they will see Zuma as a martyr around whom to mobilise in the event of such a verdict.
They are, in short, a few steps away from power.
Which begs the question: what will they do when the levers of the state are in their hands?
The answer ought to frighten those who cherish this democracy. It is not a difficult scenario to sketch. The likely platform of such a presidency has already been frequently aired in public it’s just that nobody has been paying attention.
Zuma would be a heavily indebted president. He would owe political favours to the curious alliance of ultra-left and/or dishonest politicians who are pinning their hopes on his ascendancy.
The first assault of a Zuma presidency would be on the independent institutions of democracy, with the greatest effort going into the destruction of the power of independent prosecution as exemplified by the Scorpions. Zuma has already made it plain that he holds the Scorpions in contempt.
Institutions such as SARS, which would threaten the successfully prosecuted but newly rehabilitated elite, would find their independence curtailed.
Parastatals would likely find themselves under new and less independent management as the crony state takes hold.
Credible, skilled persons holding office in such institutions would flee to the private sector, or abroad.
This would, in turn, open the society to corruption on a massive scale. Without the diminishing prospect of judicial consequences, the scale of graft and fraud in the public and private sectors would escalate.
The populists have made the delivery of services to the poor one of their causes, but, ironically, service delivery would all but cease as the state machinery stuttered to a halt, mired in corruption and bereft of skills. The poor would suffer, perhaps all the more harshly because of the cloak of anti-poverty that the state would wear.
Businesses needing to interact with the state would find themselves forced into cronyism. Those that did not play along would find themselves isolated.
The media, that part of it still willing to expose and confront corruption, would find itself operating in a hostile political environment.
Zuma would be indebted to the left; its new-found populist leaders, such as Zwelinzima Vavi and Blade Nzimande, would be likely to find their way into the Cabinet, where their anachronistic economic fantasies could become reality.
Labour liberalisation is likely to be reversed in favour of a highly regulated labour market in which job protection would be further entrenched.
Against this background, the disincentive to employ would increase.
Inflation targeting would be abandoned in favour of the left’s frequently expressed desire for a low-interest rate-led growth path.
The upshot of all of this would be a deterioration in South Africa’s sovereign rating as global agencies re-rated the country’s debt-worthiness.
This would increase the cost of capital for the state and for state-owned enterprises which would diminish the resources available for the delivery of services.
The poor, unable to enter the stratified job market and without the support of efficient state agencies to deliver welfare, health and education services, would eventually rise up.
Political risk would increase and the state would find itself without the institutional wherewithal or the political will to reverse the trend.
South Africa would find itself unable to deal with a collapsing Zimbabwe as the left asserted its agenda of economic isolation.
The spectre of corruption past would haunt the head of state, who would be privately mocked by his peers as he assumed his seat on the world stage.
South Africans who think the Zuma carry-on is an amusing piece of showmanship, wake up. Your country is facing ruin.