DA has a mountain to climb

R.W. JOHNSON / As we have seen, an ANC coalition with the populists of the MKP and EFF would be a road to ruin, but much will depend on whether Ramaphosa has the courage to hang on as president after the election and make a final effort to save the country. If he does, we will see an ANC-IFP-DA coalition. (The IFP’s inclusion is important: it is the DA’s largest partner in the Multi-Party Coalition, and it will mean that the government is not just afforced by whites but by a multiracial combination.)

Even if the ANC falls to 37%, the DA seems likely to be around the 20% mark and the IFP around 5%, so such a deal would have an almost two-thirds majority. Even so, the DA should consider including the FF+ in such a coalition as well. Solidarity, Afriforum and Afrikaners generally would add weight and capability to such a government.

If Ramaphosa takes that route, he will be able to point out that the IFP and the National Party served in Mandela’s government, and that Mandela also invited Tony Leon to join his cabinet (though Leon declined). More important is the fact that Ramaphosa’s Operation Vulindlela – which aims at reforms in electricity provision, water, transport, the visa regime and digital communications – depends heavily on business co-operation. The business community will exert maximum pressure to avoid an ANC-EFF coalition: indeed, the inclusion of the EFF in government would end Vulindlela.

The prospect of such a deal is problematic for the DA, for the likely fate of coalition junior partners is to carry the can for coalition failures while missing out on the credit for coalition successes. The party can only avoid that if it visibly becomes the driving force for reform, and thus the public face of the major change of direction which the polls show the electorate is demanding. But there are many challenges and questions.

First, if one assumes that the DA makes up roughly one third of a coalition, that would imply that it should provide 10 ministers and 10 deputy ministers. As one looks at the DA’s personnel, one realises that it could only find that many suitable candidates at the cost of stripping both its parliamentary party and its provincial and municipal parties of almost all their talent. This would be highly undesirable in itself, and only necessary because the South African executive is so ludicrously overblown. And, of course, the ANC would try to push the DA into less important jobs – the deputy ministership for arts and culture, and so on.

The DA needs to avoid such a dissipation of its energies. If it plays the game in that way, it will lose. After five years, little will have been achieved, and the DA will pay a high price. Instead, it needs to approach the president armed with its own plan for government (which should be shared with the IFP and FF+), aimed at turning the country around within five years. One can start by agreeing that Operation Vulindlela is concentrating on the right things – but the fact that these objectives are all being addressed from within the Presidency is, in effect, an admission that the line ministries which were supposed to deal with these matters are useless. For South Africa has more government ministers than almost any other country in the world, and yet most of the ministries are virtually inoperative. And, though the DA need not be tactless enough to say so, the calibre of the ministers within the Presidency is abysmal.

Happily for the DA, the election will have transformed the ANC. Its MPs from KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng will have lost most of their seats, and the residual ANC will mainly represent the former black homelands and rural areas. This will make it easier for Ramaphosa to handle the parliamentary ANC, particularly since its largest single component will probably come from his home province of Limpopo.

So the DA should propose that it will take over responsibility for electricity, water, and for getting the railways and ports running properly again. If Ramaphosa wishes to keep all these matters as part of Operation Vulindlela within the Presidency, then DA ministers must be located there. The DA must also insist that Gwede Mantashe be replaced as minister for Energy and Minerals – preferably by a DA minister. Quite apart from Mantashe’s dishonourable mention by the Zondo Commission, no one has done more to prevent a solution to the energy crisis than him, and he has also completely blocked any progress in the mining industry.

In addition, David Masondo should be replaced by a DA alternative as a deputy minister at the Treasury. Masondo is an able minister, and can be deployed elsewhere; the key is merely that the DA must have its own person at the Treasury.

It is, of course no accident that most of the problems lie within the public sector. And, of course, the country’s public sector organisations are honeycombed by special interests, sweetheart deals and corrupt arrangements of every kind. In addition, the public sector unions, which have often been cut into such deals, are used to having their wishes treated like the ten commandments. Ramaphosa has accepted that private operators need to be allowed to play a role in the railways and ports, but this has already been sabotaged. The railways drew up a bid schedule for private operators which guaranteed that none of them could operate profitably. This was known at the outset, but was allowed to proceed so that a whole year in the reform process has been lost. Something similar seems to be going on with the privatisation of the Durban port container terminal where strong legal objections have been made against the successful bidder.

It is clear that the current ministers in the Presidency are simply being played by the vested interests, and they are not equal to their tasks. Their DA replacements will have to be a lot tougher. If Ramaphosa cavills, the question he must be asked is whether he really wants to turn the country around or not. He says he wants reform. He must be taken at his word.

On top of that, the DA has to make a reduction in crime rates a key objective. It should volunteer to take over, reform and strengthen the SAPS. If, however, the ANC insists on retaining control of the police, the DA should demand as a quid pro quo that at least some policing powers should be devolved to provinces and metro municipalities. Probably the American model would work best, with equivalents of the FBI and CIA at the national level, and routine police work devolved to the local level.

The appeal of the DA taking over these tasks would be that they are essentially technical, and emphasise the fact that the DA is entering government purely to “rescue South Africa”, as it has promised. The number of its ministers is far less important than that it should have really able and dynamic people to place in these executive positions. This might well necessitate going outside the DA’s parliamentary ranks. Apart from being extremely hard-working, such people would need to be tough and tough-minded. They would have to face down powerful pressure groups, and it is entirely possible that as they drive their reforms through they might be threatened with violence in the same way that André de Ruyter was.

The DA would also need, from the outset, to make it clear that its ministers might well be recruited from the private sector. Such recruits could be sworn in as party members and given parliamentary seats. This would put some politicians’ noses out of joint, but it is far more important to acquire hard-driving and experienced managers. It should also be made clear that all of its ministers would probably need to employ a number of outside experts and advisers. This would be essential, because if the DA ministers are confined to dependence on the ANC’s deployed cadres in the public service, nothing much will get done. Indeed, one cannot rely on these cadres to implement reforming policies, so the DA ministers will need to recruit new directors-general and even rely on private sector managers to ensure policy is implemented.

Thus far, this would merely mean driving through the reform agenda which Ramaphosa has already enunciated. But the key question is, what political concessions should the DA demand? It would be tempting to demand an end to racial bias in procurement – i.e., the end of BEE in the procurement process in DA-controlled ministries. But even without that, it would be possible to tighten up procurement a good deal simply by insisting on high standards of work, and rejecting tenders from companies with a poor record in that regard.

Far more important would be to demand the complete liberalisation of the labour market, pointing out that this has been endlessly recommended by the IMF, and that it would merely bring us in line with the rest of Africa. Given the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement, it is anyway essential that we level the playing field with other African economies. But, of course, domestically unemployment is by far the most important issue, and labour market liberalisation will ultimately create a lot more jobs. Current labour legislation helps cement the privileges of a small labour aristocracy by effectively excluding the large majority from any opportunity to compete for jobs. In effect, the trade unions are part and parcel of this corrupt bargain. If the electorate at large is to see the benefits of having the DA in government, labour market liberalisation is the way to go. In addition, centralised wage bargaining has put many lower-paid workers out of work. All of this – and racial quotas of any kind in employment matters – has to be rolled back. Foreign and domestic investors alike would see this as a major green light.

Such a change would, of course, be opposed by Cosatu and by Zwelenzima Vavi’s SAFTU. It is important to remember that even if you add their memberships together, Cosatu and SAFTU represent a small minority of workers, and that labour law liberalisation will benefit the large majority, for it will help economic growth to pick up again, a rising tide that will lift all boats. Moreover, if this reform is pushed through, the power and influence of Cosatu and SAFTU would be sharply reduced, and would not constitute a continuing brake on reform.

The key point is that after five years of coalition government, the DA has to be able to point to a clearly improving situation with regard to electricity, water and transport, to an economy whose growth rate is picking up, and unemployment and crime rates both heading down. If crime remains high, at the least the DA should be able to point to a reduction in crime rates in cities or provinces where the DA has control. It goes without saying, of course, that the DA must also be able to point out that in five years none of its ministers have incurred any taint of corruption.

This is, of course, a tall order, but if the DA is to take on all the risks that coalition entails, it has to aim high and work with complete determination. It has to start by taking an extremely frank look at its own capacities. It cannot afford to have DA ministers who are party hacks or mediocrities. Its ministers have to be excellent administrators/managers with political savvy. They also have to be tough-minded, and workaholics. If there are few such people in the DA’s ranks they must have no inhibitions about recruiting beyond those ranks.

All told, the DA has a great deal of planning and thinking and recruiting to do. Indeed, it really needs to have done most of that work by now. It can’t afford to leave such questions to be settled in a hurried scuttle just after the election. After all, for both the party and the country, the stakes could hardly be higher.

FEATURED IMAGE: DA supporters waiting for John Steenhuisen to address them during his Rescue South Africa tour. Image: DA Facebook page.

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