Sunday, December 16, 2007

Pity the poor South African.

Pity poor South Africa. From all accounts Jacob Zuma is headed to become the next leader of the African National Congress. And in what amounts to a one party state like South Africa that means he will be the next president. Zuma will be the first of the “liberation” presidents who is clearly on the level of the corrupt, inept, immoral leaders who have plundered the African people and created so much misery, war and famine across the continent.

The first president since the collapse of apartheid, Nelson Mandela, was well-meaning. He established some policies that were relatively decent, especially by African standards, but in many areas he began the long descent into hell. Mandela concentrated the power of the state on labor issues for instance. That meant massive interventions that succeeded in raising the level of unemployment to new heights.

As the cost of labor was raised, without labor becoming more productive, the result was that more and more low paid individuals became “no paid” individuals. The labor elite, those with jobs, didn’t even really benefit by much. Many of them were already doing better than the government required. Some workers at the margin saw their income artificially raised but this was done at the expense of the least productive, poorest workers in the country.

These measures were demanded by the ANC’s partners in government: the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party. Both groups want a redistribution of wealth but the labor they push redistribute wealth from the poorest workers in the country upwards. That is the perverse result of these groups being totally ignorant about basic economics.

Where the economy did relatively well was that the government held to some reasonable monetary policies. Unlike Zimbabwe where the printing presses have been churning out so much money that it was running out of paper (the paper has more value as paper than as money) South Africa has been far more restrained. But still the net result of ANC interventions in the labor markets has been to virtually double the level of unemployment. However, they redefined how unemployment is measured and were thus able to pretend this didn’t happen.

The second policy that Mandela implemented that was highly detrimental was the use of affirmative action. The problem here was that the individuals being affirmed were mostly unable to perform in the fields where they were hired. One dramatic example was with the police. Crime skyrocketed and one reason for that was that the government hired police based on skin color. This meant they didn’t check for criminal records among the individuals hired to police crime.

The police themselves became a major source of crime. If a private criminal robbed you calling the police to investigate was compounding the problem by helping themselves to valuables the thieves left behind. Police were routinely implicated in hijacking rings, bank robberies and murders. There was a time, and perhaps this is still true, where the chances of a police officer engaging in crime were significantly higher than for private citizens.

In the numerous armed attacks that I experience in South Africa the police were utterly useless. After one such attack the police were trying to “search” the house even though they were aware that the armed attackers had never entered the premises but took aim from outside the house. Only a very loud insistence from myself prevented that search where valuables would have disappeared. In other incidents the police officers were unable to write a report because they didn’t know how to write. Officers were hired who were incapable of driving a police vehicle -- which apparently didn’t matter since the government didn’t have police cars for them anyway.

At every level the criminal justice system was put into the hands of individuals who, for the most part, were unqualified for what they were doing. And the result was an explosion in crime. And contrary to the racist verbal attacks by Mandela and others on emigrants the main reason people left South Africa was crime not prejudice.

Under Mandela’s successor, Thabo Mbeki, the nation moved closer to the sort of rule that has kept Africa poor. Mbeki turned the ANC into a personal fiefdom. He refused to condemn the antics of Robert Mugabe and government became the quickest way for the ANC elite to become millionaires. The crime situation didn’t improve but it didn’t become worse and the unemployment rate stagnated at the new levels. The main thrust of the Mbeki government was self-aggrandizement for the ANC elite. Beyond that it didn’t change things dramatically.

As they saw it there was no need to rock the boat as the boat was doing what it was meant to do. It was turning the new ruling class into millionaires at the expense of taxpayers and the poor. Unfortunately this sort of misrule and corruption opened the door for the worst sort of politicians, those in the mould of Mr. Mugabe and Jacob Zuma is one of them.

His personal life is disgusting, having father numerous children by multiple women. He was accused of rape by a young woman who is HIV+. In a he-said, she-said scenario there wasn’t enough evidence to convict but Zuma admitted to the encounter claiming it was voluntary. However, he said that he took precautions since the woman was HIV+ -- he showered after sex. Apparently this new method of AIDS prevention is unknown to the mainstream medical community. Zuma has publicly attacked gay people, taking another page from the strategy book of Mr. Mugabe.

Zuma panders to the most bigoted, most ignorant segment of the three main ruling parties. He is utterly uninformed about basic economic issues and is not above selling out the long-term prospects for the country through ill-conceived, short-term populist measures. Again this is similar to the tragic shortcomings of Mr. Mugabe.

One can only hope that the more sane elements within the ANC will hold Zuma in check. But I suspect that as he accumulates power these groups will be sidelined. Mugabe took power in 1980 and has held it as a virtual dictator since then. As the old saying goes: “One man, one vote, one time.” The rest has been sham elections with large numbers of votes already counted before the first ballot was cast. South Africa will not go that route. It will take several regime changes to happen. But each one will be a step lower on the ladder than the previous one. Mandela was saintly compared to Mbeki who will look reasonable compared to Zuma.

Zuma has split the ruling party fairly heavily and he will face some internal opposition. But the power of office will be used to stifle that. The opposition Democratic Alliance has found it difficult to make much progress. Right from the start, under Mandela, election law was manipulated in ways to reduce the vote for the opposition. Long-time DA leader, Tony Leon, has resigned and Cape Town mayor Helen Zille has taken the reins. But it remains to be seen whether she will be as strong a party leader as Tony was before her. Certainly the deck is stacked against her and over the years ANC manipulation of the electoral system will skew the results even more.

Eventually, and I hope I’m wrong, the Zimbabwe scenario will play itself out.

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