Nation in a state
KRISTIN PALITZA | CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - Feb 19 2010 10:01
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Opposition parties heavily criticised the African National Congress’s economic policies, but offered few constructive alternatives at a Critical Thinking Forum on Thursday in Cape Town, organised by the Mail & Guardian and the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (Idasa).
The country’s high unemployment, income inequality and crime rates as well as the dysfunctional health and education systems caem under fire, which were in part blamed on a “leadership crisis” within the ruling party.
Following a week of heated debate after President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation address and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan's budget speech, representatives of the opposition -- but also of the ruling party -- realised political goals would not be achieved without cooperation between all stakeholders.
“It will not be possible to reach promises made. Not because there is no will, but because there is no cooperation,” declared Congress of the People (Cope) deputy president Mbhazima Shilowa. “The president and ourselves don’t agree with where the nation stands. The nation is in a state.”
Former Western Cape premier Lynne Brown, an ANC member, defended the ruling party’s achievements by citing “millions more people who have access to houses, services and grants”.
But even Brown conceded that “a lot more needs to be done” and that “we have to do [it] collectively”.
When discussing the details of solving the country’s key problem areas, the panellists struggled to find common ground, however.
Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi accused the ANC of being “in denial about everything, including crime and HIV/Aids”.
He said the government had failed to come up with workable solutions, suggesting the 2010/11 budget merely postponed tackling key issues.
Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader Athol Trollip agreed that delivery was poor, but believed empty promises, not insufficient budgets, were the problem: “Government is not doing well enough and not for lack of money. If you don’t put action to words you lose your credibility, and we’ve lost it.”
Unemployment was the main bone of contention.
Although opposition members generally approved of the ANC’s job-creation strategy through wage subsidies, youth development and training, they stressed that much more needed to be done to generate 2,4-millions jobs by 2020.
“We need a new way of thinking to fix unemployment and social fragmentation,” said Congress of South African Trade Unions Western Cape provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich. “We can’t tweak here and there and hope things will turn around.”
“The euphoria that followed Mandela’s release is undone by people’s lived experiences,” he warned.
“If we continue to marginalise people, the country will blow up in our faces.”
Independent Democrats president Patricia de Lille called for the government to “completely restructure the economy” to create more jobs, partly by fostering stronger partnerships with the business sector.
Opposition members also slated the country’s withering education system, but except for half-hearted suggestions to re-train teachers and increase parental involvement, propositions for recovering education levels remained foggy.
As the forum drew to a close, the ANC’s handling of the energy crisis was condemned by all and sundry.
While De Lille called state-owned enterprises money-wasting “bottomless pits”, Trollip complained about mismanagement within Eskom: “Infrastructure is collapsing. It’s gonna hit the poorest hardest.”
Ehrenreich said the only way to stop Eskom was to jointly oppose the proposed increases in electricity tariffs, but when Shilowa declared such efforts futile because “the ANC won’t oppose Eskom because of the benefits to itself”, his comments were met with approving nods and mutters by everyone but Brown.
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