I AM not a South African, so I venture into their space with trepidation because I know how sensitive these things are. But I am an African and a keen observer of events that affect all of us who live in the south of the continent. Last week, I made a few observations based on South Africa’s history, today I want to look forward a bit.
My impressions of the state of South Africa are mixed. The first is the very visible gap between the rich and the poor. When I first visited Europe in the 1960s my impression was that there were no poor people, certainly it looked like that to me.
Then I travelled to India and saw real poverty with millions living on the streets amid poverty that seemed endless. Much worse than in Africa.
In South Africa, the shacks that are found in every city and town are cheek-by-jowl with mansions, the only change is the vast areas of RDP housing.
The new black elite in their luxury cars, false nails and eyelashes have their own mansions behind high walls.
The better living standards for average black South Africans are most evident in the former homelands where they obviously think they have long-term security for property and investment, rather than in town.
But it is also clear that South Africa is now a fully integrated society. I watched black and white schoolchildren, in what was formerly a white-only community, playing rugby.
But the overwhelming opinion of almost everyone I spoke to was of pessimism about the future of the country, the most common view expressed was: “We are going the same way as Zimbabwe”.
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As a Zimbabwean who has been in the turmoil of the past 50 years, I can say with confidence, you have a long way to go before you replicate Zimbabwe.
We are in a real mess and only now are we starting the long way back to the road into the future.
But you have problems and if you cannot find solutions, you will be in real trouble.
The power crisis is one such problem, and the collapse of the railways another, though less visible.
Clearly, on the fiscal front, your budget is under severe pressure and the deficit could become a problem. But it is your failure to build a new and more equitable society on the back of your founding father Nelson Mandela's start, that I think threatens your future the most.
You have massive unemployment, especially among young people, and you have not been able to rebuild the family after apartheid destroyed the black family structure.
A great majority of your children are being raised in dysfunctional families.
The disparity in living standards between the haves and have-nots is shocking, despite the social grant system.
The new black elite is a real problem, high salaries in the public sector and BEE [black economic empowerment] transformation rights have created a situation that is exacerbated by widespread corruption and the theft of State assets through tenders.
This is absorbing a disproportionate percentage of national revenues and is denying the poor any chance of upliftment.
Racism remains a common problem although the country is now fully integrated, communities remain distinct.
Although the African National Congress (ANC) remains the single largest political party and controls power, its grip is slowly slackening and it now looks as if it will fall below the 50% threshold in 2024.
Losing power in Africa is no small thing and this could destabilise the country going forward. The ANC is firmly entrenched and no other political party has a snowball's chance of taking control.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) led by Malema is the most likely partner for the ANC should an alliance be needed to maintain control. With its radical and populist policies, this would put the EFF in a very powerful position.
Years of experience in local government where alliances are common has shown it how to bully a senior partner and dictate policy when needed.
In my view, the only way to avoid this in 2024 is to arrange an alliance in advance of the elections. The Democratic Alliance (DA) is trying to do that, but it is unlikely to get anywhere near enough to threaten the ANC.
ANC will not enter an alliance with the DA, so what next? In 1994, the Afrikaners decided, as a tribal group, not to contest the ANC for power, but to seek influence.
The strategy has served them well, they support the ANC in many ways and in return, they have maintained their language and culture.
In 1994, the mixed-race communities in the country voted in the majority for the outgoing nationalists — an outcome that shocked the ANC at the time. But this makes the Afrikaner speaking group in South Africa the largest voting bloc with common cultural and language characteristics.
My advice to the Afrikaner leadership is they should intensify their support for the ANC across the country. Support it financially and on the ground in rural communities.
Make it plain that they are aligned to the ANC moderate wing and want stability, and also continued protection of their language and culture and their farms and industrial and commercial interests.
In the event that this is enough to push the ANC majority over the line, then a coalition with the EFF would not be necessary and the populists and radicals in the ANC and the EFF will not get the leverage for their ideas.
In addition, it is clear that perhaps half the GDP of the country is under Afrikaner control and they can use this leverage to spur economic growth and change.
The only way South Africa can overcome the power shortage is by importing from its neighbours.
Natural gas from Mozambique is perhaps the only solution that can respond quickly — just look at what Germany has done in 12 months.
If instead of tampering with private property rights in the farming sector, these could be extended to the homelands and newly-settled farmers on former white-owned farms.
If this principle is extended to urban housing, it will create a new middle class that will stabilise the centre in South African politics.
Certainly, such an alliance would put the country on a new path into the future that might stabilise the situation and bring rapid development and growth.
- Eddie Cross is an economist and former Bulawayo South legislator. He writes here in his personal capacity.