Tuesday, 13 February 2018

SA is Not a Democracy part 1

Democracy is a loose term. It can mean different things to different people. It is a loaded word and has been used and abused to promote ideologies and organisations of all types. Heck, even North Korea considers itself a democracy!

The word democracy comes from Greek and means 'rule by the people.' See why it is a loose term? 'Rule by the people' can mean a variety of different things. Today when we speak about democracy we are usually referring to representative democracy, where we choose leaders in elections who are supposed to represent our interests. Great! So different groups of people with different interests elect leaders, so that everyone is represented in the government and those leaders sit and have big discussions so that the country is run in the way that is best for everyone.


The first problem is that here in South Africa government doesn't make decisions by discussion and compromise. It makes decisions by voting and the vote is won by a simple majority (excepting of course for amendments to the constitution.) So if a party has 51% of MPs, that party holds all the power. And since the number of MPs is proportional to the number of votes, 51% of the voters can effectively control the lives of the other 49%, given how much power the government has over individuals in our country.

The next problem is that only 16 million of our 55 million population votes, which effectively means that just over 8 million people can control the lives of the other 47 million. I'm sure most of you are starting to see a problem here.

Now the nature of our ruling party makes the above problem much worse. Most of the country votes blindly for the ANC. They are almost guaranteed to win the elections no matter what. The ANC has over 700 000 members, organised into about 5000 branches. There are about 500 other voting delegates at elective conferences, but for simplicity's sake we will assume there are 5000 branch delegates who vote to elect the ANC leadership and thus their MP's. Each delegate needs 51% of his branch vote, and each ANC leader needs 51% of the delegates' votes. This means, that in the extreme situation 26% of ANC members can choose the party's leadership,and thus the path the country will follow. Doing the maths, that's less than 200 000 people determining the destiny of more than 55 million.

These calculations are both rough and simplified, but they illustrate just how few people are making the decisions that we are supposed to be making as a nation. And even then, we are still assuming that these elected leaders act according to the will of the people who elected them.

I know this has been a bombardment of figures and statistics, so let me make a final point for those who don't really care for numbers. Our situation is summed up very well by looking at the times of greatest political change. With Jacob Zuma about to be ousted after years of controversial and morally bereft leadership, it is clear that more change in the country comes out of the ANC elective conference than any other occasion, including the national elections. That is not democracy.

Thus we see that in spite of the endless propaganda bragging about our democratic ideals, South Africa is not really a democracy at all. But then what is a true democracy? The Greeks didn't just give us the word democracy, they gave us the whole concept. In part 2 I will explain, referring to the ancient Greek model, how we can have a real democracy.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Hoërskool Overvaal

Grade 8 is a long time ago for most of us, but just try to think back for a moment to your first year of high school. Now imagine you only had two teachers to teach all your subjects, all 12.One might teach English, Afrikaans, History, Art, LO, and Geography, and the other, Maths, Science, Biology, Accounting, Business studies and Technology. This sounds awful to me. And not only that, it is completely impractical. We all know that a jack of all trades is a master of none. A teacher that has to focus on teaching so many subjects will never be very good with any of them. Yet this is Panyaza Lesufi's solution to accommodating 55 English speaking pupils at Hoërskool Overvaal.

Late last week Lesufi published an article in response to the court ruling that Hoërskool Overvaal cannot accommodate 55 English speaking pupils. You can read that article here, but basically what it says is "race, race, racism, racists, race, racist." But to be serious, the article equates the whole situation to a racial incident, which can only be done by someone who sees the world only through the goggles of race. This tells us a lot about Lesufi's character. It seems he is someone who is stuck in the glory days of the struggle and alongside his other antics shows that he is more concerned with attracting the attention of the media than with doing his job.

But enough about Lesufi. Let us touch briefly on the actual argument before addressing the broader education problem in South Africa. The court judgement stated that the school did not have the capacity for 55 English speaking pupils. Furthermore it is completely impractical to have just 55 pupils in a school like this for reasons we have discussed above. It really is simply a question of practicality.

Now the parents of the 55 pupils have a legitimate concern regarding the fact that there are no English speaking schools in the area. But let us consider who as at fault for this. Not the school and definitely not the North Gauteng High Court. Lesufi with his choir of protesters are turning the high school into a scapegoat for the governments failings. Why was there not an English school built there long ago if there are so many English kids? Lesufi has a lot of criticism to dish out for someone who is not doing his job very well. 

But to be fair to Mr Lesufi, it is a job that is impossible to do well. It is impossible because of the nature of our education system. Firstly, the people at the top are politicians, not educators. This means that they don't really know what they are doing. We need educational experts running our education system, not unqualified bureaucrats. Second, we need a decentralised system. It is impossible to run thousands of schools from a central organisation, especially when that organisation is the government, who's leaders have no real incentive for performance in a country where politicians are held to very low standards. 

The simple solution is this: Government must get out of education. Because of our history and socio-economic circumstances we will need a transition period where the government still funds education, but this must be done through a voucher system where each child gets a certain amount each year for education, but the government has no say over curriculum or placement or language policy. A system where many people are looking for and finding a multitude of different solutions will always produce the best results. The freedom given to educators will bring positivity back into the learning environment and competition between schools and educational systems will only benefit learners.

The Hoërskool Overvaal saga is mole hill made into a mountain, but is is also just a symptom of a much bigger problem. A problem to which the solution is not more government control, but less of it. We cannot expect the organisation that is causing all these problems to solve them if they have more control. We need to free our schools, our teachers and our principles to provide quality education, without government interference.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Opposition Wins Again

Cheers erupted from the ANC caucus in parliament as speaker Baleka Mbete read the results of the secret ballot vote of no confidence against Jacob Zuma. 177 for. 198 against. The irony is that this group of jubilant souls were only celebrating their own demise.

To say the opposition lost would be technically accurate, but not at all a fair reflection of the bigger picture. The vote of no confidence failed, but the opposition won. You see, this was always a win-win situation. The very idea of the no-confidence vote was to put the ANC between a rock and a hard place. That is why we have had 8 of them already. Each time the ANC votes to keep Jacob Zuma in power they tie themselves ever closer to their greatest liability and alienate those who "love the ANC but hate Zuma." Every time the ANC caucus puts their weight behind Zuma they lose seats in the 2019 election.

I'm sure most ANC MPs know this, but are more concerned about saving themselves from the whip of party discipline than saving the party from the wrath of the voters and the mire of immorality. Though sometimes I do wonder.

On the other hand, voting Zuma out would also be a dangerous road and additionally, it would be an unpredictable one. No one really knows what would have happened had the required 50 ANC MP's broken ranks and had the president removed. It is far from inconceivable that it would cause an irreparable rift and possibly a split in the party. Far less likely, it would have been the turning point for the ANC to course correct and repair its once honourable reputation. But those possibilities are just what-ifs now. The ruling party has chosen the slow poison.

The only way for the ANC to escape this trap would be to recall Zuma itself. This would allow them to show some semblance of morality while not bending to the will of the opposition, though at this point it may even be too late for such a move to still be considered a show of strength. But this hasn't yet and certainly will not happen until at least the electoral conference in December. There are too many people high up on his side who would go down with him.

The country needs Jacob Zuma gone. But Jacob Zuma is not the extent of the problem. The ANC is the problem. You cannot separate Zuma from the ANC, and the secret ballot vote proved that. Zuma is not unique, he is a representation of what is happening in the rest of his party. Most of the ANC are as morally decayed as Zuma. If it were not so, he would not be in power. The whole party needs to go.

So while the DA and the EFF publicly mourn the retaining of President Zuma, privately they will be celebrating another hole fired into the sinking ship of the ruling party, all while its hopeless crew drown, shackled to their own pride.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Just Us and Venezuela

As we approach the decade mark since the start of the great recession all countries are now in recovery, well, all but two that is: economically devastated Venezuela and yup, you guessed it, South Africa. As of, well now, along with Venezuela we are the only economy (out of more than 200!) in recession.

First off, this means that any excuses about a slow global economy for our our limited growth are null and void. Second, although they are major contributors, Zuma and the Guptas are not the sole cause.

I'm sure most people know that there is trouble in Venezuela, but probably not the extent. In 1998 Hugo Chavez and his United Socialist Party took over the government, and as with all socialist projects things were wonderful at first, with the poor suddenly having access to housing, healthcare and education amongst other things. But socialists live on borrowed time and things quickly turned south. In 2016 Venezeula's GDP dropped more that 18% and inflation rose to 500%. Today the people of the once most prosperous state in South America are starving. The shops are empty and when they do have food lines stretch for hundreds of metres outside the store and around the block. And to make matters worse, Chavez' successor, Nicolas Maduro just used a bogus election to take control of all branches of government to further oppress the people.

So now you're thinking, "But Venezuela is nothing like South Africa?" You'll be surprised at the similarities:

  • Venezuela's economy is completely oil based, so when the oil price collapsed several years ago, so did their economy. Our economy is heavily reliant on the mining sector and so when there is trouble in the mining industry, as there has been in recent years, the whole economy suffers. Fortunately, unlike Venezuela, we are not completely a one-trick-pony.
  • When oil prices were high the Venezuelan government used the money for extensive social spending. When the oil price dropped they decided to keep spending and so put themselves into a debt crisis. Our government also does an unhealthy amount of social spending and it is putting us in debt. Yes many people have a better quality of life courtesy of the government purse, but if you feed the people today with tomorrow's bread, tomorrow the people will starve.
  • The United Socialist Party of Venezuela came to and maintains power not on sound policy and economic principles, but on populist rhetoric and Robin Hood economics. That is the same way the ANC maintains power. Free housing, free electricity, grants and government handouts: people are far more likely to believe according to what pleases the ear than what is true. They don't realise that the magic well of free stuff will eventually run dry.
  • Finally, and most importantly, the power in Venezuela is too concentrated. The government does far more than it should ever need to do, even by mainstream centre-left standards today. This is the root of the crisis. In South Africa the government also does far more than it has the right to do. It can't handle all the responsibilities it has taken upon itself, but it is yet seeking more. And worse yet, power within the government is becoming more centralised, with the Zupta faction now controlling the national assembly, the NPA, the judiciary, the public protector and many other institutions. We are on dangerous ground.
I honestly don't think we will reach the point Venezuela has. Even though we are heading in the same direction we are going slower and have sharper breaks in the form of power and influential moderates, who stand up against wannabe dictators. But we can't sit back and relax. Our country is in deep trouble. Unlike Venezuela, we have diagnosed our problems (at least some of them) early. Now we must be quick to act as well.