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Events at Marikana last week, where protesting mineworkers were mown down by police gunfire, will dominate the headlines for some time to come.
The horror and tragedy that unfolded near that dusty koppie outside Rustenburg will be revisited during the judicial inquiry announced by President Jacob Zuma and re-lived in the nightmares of the survivors, their families and friends.
A bloody stain on South Africa’s post-apartheid record, the Marikana massacre, as it will surely come to be known, comes at a huge cost – and not only for the wives, sisters, brothers, fathers, mothers and children of the men who died or were injured and maimed when the guns started blazing.
The cost comes to the country – to each and every one of us who call South Africa home.
If a country had a psychological profile, ours would probably be diagnosed as bi-polar, with its tremendous swings from hope, enthusiasm and hilarity at one end of the spectrum, to despondency and despair at the other.
It doesn’t take much to make us deliriously happy. This week we should have been ecstatic, as our Olympians flew back home toting their stash of gold medals.
We should have been able to savour that glory.
We should also have been able to spend time absorbing the details of a plan presented by Minister Trevor Manuel to Zuma in Parliament.
The National Development Plan (NDP) is the country’s first-ever long-term blueprint for mapping our collective way out of the fix we are in.
It’s the result of more than two years of work and aims at taking the country to a future where none of us suffers from, or is threatened by, massive inequality, poverty and unemployment.
Manuel – the head of the National Planning Commission’s 25-member team of experts – would have been hoping to get a national conversation going about the plan’s proposals, which include targets and milestones.
Critics have dismissed it as a wish list. Opposition parties have embraced it, but – almost in the same breath – have also questioned whether it can be implemented.
Manuel has made it clear the plan is not the property of any one political party, but it is the president and his cabinet who will have to drive its implementation, at least until their term of office ends, when they will have to hand the baton over to the next administration.
Briefing journalists last week, Manuel said the commission did not speak on behalf of state departments and had been careful not to set itself up as a shadow cabinet. It saw its role as far more cross cutting, he said.
In Parliament on Wednesday, when Manuel handed the plan to Zuma, opposition speakers wanted to know what the extent of support for it was within the ANC. They wanted to know whether the divisions destroying the majority party as it heads towards leadership elections in Mangaung in December would not keep the plan locked in the starting blocks.
Last Thursday’s calamitous events in Rustenburg stopped any conversation about the plan in its tracks before it had even begun, as headlines and images riveted attention on the grievances of some 3 000 rock drill operators working at one of the world’s largest platinum mines.
This is where the striking rock drill operators take home around R4 000 a month, while the mine owner’s chief executive officer nets a salary of more than R1m a month, and a national office bearer of the National Union of Mineworkers – its general secretary, Frans Baleni – earns R1.4m a year.
It is this sort of gap between wages that helps make South Africa one of the most unequal in the world. Under apartheid, race created the big divide. Today, the split is more along class lines.
The measure for poverty used by the National Planning Commission was a breathtakingly low monthly income per person of R432 – which it said was earned by fully 39 percent of the population.
Among the aims of the plan is to reduce the proportion of people earning this little to zero percent by 2030. This would see South Africa’s Gini co-efficient – which measures the level of income inequality in countries – drop from a high 0.69 to 0.60.
To achieve this, though, South Africa would need to grow its Gross Domestic Product by nearly five-and-a-half percent a year – and create 11 million jobs over the next 18 years.
Most of those jobs, according to the plan, will come from small to medium-sized businesses and much of the impetus for their creation is predicated on increased exports.
For this to be possible, a range of other things must happen – almost all of them at the same time, and over a long period. Getting South Africa on the right track is not a quick-fix scenario.
The education system needs to start producing people able to do the kind of jobs needed to help make South Africa a global player. For that, we not only need capable and dedicated teachers, finely tuned curricula and well-provisioned and staffed tertiary institutions, but also proper nutrition and early childhood education for the very young.
Raising living standards, according to the plan, goes way beyond merely improving the amount of people’s income.
Focusing on 13 different areas, the plan sets out specific targets and recommendations for dealing with the issues that hobble development, including the lack of efficient and affordable public transport.
One of the legacies of apartheid planning means that the people who can least afford to, are the ones who live furthest from places of work.
“The costs of searching for and getting to work are high, and information about work is often unavailable… low cost and efficient public transport is essential… .”
In addressing the myriad challenges confronting the country, the plan recognises the need for “collaboration between all sectors of society and effective leadership of government”.
“In a society with deep social and economic divisions, neither social nor economic transformation is possible without a capable and developmental state,” it says.
A capable state, it explains, is one with the capacity to devise and implement policies that serve the national interest; a developmental state drives the country’s growth to build capacity to address the causes of poverty and inequality.
While noting the gains made since 1994 – consolidating fragmented apartheid governance structures, for example, and increasing access to education, sanitation, housing, water and electricity to millions of people – the report does not shy away from articulating deep-seated problems in government.
“The foundations have been laid, but weaknesses in how these structures function constrain the state’s ability to pursue developmental objectives.
“The main challenge has been unevenness in capacity that leads to uneven performance in local, provincial and national government.
“This is caused by a complex set of factors, including tensions in the political-administrative interface, instability of the administrative leadership, skills deficits, the erosion of accountability and authority, poor organisational design and low staff morale.
“The weaknesses in capacity and performance are most serious in historically disadvantaged areas, where state intervention is most needed to improve people’s quality of life.
“There have been many individual initiatives, but there is a tendency to jump from one quick fix or policy fad to the next. These frequent changes have created instability in organisational structures and policy approaches that further strain limited capacity,” says the report.
It talks about the deficit in skills and professionalism in the public service, and how reporting and recruitment structures at senior levels allow for “too much political interference” in selecting and managing high-level employees.
“The result has been unnecessary turbulence in senior posts, which has undermined the morale of public servants and citizens’ confidence in the state.”
Interestingly, the report notes that efforts to shore up the fragility of the state may be doing more harm than good, especially in trying to achieve constructive relations between the different spheres of government.
“A lack of clarity about the division of responsibilities together with a reluctance to manage the system has created tension and instability across the three spheres of government,” the report says.
“There is no consensus on how this is going to be resolved and there is a lack of leadership in finding appropriate solutions.”
However, while these “co-ordination problems” are not unique to South Africa, “the issue is how they are dealt with”.
“New initiatives have often been ad hoc, with responses to individual problems being implemented without adequate consideration of the cumulative effect.
“This has resulted in public servants becoming increasingly overburdened with paperwork.
“Initiatives targeted at preventing misconduct often focus on restricting the scope for discretion, but this has the unintended consequence of limiting the scope for innovation.
“Reforms are needed that will enable people to do their jobs by strengthening skills, enhancing morale, clarifying lines of accountability and building an ethos of public service.”
To deal with poverty and inequality, the state must play a developmental and transformative role, says the report, but the Catch-22 is that this requires well-run institutions peopled by skilled staff.
“By 2030, the South African economy should generate sufficient opportunity that enables those who want to work the access and possibility to do so,” the report says hopefully.
“It should create opportunities and work for all, while ensuring human rights, labour standards and democratic representation. Progressively over time, the vision of decent work should be achieved, in an expanding economy, with rising skill levels. Constructive labour relations should be conducive to an inclusive economy.”
The cost of the breakdown in relations between people, and the failure of leadership that led to the kind of bloodletting that seeped into Rustenburg’s dust last week goes much further than dampening the national mood.
It will depress the economy, as investors weigh up whether or not the country is teetering so close to their perceived precipice as to make it worth betting the other way on whether or not we tumble over the edge.
The multiplicity of factors that combined in the explosive cocktail that ignited at Marikana will cost us in real terms.
In the 1980s, when the struggle against apartheid was at its peak, one of the more useful slogans was “Don’t agonise – mobilise”.
It was aimed at stopping people from allowing themselves to be so overwhelmed by grief and despair that they would sink into acquiescence and acceptance of the injustices that needed to be fought and rebelled against.
These were often people at physical and mental breaking point, worn down by the brutal excesses of the regime.
We are not at that same juncture now, but the need to stop agonising and to start mobilising has never been more important.
Marikana tells us so – and the National Development Plan, in a way, provides a guide to moving from where we are to that much better place where we would rather be.
But it also identifies the crucial ingredient for the changes it so tantalisingly holds out to become possible: good leadership.
It offers a chance for us as South Africans to come together and forge a future where there will be less chance of a repeat occurrence, or worse, of what happened in Rustenburg.
But this will take leadership.
In the years of desperate violence that preceded the country’s first democratic elections in 1994, the doom-mongers and naysayers were predicting the country would erupt in a civil war.
What happened instead was hailed as a miracle.
Marikana can plunge us into doom and gloom, or we can use it as the catalyst to put us, and the country, on the path to healing.
But for that we need leadership.
And at the moment, there’s not too much of it in evidence.