Where are the Men and Women of Principle?

Left VS Right

The Gupta saga is an excellent opportunity for a fundamental rethinking of everything we thought we knew. But, knowing South Africans, we’ll take the elastoplast option, i.e getting rid of Zuma, the Guptas and their collaborators, without addressing the fundamental issues that allowed these individuals to do what they did.

One of the problems at the heart of our politics is our belief that good intentions matter more than ideology – that’s why people who were voting DA twenty years ago are still doing so now, even though the party has gone from classical liberalism to technocratic social democracy. That’s why most people would probably put Blade Nzimande in power if it means getting rid of Zuma; that’s why Pravin Gordhan is now a “hero” of big business.

I guess a lot of this schizophrenia comes from the anti-apartheid movement, when the only thing that mattered was getting rid of an oppressive system. Couple that with our subconscious tribalism (government must take care of my group at the expense of everyone else) and you have a recipe for modern South Africa.

Instead of taking the opportunity to tell voters that they were wrong and their failure to hold government accountable (not only for “service delivery”, but also the ideas that have kept our economy stunted) destroyed the Constitution’s ultimate safeguard, for political convenience, we keep telling them that it was all the bad Mr Zuma’s fault, and everything will be ok if only they just get the right bureaucrat in there.

That’s because the people who are doing the talking either see themselves as the anointed bureaucrat, or they know just the right fellow. Going back to Gordhan just for a moment, some of us haven’t forgotten that we have a debt crisis because Mr Gordhan thought it was a good idea to spend ourselves out of the economic crisis of 2008 (which turned out to be a boon for the Guptas, as we’re now finding out – sorry Mr Gordhan, just connecting the dots).

While everyone is lamenting the destruction of the “good ANC”, it seems few are willing to consider that the root of the problem are the bad ideas that have poisoned our politics and our economics for far too long. These ideas just won’t die because even though most of the world (outside of this continent) has accepted that central control of the economy is not the path to prosperity, we have a voting public that allows politicians to spew nonsensical conspiracy theories as long as they nurse enough voters’ sense of grievance, aided by the media and leftist intellectuals (of course) – the same ones who are now staunchly anti-corruption.

That’s not all. Apart from the people who support government’s economic suicide, there’s also a group who is much worse in my opinion, because they are not under the spell, but they enable it. I speak of the fence-sitters, the centrists, the pragmatists, the compromisers and the seekers of the third way. You often hear these people say things like “The answer is always somewhere in the middle”. No, it isn’t; there is such a thing as good and evil.

The South African centrist is why we have the National Development Plan (a scheme to manage the economy in what is called a “developmental state”); they are the Mbeki voter now abandoned by the ANC and being courted by the DA. They are at best a minor obstacle on the road to government dominance over the economy and at worst an aid to this process by drowning out saner voices.

All I’m saying is that it seems counter-productive to me to identify the two contesting ideologies and stake out a position at their centre. No matter the merits of both, it’s a position that can easily be undermined by a cynical politician willing to go even more extreme in order to gain support for their policies which would then be at the new centre – a Julius Malema for example.

I stand for liberty because it is right, not because it’s popular or because it’s a compromise between two ideological extremes (for some people it was a compromise when the two extremes were the nationalisms of the ANC and the National Party). If we believe in liberty, we have to stand up to its enemies, whether they are driven by a mistaken sense of collective justice, worn out marxist ideology, racism or just plain envy. I certainly wouldn’t seek compromise with these people.