Politics Notebook | Fix our cities and restore national pride


Politics Notebook | Fix our cities and restore national pride

The quickest and easiest way to get South Africa to rise from the ashes is to make us proud of our cities and towns again, writes MAX DU PREEZ. He also reflects on the rise and tragic fall of Pravin Gordhan

WITH the termination of the ANC's dominance at the end of May and the intervention of top business leaders who want to help reinvigorate the state, the future at the national level no longer seems so dark.

But you and I and our fellow citizens live in cities and towns. That's where our homes are. That's where we work, relax, go shopping, where our children go to school and grow up. That's where we wake up and first experience our environment.

I have great hope that the national mood will significantly improve after the election on May 29, that the general atmosphere of despondency will lighten. A lot of positive energy has been unleashed and it can lead to a new positivity if the ANC's grip and arrogance of the last 30 years are curbed.

But it will be very limited if we do not rejuvenate our cities and major towns. Nothing will make the population feel as positive as our cities becoming functional and pleasant places to live. That's where change can happen most easily and quickly.

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

Cyril Ramaphosa and Thabo Mbeki have both criticised Jacob Zuma's presidency over the past few days. But the reality is that the decline in local government accelerated after the Zuma era.

Johannesburg is supposed to be Africa's “world-class city". Pretoria is our capital. Greater Durban is our third-largest city, our “jewel on the Indian Ocean". Ekurhuleni, the East Rand, is our industrial metro. Gqeberha is the capital of the Eastern Cape, the birthplace of resistance to colonialism and apartheid.

Each of these metros is in a total mess. They are dirty and neglected with major problems of water, electricity, waste removal and crime. Each of these city centres feels like downtown Lagos, even Mogadishu.

The same is true of Bloemfontein, East London, Pietermaritzburg and many larger towns, not to mention smaller towns.

Ah, but that's not the case with Cape Town, George, Paarl, Stellenbosch, or Worcester, where I was this week. Because the DA.

I was surprised to see that the latest opinion poll by the Brenthurst Foundation found that the DA's national support has risen to 27%. And that's despite simple mistakes and foolish decisions by the leadership, and most senior black leaders leaving the party.

The explanation  probably lies in the answers to the other questions asked of respondents in the poll. A third of voters say the Western Cape is the province that is best governed (Gauteng gets only 18%) and Cape Town the best city (Johannesburg comes second with only 12%).

Almost a third, 29%, would prefer the Multiparty Charter coalition to govern the country after May 29, with 25% wanting an ANC-DA coalition. Only 24% would like to see an ANC-EFF coalition.

I suspect this unexpected positive view of the DA has everything to do with the party's good record of local and provincial government. It is surely also the main reason for the extraordinary semigration of the middle classes to the Western Cape.

The recovery of South Africa must begin at the local level. We need to save our cities. That will give our national pride a big boost.

I want to be able to walk around the Johannesburg city centre again one day and hang out in Melville, Brixton and Westdene like I did 25 years ago.

As the former banker and former head of the Post Office, Mark Barnes, recently wrote in Business Day: “Successful municipalities will be the key to our rescue — that's where people can see, feel and be part of making the difference. It's here, at home, in our street, where you can watch out for and watch over each other. WhatsApp groups are the new local governance."

The government is rotten, the people are OK

The most disturbing aspect of the Brenthurst poll is that Zuma's MK Party can get 13% of the national vote, which would make it bigger than the EFF (10%). In KwaZulu-Natal, the poll finds, MK is the largest party with 25%, followed by the ANC with 20%, then the DA and IFP with 19% each. The ANC's support is counted nationally at 39% and if the poll's predictions are correct, the ANC will also lose power in KZN and Gauteng while the DA will barely retain the Western Cape with 53%.

But the reassuring part of the poll is that despite the efforts of many populists, the population is not radicalised and the centre remains strong: 39% say the best way to put money in people's pockets is to make it easier to do business, and another 25% say by reducing taxes.

About 80% say the country is going in the wrong direction and 53% say the ANC governments of the past 30 years should be blamed. Unemployment (28%), corruption (27%), load-shedding (17%) and poor leadership (12%) are the biggest problems. Nothing about race, #whitemonopolycapital, Western imperialism or land expropriation.

Almost half say South Africa should be friends with the West and other democracies and only 19% say the future lies in cooperation with Brics.

The tragedy of Pravin

If you ask me about the greatest political tragedy I have witnessed as a political writer, I would have to choose between Cyril Ramaphosa, the capable, sophisticated man who was supposed to save and rebuild South Africa after Zuma and failed miserably; and Pravin Gordhan, who is about to retire from politics without much honour.

Pravin is a good, honest, hardworking man without pretension and a love of money. I got to know him fairly well and spent time with him and his wife. No ANC politician fought harder against state capture than he did. He was the biggest enemy of the radical economic transformation cabal and the EFF, and the Guptas and Bell Pottinger waged major smear campaigns against him.

Pravin helped build the national revenue service into one of the best in the world between 1999 and 2009. He was Minister of Finance twice, 2009-2014 and 2015-2018, before Ramaphosa appointed him Minister of Public Enterprises to replace the corrupt Lynn Brown.

State-owned enterprises were, of course, a special focus for state capturers, so he had a difficult task. Pravin may have made a difference here and there, but ultimately we must say these enterprises deteriorated further under his tenure. Almost all of the big ones had to be rescued year after year with billions of rand of taxpayer money.

His instinct was always against privatisation and his relationship with the business sector was never warm.

And then SAA collapsed in 2019 and was placed in business rescue. Over the past two decades, it has received more than R50 billion from the state to survive.

In 2021, with Pravin's approval, SAA resumed flying but showed a loss of almost R4 billion that year.

It was clearly the best candidate for privatisation or partial privatisation. And there the secret negotiations began with the consortium of black industrialists, Takatso, with an agreement in February 2022 for Takatso to buy a 51% stake for R51 and undertake to invest R3 billion to get the airline going.

But the ANC, even members of the cabinet, were unhappy with it and wanted a much larger amount from Takatso. And there the whole transaction sank.

The way Pravin handled this is surely the low point of his career. And now he has announced that he will retire after the election. Even his best friends and supporters are breathing sighs of relief.

It's a blow to Ramaphosa's silent plan to push through further privatisation and thus save state-owned enterprises.

Meanwhile, Safair has taken over at least 60% of the local market but faces an investigation because it allegedly doesn't have enough local black ownership — which could jeopardise its licence.

It's just a pity the election is still 75 days in the future.

♦ VWB ♦

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