Marius Oosthuizen
Marius Oosthuizen

Should the UK, US and China abandon South Africa?

South Africa is leaning over the edge of a political cliff as the president loses the support of key allies in the tripartite alliance. His attack dogs, such as Shaun Abrahams in the National Prosecuting Authority, Collen Maine in the ANC Youth League and Bathabile Dlamini in the ANC Woman’s League, look increasingly like poodles barking at their own shadow. The chickens of corruption and myopic self-interest are coming home to roost.

When Jackson Mthembu, the chief whip of the ANC in parliament, spoke out in support of minister of finance Pravin Gordhan and called for the entire ANC leadership to resign, he was firing a shot across the bow of the enemies of democracy. These enemies are now, paradoxically, seated in the Union Buildings in Pretoria waiting in angst for their handlers in the Kremlin and Dubai to call up the next round of favours as their project to capture our state unfolds. But, fortunately for South Africans, the rule of law, the independence of our courts and the vibrancy of South African democratic activism has effectively lanced the boil and the gunk is finally being exposed. Unfortunately, the damage to investor and business confidence has been done and job-creating growth is all but gone.

South Africa was an attractive emerging market, until now.

Foreign direct investment inflows into South Africa have declined for three consecutive years from $8 300-million in 2013 and 5.771-million in 2014. We received only 1.772m in 2015. In 2012, UK-based companies were at the forefront of a commitment to South Africa with upwards of 45% of investment coming from them, the United States, Germany and China following with 7%, 5% and 3% respectively. Financial and insurance services led the pack receiving 36% of inflows, mining 30% and manufacturing a substantial 17%. As a sophisticated free-market economy with transparent regulation, ample raw materials and political stability, we looked attractive to global players wanting growth against a suppressed global economic environment. The legislative uncertainty around Black Economic Empowerment, debates about land reform and rising costs of doing business were not scary enough to dissuade our friends in the West and our new friends in the East.

South Africa is falling out of favor, and maybe that’s a good thing.

South Africa needs regime change – not the kind we saw in Egypt or Libya where a dictator was toppled through a bloody revolution in the streets. No, we have a democratically functional multi-party system. We don’t need the whole regime changed, we just need the fly in the ointment to be removed. We need an impeachment, in line with our constitution. The party who does this will seize the moral high ground. The honourable president of South Africa, unlike most democratically elected presidents, was not voted into power by popular vote. On the contrary, he was catapulted into power by a small group of disgruntled party cadres who wanted a replacement for the “neo-liberal” Thabo Mbeki. This group was championed by the likes of Zwelinzima Vavi, Julius Malema and Jimmy Manyi, all of whom are today either enemies of the president or so marginalised as to be irrelevant to the mainstream political discourse. Basically, the palace coup that brought President Zuma to power has evolved into a factional coup of the party, a dangerous game of monopoly which is holding the country to randsom.

The ratings agencies could be our friend, like Citibank was in 1985.

For the centre of South African democracy to hold for another two decades, as it has to date, we require no less than 5% growth. At 1.6% we simply match the population growth. At 5% we retain job numbers in the face of structural unemployment. Above 6% we begin to rapidly address inequality and raise the dependant poor out of desperation into the middle class. For this to happen, we need aggressive domestic and international investment in South Africa. The problem is that a Zuma government with its legacy of mismanagement, impunity and general disregard for the national interest is polluting the environment and driving a narrow agenda that will only tribalise and fracture the democratic centre in the end.

So how do we accelerate the pain and pressure in the system to convince the undecided majority in the ANC to take Jackson Mthembu’s position and declare that South Africa deserves a better president? The African National Congress, the movement of Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela deserves a better president. The legacy of Africa’s greatest liberation movement deserves better. South African voters deserve better.

Perhaps, not unlike Citibank who withdrew credit lines to a pariah apartheid regime to provide a tipping point for change is what it will take? Perhaps the ratings agencies are our friends in this process of democratic preservation. Perhaps its time for the UK, US and China to abandon South Africa for our own good. Barclays is selling their stake in Absa. Perhaps the Chinese should sell Standard Bank too?

I pray it does not get to that, and that we find the leadership in our own midst to stand up for what is right, even if it comes at a personal cost in a world where “politics of the stomach” has taken hold. This battle is no longer about political preference and policy. This is about having leadership that is credible, that does not violate the constitution and oath of their office and that serve the public whose power they borrow with which to serve the common good.

Can the international community help us help ourselves?