OPINION: Better the devil you know in political choices
JOHANNESBURG - Coalition politics are generally a positive feature of a maturing body politic.
But they are also a feature of a “second hand car dealership” of wheeling and dealing amongst the political elite.They also facilitate corruption. In that regard, they are a feature of a weak state. Lesotho, the country of my birth, has classically perfected this political wheeling and dealing. And South Africa seems to be a very brilliant student if the current local government contestation is anything to go by.
With 2019 fast approaching, the Zondo Commission on State Capture will stand out as perfect fodder for the public to assess where we have been and where we could be headed.
In a very dramatic way, the commission places before us questions on what informs our choices. In 2009 we were faced with a similar situation where society was served with allegations against then resident of the ruling party Jacob Zuma. Our vows were etched on better the devil we know. In fact all the Tzunami adherents rapidly fell out of favour and were only seen in the casualty ward of political contestation no sooner than Zuma took office. The Zondo Commission sets for us the exact conditions of choice in the 2019 elections.
South Africa faces an examination and test on their capacity to learn from history in the making of choices.
The trove of the Gupta leaks and the VBS Mutual Bank heist have given us clear indications that the choices are not going to be about who is best to govern but about who is not worst. Coalition politics are therefore not a feature of maturing democracy but a weak state. The hollowed out economy, credibility in institutions and capacity to govern represents that which has fallen from the dizzy heights.
What are then the crutches South Africa could use as it attempts to rise out of this sorry state of affairs? Statistician-General Risenga Maluleke provides these crutches for society to be informed in their choices. In his recent mirror of society on labour markets, Maluleke does not only show that the patient is in comatose but the evidence it is terminally ill.
We have to step back and evaluate what this evident state of unemployment means and how it informs our planning.
We have to ask ourselves whether it is not time that we use this evidence to assess our politics, especially in the face of the imminence of coalition politics. This may go a long way to strengthen the state of the state. If it were so how then would the political parties assess the performance of their mayors? Possibly differently. Looking at the third quarter Labour Force Survey (QLFS), there is no doubt from the evidence that the executive mayors of the Cape Metro and Durban have not been the worst in the contest of the ugly. Their unemployment figures have shown a consistent pattern of improvement well below the national average of 27.5 percent. When this evidence surfaces, the country has to ask what is it that the outgoing Patricia De Lille and Zandile Gumede have done to address that which has set the country in comatose and near inescapable mortality.
In our high political stakes characterizing weak states, our road out of it is through the use of the raft of statistics from Maluleke. This should inform our choices of political leadership and long term planning and plans, lest as excellent students of coalition politics of weak states we emulate our teacher neighbor Lesotho. In politics it is true better is the devil you know. Statistics is that devil.
Dr Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa and former head of Statistics South Africa