Pali Lehohla, former Statistics South Africa head, also thinks free trade contributes to employment creation and increased incomes. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)
Pali Lehohla, former Statistics South Africa head, also thinks free trade contributes to employment creation and increased incomes. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

OPINION: SA needs unifying force to drive it forward

By Pali Lehohla Time of article published Jul 11, 2019

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Where did we lose it as a nation? Why are we in constant starts and stops? Is our democracy noisy or are we exercising it badly? Is public consultation meaningful or is it just lip service? What then do we need to do?

To answer these questions, a few illustrations that point to how governance continues to be weakened and public confidence gets dissipated are in order. Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) spearheaded a rebellion against paying e-tolls in Gauteng. This saga is now close on a decade old and the impasse has grown in leaps and bounds.

While at the beginning reports were flashed showing how well citizens were paying these fees, of late these reports have disappeared, suggesting that the campaign was but a damp squib.

Gauteng Premier David Makhura and his political administration, including the Gauteng ANC, have objected to the format proposed for e-tolling in Gauteng. Claims are awash that Gauteng performed badly in the last local government elections because of the e-tolls.

Before the national elections e-tolls continued to be a hot potato and Makhura swore by his ancestry that e-tolls were dead during his campaign trail.

He further emphasised this during his State of the Province address recently. But then Finance Minister Tito Mboweni took to Twitter and pointed out that the users must pay their dues for enjoying the benefits of the better roads. It has now taken President Cyril Ramaphosa to intervene between his subordinates to resolve the e-tolls matter.

The local government elections raised the heat on the issue of e-tolls.

Two-and-half years later it was the national elections.

Another local government election is fast on the horizon and the e-toll debacle will surely remain with us.

In the three years towards Nasrec we are reminded by how often the governing party has had to go into reflection sessions on various issues as layer after layer of the onion emitted gases that caused eyes to itch and nostrils to sneeze. To date, there are still many more layers being peeled and there is no end in sight.

What is oozing from the more recent peeled layers proves to be toxic and very dangerous, not only to the eyes, but to our health.

There is no doubt the economy is bleeding. There are other major policy decisions that remain in limbo besides the e-tolls.

The National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme is yet another important programme where it is unclear as to whether we are moving forward towards implementation or moving backwards to the drawing board.

Another worrying problem is power utility Eskom.

The recent power load shedding is over for now, albeit for low-key interruptions.

What is it that we are not told or we are not hearing? The National Development Plan (NDP), which was highly anticipated and accepted by all only receives sporadic mention of late and may be in dire need of oxygen.

Amid all these, soccer team Bafana Bafana, which has become the Eskom of our stadia, not only kept the lights on by beating Egypt last weekend in front of 75000 Egyptian supporters, but the team boosted our confidence, turning our nightmares into sweet dreams.

For the life of me this team reminded me of the Bafana Bafana of 1996. They brought back the Madiba spirit to the waning confidence of the nation.

What then do we make of this unclear, unfinished and foggy business? In 600 BC King Cyrus the Great of Persia reminded us of how wars are waged, minds are won and hearts are consoled. He is referred to as the father of Persia and the reasons are that he addressed the key evils that blighted his territory.

His formula was: “Whenever you can, act as a liberator. Freedom, dignity, wealth - these three together constitute the greatest happiness of humanity. If you bequeath all three to your people, their love for you will never die.”

In South Africa we won freedom, but there is no dignity in poverty and poverty is an antithesis of wealth. In short we are only a third way to what Cyrus advises us on. Cyrus is said to have been quick to learn from the conquered peoples and reconciling and uniting peoples was key to his strategy.

He would draw from traditions of a people and consolidate power by affirming these. Two centuries after his death it is said that the Achaemenian empire that he founded continued to expand. But what made Cyrus the Great real great was his mantra of diversity in counselling unity in command. This is what drives winning nations. Counsel was science-based and consisted of canvassing views and putting them through the eye of the needle to test them for operational effectiveness and efficiency.

Once the choices were made it was all hands on deck and unity in command. The 2010 way tells us that it is possible.

The e-tolls, the NHI, the fading seven year old NDP, the illusive Bruce Lee hall of mirrors type reflection leave scant hope that we have what it takes to confront the enormous task ahead. Yet Bafana Bafana has raised the hope of the nation. Their message is that planning in detail and unity in action is the winning formula.

Hopefully, they also delivered in their match against Nigeria late last night.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and former head of Statistics South Africa. Meet him at and @PaliLehohla.


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