Crime, Aids and unemployment point to an ineffective state


Four years have passed since the euphoric glory of April 1994 in which the present government took office. It took some time for the ANC election posters with their confident promise of “Jobs, jobs, jobs” to become tattered and get taken down, and even after that, shares in construction companies scaled record heights for a while in the expectation of a house-building boom that never, in fact, materialised. The “people-driven RDP” of fond memory turned out to be mere rhetoric.

As this issue of Focus reflects, the scene today is almost unimaginably different. The rash of bank heists with their unexampled and brazen displays of military-style planning and force have dramatised the challenge that crime presents to the new state, a challenge apparently constituted in large part by former members of the liberation army which the state had seen as its key support. The Foundation’s other publication, KwaZulu-Natal Briefing, has set out evidence suggesting high-level political involvement in some of these heists, and since its publication we have seen the arrest of Robert McBride, a leading government official and ex-MK cadre, on suspicion of gun-running.

The state’s ineffectuality is even more clearly displayed by the ever-advancing HIV statistics which now show that almost 50,000 South Africans a month are contracting the disease, that we have the fastest-growing Aids epidemic in the world and that it is already too late to prevent an enormous human disaster. The fact is that the actions taken by both the de Klerk and Mandela governments to prevent this scourge have been culpably timorous, small-scale and lacking in the necessary determination. Instead, the government has got itself into an absurd tangle over Virodene and has preferred to destroy the Medicines Control Council rather than abandon its embrace of this apparently quack remedy.

“A better life for all”? Not for the crime victims, Aids sufferers or the many who have joined the unemployment queue since 1994. The really dramatic comparison is between their continuing and absolute poverty and the rapidly growing wealth of the new black elite. The recent spat between President Mandela and the Archbishop of Cape Town derives essentially from the fact that this trend is so visible and dramatic that church leaders are bound increasingly to comment on it.

As Premier Ben Ngubane points out, no one in government would ever have imagined four years ago that April 1998 would look like this. It is as if the train has set out on an entirely different track than the one advertised or which the engine driver believed he was on. Yet while the passengers are getting jumpy, the train crew seem tolerably well satisfied with themselves. The most important reason for this — as Lawrence Schlemmer’s survey shows — is that as yet the damage inflicted on that the ANC’s hold on its electorate is still relatively slight. Racial solidarity, the force that kept an apartheid government in power for years while it perpetrated such iniquity on the country, is now operating just as strongly to keep its successor in power.

Happily, our history shows that in the end even racial solidarity cannot defy gravity forever. Moreover, although the government has started badly, it has real achievements too. Instead of pretending that it has achieved what it has not or attacking the press, NGOs, the Opposition and the archbishop as counter-revolutionaries, the government would be better advised to talk about those real achievements. The measure of black-white reconciliation it has brought about, despite some inevitable recent fraying, is still a very positive and remarkable fact, and to this it has now added a parallel detente with the IFP. After many years of negative growth in the 1980s, the economy continues to show positive, albeit slow growth — no mean achievement given the collapse in the gold price and sky-high interest rates. Inflation is lower than it has been for decades and the national debt is being ratcheted down.

Unfortunately, the government has responded to the pressures on it by introducing a series of labour laws, including the Employment Equity Bill, that will endanger these achievements by perversely destroying jobs and discouraging investment. Rachel Jafta’s article in this issue of Focus is eloquent on the costs involved. For all the many follies of his cabinet colleagues, the man who has done the greatest damage of all to the new South Africa is the likeable and capable Labour minister, Tito Mboweni. If the government feels bewildered at its loss of direction, all it has to do is remember its own slogan of 1994: jobs, jobs, jobs.lity of alternation in power. Politicians, like the rest of us, need to be kept honest by the fear of losing.