At the same session, we also looked at the likely political situation in the country over the next 18 months and received briefings from labour analyst John Brand and futurist and scenario planner Clem Sunter respectively on the future of collective bargaining and on international and national labour scenarios. We arranged this session in order to expose our members and those interested in the sector to different views on likely developments over the next 18 months.
On the political front, we can sum the situation up in one sentence: the road ahead will be very bumpy, characterized by more pronounced political and racial divisions, continuing ruptures within the ANC-led tripartite alliance and more violent protests in a number of townships across the country. The business community will find itself under inordinate pressure to be part of the “radical transformation” agenda and to partner with the Government in addressing socio-economic challenges on the ground.
Like most South Africans, one found the spectacle that unfolded in Parliament on 12 February on the occasion of the State of the Nation Address unedifying and most embarrassing. Unfortunately, however, we are likely to see more drama of that nature in the two Houses of Parliament and in different Legislatures across the country.
As the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) continue to challenge the governing party and take the fight to it and President Jacob Zuma, tempers will soar and a possibility exists that the situation may even deteriorate to a level where violence occurs both inside and outside our hallowed legislative chambers.
The truth is that the ANC, which the President has said will rule “until Jesus Christ comes back”, is unaccustomed to being challenged. Until last year it was able to do very much as it pleased in Parliament and in the eight provincial Legislatures that it controls, secure in the knowledge that it had a big majority which made it possible for it simply to ignore the opposition. That is no longer the case, thanks to the presence in our legislatures of the confrontational and ultra-vocal EFF whose leaders honed their skills while they were still part of the ANC.
There is a good chance that, in the end, the EFF will conduct itself within the established Parliamentary rules, but there is no doubt at all that its style will continue to be loud, combative and even confrontational, with its primary target being the vulnerable President Zuma. As a result, the Democratic Alliance will have no choice but to be confrontational itself, strictly within the rules of our various legislatures, if only to avoid being out-manoeuvred and out-performed by the smaller EFF.
This means that the governing ANC will be watched like a hawk and its leaders – starting with the President – fully held to account, as all governing parties should be. Given the fact that the ANC is not accustomed to being accountable to the opposition, the situation is certain to upset and frustrate the organisation and verbal insults are likely to be flung to and from across our legislative chambers. The National Assembly, the National Council of Provinces and the Provincial Legislatures are set to be livelier and more interesting for the disinterested observer as they finally perform the task that they are meant to perform, much to the annoyance of the ANC and its allies.
Of necessity, the situation will require a higher degree of skill, better temperament and even more political maturity on the part of the Presiding Officers if proceedings are to be reasonably smooth. Regrettably, judging by developments in the National Assembly last year and in the past two weeks and in the Gauteng Legislature last year, these qualities would appear to be sorely lacking on the part our Presiding Officers, who are woefully wanting when it comes to fairness or even-handedness. The situation, then, appears ripe for on-going conflict.
With the local government elections scheduled to take place next year, the situation will get even worse since parties in Parliament and in our various legislatures will do everything with an eye on the 2016 elections. They will each be putting a show for the electorate, hoping that their radical rhetoric will win them votes among the progressively disillusioned poor in the country’s townships.
The fact is that the ANC has never been more vulnerable than it is at the moment. Indeed, in some cities it appears ready for the taking. In addition to widespread corruption and internal fights, by far its biggest liability is its leader, President Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma. For a variety of reasons, his star has fallen considerably in recent years.
The big prize in the 2016 local government elections will be the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality in Port Elizabeth, the Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality, the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality and the Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality, anyone of which may fall to the opposition and be governed through a coalition. The ANC in Gauteng is alive to this possibility, hence its growing outspokenness on the urban tolling issue which is nothing short of an albatross around the ANC’s neck.
In summary, then, politically 2015 and 2016 will be very unstable years during which our racial and political divisions will be accentuated. Instead of leadership that will keep us all within one big tent, leaders of the different political parties will see us torn asunder and pulled in different directions, all in pursuit of their respective parties’ interests rather than the interests of South Africa Incorporated. As I said earlier, their eyes will be firmly on the 2016 local government elections.
Needless to say, this will not ingratiate us with the foreign investment community. We are most unlikely, therefore, to see the trickle of foreign investment become a flood.
How should the business community respond? There are those, like the Afrikaner Handels Institut, who take the view that the business community should enter the fray and take the Government head on. Personally, I do not share that view. I think that it has the potential to worsen rather than to heal the divisions that already exist between the Government and the business community.
Instead, I think that the business community should, indeed, speak out, but not on public platforms as if to shame the governing party. In my view, business should be better organised and engage actively with the Government, behind closed doors, in order to lobby for a business-friendly dispensation.
We need to make the Government realise that, without a thriving business community, South Africa cannot realise its full potential, let alone prosper. We need to offer our services or assistance to the Government – locally, provincially and nationally – as partners who want what is good for South Africa, and not as opponents or enemies advancing an agenda not dissimilar to that advanced by political opponents.
Finally, the business community needs to understand the growing impatience on the part of the poor, the vast majority of whom remain black, and enthusiastically embrace and implement transformation. That is fundamentally in the country’s interests and in business’s own long-term interests. Failure to do so will make business a wonderful scapegoat for the Government’s inability radically to change the lives of the poor majority.