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Thursday, 28 August 2008

Affirmative reaction

from South Africa Sucks
By Michael Coulson (Sent in by IMD)

HEAVEN knows what sort of economic and financial policies we can expect from the next ANC administration. Its supporters range from a bunch of hardline Marxists to billionaire businessmen, who have nothing in common except a detestation of current president Thabo Mbeki.

There's nothing wrong with that, as Mbeki's disastrous term in office is being crowned with the realisation that he from the outset deliberately concealed his true objective as a so-called "mediator" in Zimbabwe, which was not to help implement the will of the people, but to prolong the term in office of the mass murderer Robert Mugabe.

I know one must beware of the sin of relativism, but if we add that to his Aids denialism and reversion to a new racism it's difficult to avoid feeling that any change must be for the better, even if his putative successor is a man of dubious sexual and financial morality.

While it's hard to see how that disparate collection of interests can forge a consistent policy framework, there are encouraging signs that in at least one of these three areas we just may see a welcome return to sanity. The past week has brought statements from two of the ANC's new power brokers that suggest that the follies of affirmative action (AA) may have finally sunk home.

First, new ANC treasurer-general Mathews Phosa conceded at an Investec Historic Schools (whatever that may be) breakfast in Cape Town that AA led to an exodus of (white) "skilled patriotic experts" from the public sector, creating a "skills vacuum" in some areas.

Then the increasingly impressive Kgalema Motlanthe - a more than adequate substitute for Jacob Zuma should that worthy's legal problems supervene - told a meeting in Stellenbosch with what were reported in the media as "Afrikaner elites" that the new government will consider phasing out AA.

This statement was reportedly welcomed even by the egregious Jimmy Manyi, chairperson of the Commission for Employment Equity and president of the Black Management Foundation -positions that can't leave him much time for his nominal day job as group executive, corporate affairs, at Tiger Brands.

But don't throw your hat over the windmill just yet. Both Phosa and Motlanthe heavily qualified their remarks.

In Phosa's case, it's alarming that he reportedly called for whites who'd left the public service to be "allowed" to return and "make the contribution they were trained for".

"Allowed"? "Begged" would be a more appropriate term. These are people who were made to feel unwelcome and given every encouragement to take packages to leave. Many have since made successful second careers in the private sector.

Why should they want to return? Certainly not out of any sense of loyalty to organisations where they were treated as second-class citizens. And the implication of "the contribution they were trained for" that they are under some sort of obligation is simply fatuous.

If Phosa is sincere, he needs to adopt a more welcoming tone.

As for Motlanthe, he stressed that an end date will be considered in certain aspects and only after "careful scientific consideration." That's just gobbledygook. What's needed is not any sort of "scientific consideration" of "certain aspects": just a policy decision that in future all jobs should go to the best qualified candidates.

And Manyi's apparent endorsement means nothing. He added that only when designated targets for the various groups "race and gender-based" - have been reached will the need for legislative teeth fall away. In practical terms, that means not in the lifetime of anybody now over the age of 40.

It may also be significant that both Motlanthe and Phosa were talking in the Western Cape, an area where a deeply divided and vulnerable ANC is desperate to attract white - and particularly Afrikaans-speaking - voters to keep it in power in the upcoming provincial elections. We can't attach too much reliance to such statements until they're made in areas like rural Transkei - or even Mpumalanga, where Phosa was provincial premier until he fell foul of Mbeki.

Still, even the slightest toenadering with reality is refreshing in the fantasy world of ANC politics.

Incidentally, you mustn't think that this column is any sort of recantation of anything I've written in the past. It's still a truism for me that effective, broad black economic empowerment is a precondition of a stable democratic SA. But those who disagree should please fill in entry forms for the resuscitated National Party rather than respond here, as it's too soon to re-open that debate.

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