The working class has always remained mobilised through service delivery protests in communities, strikes in the workplace and #FeesMustFall protests at universities, says the writer. Picture: Independent Media
We need leaders who are at all times champions of the national interest in general and the national economic interest in particular, writes Kuseni Dlamini.

South Africa is at an unprecedented state of business, middle and upper-class mobilisation which has seen a sharp reduction in political apathy since democracy in 1994.

The working class has always remained mobilised through service delivery protests in communities, strikes in the workplace and #FeesMustFall protests at universities.

Most business, middle and upper-class people are more engaged with politics today than at any other time since 1994.

This is a new and interesting development in the country’s post-apartheid politics. It is important in post-apartheid South African politics with implications that will continue to unfold.

South Africa may be shaken but she is not broken. The plethora of protest actions demonstrate its rich culture of democracy at the core of which is freedom of speech.

This past week’s events highlighted the seismic shifts and fault lines at play in the country’s body politic which, in turn, had very clear and felt adverse impacts on the economy and the markets. When politicians fight, the economy suffers.

Politics is a theatre of constant contestation and jostling for hegemony. It is about a perpetual war of positioning within and between parties. It may be naive to expect politicians to miss leveraging an opportunity to advance their cause or positioning.

However, this requires a high level of statesmanship. It is imperative to have rules and processes to manage fights and differences within ruling or governing parties.

Their fights affect and impact the economy and society at large, especially played out in the open. They may run the real and serious risk of weakening rather than strengthening the state of the nation.

That’s what played out this past week. The drama and finger pointing was palpable. It was a week of the long knives as different forces, factions and tendencies within the governing ANC locked horns.

Rating agencies, S&P and Fitch responded by moving in to punish with downgrades of the country’s foreign currency denominated bonds (which account for 10% of the country bonds) to sub-investment grade.

The other 90% are local currency denominated and remain at investment grade. Ratings agency, Moody’s placed the country on review.

The downgrade was largely of the country’s political fundamentals rather than its economic policy fundamentals which remain intact until new changes emerge from structures such as the forthcoming policy conference, the State of the Nation address or Budget speech.

Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba has assured the country and the global investment community there will be continuity in the well-regarded and prudent economic policy framework.

A downgrade by Fitch will result is South Africa falling off the global bond index which will result in about $10 billion in investment outflows as mandate driven fund managers get compelled to take their funds to investment grade rated markets.

Staving off another downgrade was one of our top national priorities. This required a united front and a consistent narrative emphasising policy continuity and commitment to implementing the economic transformation agenda in ways that promote inclusive economic growth and job creation. It required us to move beyond words to take the right actions to deliver the right results.

Moving forward, the country must implement the right structural reforms to move growth closer to 5% and beyond. On the political front, leaders need to say and do things that unite rather divide their parties. Divided and quarrelsome parties and leaders are enemies of political stability and social cohesion.

Good leaders always think about and consider the intended and unintended consequences of their words and actions. They should also think about and consider the medium to long-term consequences and implications. South Africa is endowed with world-class leaders.

South Africa needs leaders who are neither short-term nor factional in the execution of their duties. We need leaders who are at all times champions of the national interest in general and the national economic interest in particular.

Our leaders should be outstanding champions of social cohesion and social solidarity.

* Dlamini is a member of the National Council of the SA Institute of International Affairs.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Sunday Independent