The African National Congress has traded ideals for influence as the party is corrupted by its members' lust for financial gain. The Financial Mail tracks the rot at the heart of SA's most powerful organisation.
It was a cool spring evening when an ambulance screeched to a halt outside the ANC's provincial office in Dutoitspan Road, Kimberley. Paramedics were rushing to the aid of the city's first citizen, mayor Patrick Lenyibi, who had been hit by flying teacups thrown during a brawl in the ANC offices.
The first cup hit him on the head. The handle of a second lodged itself deep behind the ear after being smashed onto his head with greater force by a senior ANC member.
WHAT IT MEANS
Bending the rules has become a culture
The politics of the ANC has become distorted
From several accounts, the fight, which took place in late 2005, was over a tender to supply coupons for pre paid electricity meters. The mayor is said to have implied that it would go to a group of ANC women, the member's mother included, who had already arranged to be trained to run the enterprise. But instead the tender was advertised, as it should have been, with conditions that cut his mother out of the running.
The blows were exchanged in the office of provincial secretary Neville Mompati, who strenuously denies that the argument was over a tender. Decisions over tenders should be made by neither the mayor nor the ANC but, according to the Municipal Finance Management Act, by officials in the city's tender committee. However, theory and practice are far apart.
Fights over who should get what contract are happening with growing frequency countrywide. It is a matter of embarrassment to the ANC, a party many members proudly think of in terms of its struggle legacy. That legacy is now being severely undermined, and the party seems paralysed.
The ANC, as the party in government, is centrally involved in dishing out tenders and contracts. The introduction of commercial interests is one factor that is undermining its proud political footing. Another is the "deployment" of ANC comrades to business.
This commercialisation has driven a profound change in the nature of the ANC. Once local ANC meetings were all about policies and strategies - the transformation of SA society according to the ideals the party championed for decades. Now these gatherings are frequently preoccupied with business opportunities and who should have access to them.
It's a transformation that wasn't expected. Rather than "transforming the state", as the party describes its goals in official rhetoric, the economy has transformed the ANC.
How did it begin? Trouble started for the ANC almost as soon as it took power, with squabbles over control of provincial structures. But it was only when politicians moved into the world of business that the competition for commercial opportunities began to dominate ANC dynamics.
ANC national leaders, with their clear accomplishments and talents, provided a ready recruiting ground for white business, wanting to deracialise their leadership and management and, to a lesser extent, their ownership. In many cases, senior ANC members did not detach from the party in order to take advantage of such opportunities. Today, most of the senior leadership at the ANC's Luthuli House headquarters are involved in business (one of the exceptions is ANC secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe). As a result, few are ever there to do party work.
In parliament, 40% of ANC MPS are directors of companies, many owning them outright. Such interests are often in construction and mining. The ANC national executive has several ultra-rich members involved in business or, in the case of several cabinet ministers, whose spouses are business high-flyers.
At the ANC's last national conference five years ago, black economic empowerment (BEE) became ANC policy and engaging in business, to transform the economy, won official recognition as an acceptable revolutionary activity.
Quickly, ANC activists at provincial and local level followed the examples of their national leaders and headed into business.
On a macro level, looking at the redistribution of wealth and opportunities and the growth of black business and ownership, progress has been slow but positive. But the grassroots picture is not a such a pretty one.
Kimberley, for example, is a small city where, after mining, government business is the best game in town. The teacup meeting was not unusual: since 1999, when ANC comrades were first deployed in business, the awarding of tenders has been controversial.
Many ordinary members in the ANC say they got the impression from the start that who got what tender was being brazenly staged by their political seniors. At least two senior public servants left their jobs and landed lucrative outsourcing tenders in a matter of weeks, after being "deployed" to business, activists tell the FM, by the top structures of the party.
Soon a handful of ANC-aligned businesspeople were winning contract after contract - whether in security, transport or construction. A minor revolt in the party ended in defeat, when a group of rebels from the Kimberley region tabled a resolution at the party's 2001 conference, arguing that BEE should be broad-based and not favour just a selected few.
In the Kimberley example, three businessmen stand out as having been particularly successful in winning contracts: Motsamai Rantho, Tshego Motaung and Tyron Ruiters. Rantho and Motaung are former civil servants. All three have at some point been business partners with ANC chairman John Block.
Both Motaung and Rantho got their first contracts from Block's department, while he was transport, roads & public works MEC. Motaung, who once worked for Block, won part of a contract to manage the government garage - an enterprise for which Motaung himself had written the specifications before leaving the department to win the tender.
Like almost all "emerging" businessmen, contractors in Kimberley donate handsomely to the ANC - sometimes far more handsomely than they would like. One contractor who was asked for a R20 000 donation paid up willingly, he told the FM, but could not afford a second request for more than 10 times that amount. Such donations are common (see "Untold Millions").
John Block - Good contact to have
Block, it was widely reported, was forced to step down as an MEC in 2003 for splurging public money on hotels and entertainment for himself, his wife and friends, including a trip to Cape Town's jazz festival. In a criminal trial he was acquitted - despite having admitted on television that he did it because he was a "jazz maniac" and hoped that the nation would forgive him.
But the days when the Northern Cape's ANC leadership harmoniously discussed placing comrades in business are over. Both the chairman, Block, and the secretary, Mompati, are in business for themselves, alliances are constantly shifting as business deals succeed or fail and though Mompati strongly denies any tension, trust in the ANC is in short supply.
"In the Northern Cape," says an ANC member fed up with corruption and the fight for contracts, "we no longer have an ANC leadership. We have an ANC dealership."
Behaviour like that in Kimberley is a real problem for the party. Motlanthe, as national secretary-general, has been inundated with complaints from all over, particularly about unfair monopolisation of business opportunities. An endless stream of people have come to his door complaining. Some say they have been betrayed by the ANC, cheated out of tenders or told to cut the friends of certain politicians into their deals. Sometimes ANC colleagues shop one another when they fall out - as when North West premier Edna Molewa reported then Women's League secretary Yvonne Makume to the ANC head office. An ANC official says Makume had written to municipal managers, telling them to dispense with some tender regulations when it came to evaluating her company's bids.
There is no scientific measure of how bad corruption in SA really is. Organisations like Transparency International measure corruption on the basis of perceptions through interviews. SA comes out reasonably well, rated the second-least corrupt country in Africa. This might reflect the macro picture of SA's big corporates and government departments. But it is certainly a radical underestimation of what is happening at a micro level in provinces and municipalities.
Motlanthe, in touch with the ANC's nearly 200 branches, has a better view than most. He believes corruption is far worse than anyone imagines.
"This rot is across the board. It's not confined to any level or any area of the country. Almost every project is conceived because it offers opportunities for certain people to make money. A great deal of the ANC's problems are occasioned by this. There are people who want to take it over so they can arrange for the appointment of those who will allow them possibilities for future accumulation," he says.
Members the FM interviewed implied that sending contracts the way of an ANC-linked businessman was frequently legitimised by the notion that doing so was "good for the ANC". Often, it is claimed, the profit will be for the ANC itself - a statement, says Motlanthe, that is far more often false than true.
Direct donations to the ANC are frequently solicited, sources say. Contractors are also known not just to donate to the party generally but also to bankroll particular factions or individuals, well placed to dispense large contracts.
Bending the rules, says Motlanthe, becomes a culture when people lower down see that higher-ups do it.
The ANC and its structures are the first stop for anyone hoping to make money out of government contracts. And the party is highly vulnerable to manipulation by those looking to gain influence.
Corrupting the ANC is not an expensive business. Membership costs R12/year and the practice of buying members to support an individual in a branch or provincial conference election is common. ANC membership rises and sometimes even doubles in the lead-up to a provincial conference (see graphs).
Procedures put in place to confound ghost members had been subverted, Motlanthe said in an official report in July 2005, and people had been able to "capture branches" and "advance self-serving agendas".
One local councillor - a community worker of excellent standing who lost his seat on the Emfuleni city council (Vereeniging) when his branch failed to nominate him in 2005 - told the FM the branch nomination process was "mad".
"Almost everybody was pushing to get in [as a councillor]. I saw a lot of people I didn't know. These people had just been given membership - they had not been in the organisation at any point before."
The impact on the party is clear. Businessman Saki Macozoma says he is deeply concerned about how "the expectation of making money out of government distorts the politics of the ANC".
"People who have no interest in advancing the politics of the ANC have stormed in and taken over. Once inside, they displace others - and competence goes out of the window," he says.
Access to provincial cabinet positions now carry an additional significance. The highest prize are those with capital budgets to spend: housing, public works, roads and transport.
To see how access to such power is distorting the way the party should work, consider another example.
Mcebisi Skwatsha - Deployed
Mcebisi Skwatsha is the popular secretary of the Western Cape ANC - a position he has held for two terms. Though things have changed now, for many years Skwatsha was one of only a few African members of the ANC on the provincial executive. But though Skwatsha was close to Ebrahim Rasool, the ANC leader before 2005 and the premier since 2004, he wasn't automatically considered by Rasool for appointment to his cabinet.
Ebrahim Rasool - Faction fighting in the Western Cape
When Rasool put his cabinet together in April 2004, he was lobbied to include Skwatsha by the ANC's national structures. He was given the coveted transport & public works portfolio, which allows him to oversee the valuable property interests of the province, complete with a substantial capital budget.
The party was trying to solve another problem. It had become concerned by complaints of a monopoly on economic opportunities by a small group of businessmen in the Western Cape (see case study, "Ethnic wrangling").
But not long into his term, Skwatsha's responsibilities were summarily re organised by Rasool, who took the management of government's property assets away from Skwatsha and reallocated them to his office.
The FM has been told that Skwatsha was negotiating with businessman Brett Kebble over the disposal of the provincial government's most precious jewel, the Somerset Hospital site, situated near the Waterfront complex and ripe for a multi billion-rand development. Those negotiations have been confirmed by an associate of Skwatsha's.
The result of the reorganisation was outrage and pandemonium in the ANC. Skwatsha parted ways with Rasool and teamed up with the "Africanist" faction that both had previously disdained. The provincial conference (during which the Skwatsha faction, according to a well-placed source, had its pre conference caucus meeting in a Seapoint hotel bankrolled by Kebble) saw Rasool stripped of much power. He lost his position as chairman and only barely held on to an ordinary seat on the provincial executive.
According to sources in the Skwatsha camp, Rasool had one more stab at Skwatsha before losing his position. Two weeks before the provincial conference, Skwatsha was hit by corruption allegations, accused of trying to get a security tender from the city council for his brother's company by using his political influence.
Rasool, says a member of the ANC provincial executive, admitted afterwards that he had met the investigating officer twice - which may explain why the police raiding the city's tender offices said in an affidavit that they were doing so on the orders of the premier.
Cleared over a year later of any wrong doing by the elite Scorpions unit, the ebullient Skwatsha cracked open a bottle of champagne at a press conference late last year.
"The champagne was not just because there was no case against him, but because Rasool had used state resources against him and failed," says a friend.
The broedertwis in the Western Cape ANC shows how the arrival of business opportunities has changed political life.
SA Communist Party leader and intellectual Jeremy Cronin says that the ideology of the ANC has shifted. While the general thinking used to reflect an organisational and collective approach to change, nowadays the emphasis is an individualistic one, a prevailing notion that "you can get whatever you want, if you want it badly enough".
Saki Macozoma - The ANC is being distorted to make money
Motlanthe and Macozoma both speak of the rise of the "Lotto mentality" and how the idea that it is possible to become an instant millionaire has taken root. Working for low wages or low returns in a small-scale enterprise is scorned.
"People see that others are making reported millions - even though it's actually all debt. Ordinary ANC members ask themselves why not me?'," says Macozoma.
So can the ANC get its house in order? For more than 18 months the party has been paralysed by leadership succession. Little else has been discussed at the NEC, the most senior committee of the party, despite a general recognition from across the board that the ANC is rotting from within.
A sub committee of the NEC, made up of Macozoma, finance minister Trevor Manuel and others, was recently asked to produce guidelines on how the ANC should deal with the problems arising from its members' dealings in business.
This was after Motlanthe rang alarm bells more than 18 months ago at the ANC's national general council, where he warned that the involvement of members in business was destroying the soul of the party.
Expedient membership of the ANC
Some of the group's suggestions include: declarations of interest for ANC officials; guidelines on what kind of donations the ANC should accept; and the suggestion that a special committee elected at the party's five-yearly national conference deal with disputes between members.
Solutions, though, are constrained heavily by two things.
The history of political and economic dispossession makes it unlikely that anyone, politician or high-ranking civil servant or not, will be excluded from the exceptional opportunities that BEE provides for wealth accumulation.
"You've got to be reasonable and pragmatic about this. Cooling-off periods [where ex-government officials are restricted from participating in the sectors they have regulated] won't work for our generation. Where a person has built up skills and knowledge in an area, you can't tell them they can't participate," says Macozoma.
Neither is excluding serving politicians from participation in business a realistic option, he says. "BEE creates a particular opportunity with a limited shelf life - you can't exclude people from it."
But more immediately, the ANC is constrained most heavily in finding a solution by its own organisational paralysis. Obsessed with its leadership battle, the party has been rendered incapable of honest self-reflection at a time when it is faced with challenges that can bring about its own destruction. It is crucial for the party to reflect on its own systems and processes. The ANC national conference, at the end of this year, must choose the future leader of the party. But it may be more important to decide the future of the party itself.
Motlanthe's words in reference to the Western Cape can be applied to the party as a whole: "I told them that they have no ideological differences; they have no racial differences. They are fighting over control and monopoly of tender processes."
Friday, February 2, 2007
The ANC has acknowledged that it should not manage the state as a party political instrument.
This is contained in the party's draft strategy and tactics document that has been forwarded to branches for discussion ahead of the party's national congress in December.
The ANC's cadre deployment policy has repeatedly come under fire from opposition parties with the ANC accused of abusing state resources for party political ends.
Moreover, internal party battles have also spilled over into the state, affecting the intelligence services, among others, particularly in the context of the succession battle.
The document notes that many leaders and cadres of the movement were in positions of massive influence in the executive, the legislatures and state institutions.
"Enticing opportunities" had been created for cadres in business and professions.
Even within the trade union movement, student, youth, women and other mass democratic organisations, "unprecedented opportunities for individual material gain" have opened up.
"All this creates a problem of 'social distance' between these cadres and ordinary members and supporters, the majority of whom are working class and poor," the document says.
Moreover, political incumbency also presented a myriad problems in the management of the ANC's organisational relations, the document says.
"Patronage, arrogance of power, bureaucratic indifference, corruption and other ills arise, undermining the core values of the organisation: to serve the people."
Significantly it notes that the ANC should give strategic leadership to those of its cadres in institutions of government.
In its conduct in relation to the state, "the ANC should manage the state as an organ of the people as a whole rather than a party political instrument", the document says.
The party's chief strategist Joel Netshitenzhe yesterday briefed the ANC's parliamentary lekgotla in Cape Town about the document, with MPs breaking into commissions to discuss the draft.
President Thabo Mbeki and his deputy Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, in her capacity as head of the ANC's political committee in parliament, will address MPs today. The lekgotla ends on Sunday.
The 16-page document will, once adopted at the end of the year, replace the 10-year-old strategy and tactics approved at the ANC's national conference in Mafikeng in 1997.
It takes into account global shifts that have taken place, changes in the country in the first 13 years of democracy and in the democratic movement itself.
The draft notes that the progress made since the attainment of democracy was such "that we are still some way from the ideal of national democracy".
"The ownership and control of wealth and income, the poverty trap and access to opportunity are still in the main defined, as under apartheid, on the basis of race and gender."
It says that the achievement of democracy had seen the dramatic, if still exceedingly limited, emergency of the black capital group, which was largely a product of democratic change.
"However, because their rise is dependent in part on co-operation with elements of established white capital, they are susceptible to co-option into serving its narrow interests …
"Because their advance is dependent on a variety of interventions, and on opportunities provided by the state, they are tempted to use corrupt means to advance their personal interests."
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
If the primary responsibility of governments is to protect their citizens from murderous criminals and lawless bandits, the Mbeki administration is open to criticism for downplaying the threat posed to South Africa by its high levels of crime.
If the second obligation of governments in the age of electricity and the marvels the microchip is to maintain a sufficient and reliable supply of power, President Thabo Mbeki is vulnerable to censure for allowing demand to exceed supply.
He cannot fairly be criticised for ignoring or denying that crime is a destructive force in post-apartheid South Africa. He can, however, be reproached for adding so many riders to his admissions of concern that they almost negate them.
'Mbeki asserted that most South Africans would agree with him'
Thus, while he referred to crime as "a scourge" in his recent address commemorating the 95th anniversary of the founding of the ANC, he later felt the need to qualify it by describing crime as a problem rather than an out-of-control crisis.
In an apparent bid to emphasise his qualifying point, Mbeki asserted that most South Africans would agree with him.
He needs to ask himself why, according to the Human Science Research Council's massive social attitude survey, 75 percent of adult South Africans support the execution of convicted murderers, if it is not because they think these criminals are literally getting away with murder.
While official police crime statistics point to a steady decrease in several categories of serious crime, including murder, it should be noted that the overall levels are still high and that the decreases need to seen in the context of increases in cash-in-transit robberies and rape, as well as a 7 percent increase in the 21 most serious crimes in the 12 years from 1994 to 2006.
In what might be interpreted as a sign that crime is not taken as seriously as it should be, South Africa's programme of action on how to address the deficiencies and weakness in contemporary society does not include crime as one of the problems that needs be tackled urgently.
The reason given for that astounding omission from the programme - which was submitted to the African Peer Review secretariat - is a decision by the programme drafters to restrict it to issues where a "discernible impact" can be made through limited and specifically targeted government interventions.
The African Union was not impressed, judging by the leaked contents of a report that it sent to Mbeki. The AU urged South Africa to take a tough stand against violent crime and radical action to remedy the underlying causes of poverty and unemployment.
Charles Nqakula, the minister of safety and security, has been sharply criticised for failing to take the concerns of opposition members of parliament seriously about the continuing high level of crime.
He is on record as advising three opposition parliamentarians to emigrate to another country if they believe crime makes life in South Africa intolerable. His facetious response contains a corollary: the imputation that they do not talk on behalf of the black majority, an insinuation that was repudiated by black as well as white people the next day.
On the critical shortage of electricity, and the recurring outages that disrupt the economy, inconvenience the citizenry and impede the flow of traffic on already congested and perilous roads, there is a similar inclination by Mbeki's ministers to belittle the distress of those affected or to deflect blame from themselves and/or the government. Instead of maintaining a tactful silence on the complaints of the businessmen about the loss of production and damage to the economy of the latest major outage - the one that cast a literal pall of gloom over large areas of Johannesburg and Cape Town - Trevor Manuel, the minister of finance, dismissed their estimates of the costs as "overcooked and utter garbage".
As Eskom is a state-owned and, ultimately, state-controlled utility, the suspicion exists that Manuel's outburst was a defencive response, an attempt to minimise the damage to the government he serves by minimising the cost of the outage to the economy.
Manuel, who has been highly praised for his skillful management of the government's macro-economic policy, is normally a man who chooses his words carefully and presents his case skilfully. His colloquial outburst is not unprecedented, however.
He delivered a similar outburst during a budget debate in 2004, when he accused opposition parliamentarians of "speaking voodoo" for daring to press the government to make anti-retroviral drugs available at state health institutions for the treatment of HIV/Aids.
As it turned out, the government eventually agreed that there were sound medical reasons to prescribe anti-retroviral drugs as an integral part of its comprehensive treatment plan for the dreaded pestilence.
To return to the recurring outages that increasingly characterise South Africa: like Nelson Mandela, Alec Erwin, the minister of public enterprises, is another minister who is generally respected for his cool-headedness and rationality.
But late in February last year, as Cape Town's residents seethed because of a series of power cuts and as the national local government elections approached, Erwin further inflamed anger in many households that had reverted to primus stoves to boil water for tea or coffee.
In what seemed to be a deliberate intervention to deflect public anger away from the ANC government and the ANC-controlled city council for failing to ensure the supply of power to the city, he raised the spectre of sabotage.
He publicly postulated that a loose bolt that had brought a unit of the Koeberg nuclear power station to a standstill had not been caused by incompetent maintenance of the unit but, instead, by a deliberate act of sabotage.
Erwin's statement did not save the ANC from defeat in its battle against the Democratic Alliance for the control of Cape Town, however.
Later, in August last year, when police investigations failed to establish that saboteurs had been at work, Erwin took another tack. He strongly denied that he had mentioned the word "sabotage", although, he said, at the time there was a "serious possibility" that it had been the work of a saboteur or saboteurs.
Unfortunately for Erwin, he was recorded by e.tv news as saying: "This is in fact not an accident… Any interference with any electricity installation is an exceptionally serious crime. It is sabotage."
He referred in the same statement to pending legal action and the laying of a charge. Neither occurred.
The saga is not over yet. The full cost of folly and incompetence has still to be paid. South Africa's reserve supply of power is well below the international standard of between 10 percent and 15 percent. A winter of discontent looms ominously.
The inside track on how South Africa’s political economy is headed for crises on all major fronts.
There are but few countries where illicit commando-type militias can roam around at will and, deploying deadly and significant ordnance, plunder, rape and murder at will. Believe it, that La Victoria ranks as a full-blown ghost town. Its final denizens fled last month when members of an irregular militia popped two of the village’s young men in broad daylight.
But the 1999 massacre in La Gabarra (when 40 people were slain by an irregular militia), remains one of the bloodiest single incidents against civilians in this country’s recent history. Another massacre two years ago left 34 farmers dead in the same hamlet.
These stories are set up near the Venezuela border in the north-eastern Catatumbo region of Colombia. The other country is South Africa, which this week released statistics showing that 18 545 South Africans were slaughtered in the year to 31 March 2006, equal to 51 people a day, holidays included. These numbers pale over La Gabarra, especially considering that Colombia has been in a war for four decades.
Colombia and South Africa have the highest murder rates in the world, but while South African leaders remain ominously silent on crime, Colombian president Álvaro Uribe Vélez recently appealed to all members of the UN General Assembly to support his country's security policies. Just as the UN has labeled Colombia as the worst humanitarian crisis in the Americas, the UN remains as silent on South Africa’s shocking crime problem as do South African leaders in the ruling party.
In Colombia, the fuel of violence is cash generated from coca, cultivated in the first step to processing cocaine, the champagne of the illicit drugs trade. Even then, Uribe has had the resolution to appeal for international help; “it is time”, he said, “for the international community to urgently call on violent groups to make peace without any more delays”.
South Africa is no small player in the global illicit drugs scene. Close to 100 000 cases of “drug related” crime were recorded by the police in 2005/2006. The big crime syndicates, which may well be protected in some or other way, somehow remain untouchable.
In a recent drugs bust in Alberton, near Johannesburg, some R250m of hashish and cannabis was seized. It was to be a single shipment. Several arrests were made but the kingpin of the syndicate (which imports hashish from the Middle East via cannabis-growing Swaziland and Lesotho, prior to re-shipment from South Africa to Canada and then Holland) is yet to be arrested, even when his identity is hardly a secret.
President Thabo Mbeki needs to clarify South Africa’s policy over illicit drugs, which play an increasingly important role in the economy. According to the latest UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report, South Africa and its neighbours comprise one of the world’s biggest growers and exporters of cannabis. The drug is rated as the third biggest export earner for Lesotho; Swaziland exports cannabis to the UK, US, Netherlands, and Japan. In 2004, the Republic of Ireland reported that 99% of the cannabis consumed in their country originated from South Africa.
In both South Africa and Colombia, money generated from illicit drugs corrupts a swamp-chain of never-ending crimes, ranging from money laundering and illegal possession of firearms and ammunition to bribery and, where required, contact crimes. While Colombia has long had a narco-economy, South Africa has quickly developed and adapted a crime-economy, illustrated by the 2.3m crimes reported to the police in 2005/2006.
Crime is institutionalized in both countries. Uribe argues that the root of the problem in his country is organized violence under “fictitious political pretexts”. Afrikaans author Andre Brink this week wrote in French daily Le Monde that South Africa’s “new elite” are “directly related to the increase in violence in the country”. Their first priority, Brink argues, “is apparently to fill their own pockets and those of family and friends and to abuse their positions, even if they have to step on the victims of murder, rape and violence and telling those who dare protest to shut up or leave”.
For the optimists, there may be an innovative way to deal with South Africa’s burgeoning crime-economy, courtesy of an idea that cropped up at a recent conference in Kenya. The idea is that those involved in serious corruption cases should be charged with crimes against humanity.
Under international law, the most serious crimes include genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression. Those charged under such headings can be put on trial anywhere in the world. The conference heard that corruption drains Africa of about 25% of its GDP (gross domestic product), and that the collateral damage, universally recognised, is that corruption is a major cause of poverty.
Corruption hideously undermines the foundations and basics, never mind advancement, of human rights. The Registrar of the International Tribunal for Rwanda, Adama Dieng, was reported as saying that in poor countries economic crimes might be as damaging as the worst violations of human rights, as they may cause starvation of the citizens for whom funds were intended.
South Africa is rotten with corruption. Its public sector has been overwhelmed by financial mismanagement, which includes unknown elements and degrees of corruption. An analysis of 135 annual audits conducted by auditor-general Shauket Fakie on the 34 national government departments and public entities from 2001/2002 to 2004/2005 shows that just seven “clean reports” were issued. There were 35 graded as “qualified” or branded with “adverse opinion” or slammed with “disclaimer”; 128 had an “emphasis of matter”.
Qualified reports, adverse opinions or disclaimers from the auditor-general denote entities in a state of financial disarray and mismanagement. Those that received reports in these categories expended (in the 2004/2005 year alone) a massive R52bn, or 30% of the national budget. Reports of fresh dirty accounts are starting to roll out, as the 2005/2006 reporting season hits parliament. This week, for instance, home affairs again received a qualified audit opinion from the auditor-general, for the fifth consecutive year.
Below this mismanagement and its attendant corruption, poverty remains an insoluble problem. This week Statistics SA estimated that South Africa’s “population of working age” stood at 29,9m persons on March 31 2006. The “labour force” is defined as 16,7m persons; of this, 4,3m (25,6%) are officially defined as unemployed, while 3,7m (22%) are defined as “discouraged work-seekers”. A combination of the latter two groups means that close to 50% of South Africa's labour force don’t have jobs. Just 41,7% (12,5m) of South Africa’s working force population (29,9m) have jobs.
South Africa’s politicians, and new elite, are punching way above their weight on the international stage while their backyards develop into ever-deeper pits of toxic chaos. The chickens, vapid, starving and moth-eaten as they may be, are staggering home to roost. This year’s PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) global economic crime survey found that 83% of companies and entities surveyed in South Africa were victims of economic crime in the past two years, in comparison with 45% globally.
South Africa’s refusal to recognise its crime-economy is costing more by the second. This week, the country slipped badly in the ranking tables of the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2006-2007. High crime, poor levels of health care and primary education were cited as key reasons for South Africa being shoved down to the ranking of 45, five places lower than the previous year.
In the basic requirements sub-index, South Africa fell 12 places to 58. The country’s human development ranking, as measured by the UNDP’s Human Development index, has been declining since 1995 and South Africa now ranks only 103rd in the world for basic health and education.
Earlier this year, reports from the Stellenbosch-based Bureau for Economic Research and the World Bank’s International Financial Corporation graphically illustrated how the South African government clutters the economy with regulatory obstacles. A more recent publication, the Fraser Institute’s regulatory survey of 64 mining jurisdictions, placed South Africa a lowly 37th.
Next month, Tito Mboweni, governor of South Africa’s central bank, will lead a number of top business executives to major New York meetings “in the biggest bid ever to attract trade and investment”. What will he be saying?
Sunday, January 28, 2007
South Africa diverts hospital cash to pay for World Cup
A hospital building program in South Africa has been delayed to help pay for the country's hosting of the 2010 football World Cup. The construction of two hospitals in the remote Northern Cape has been held up for a year while funds are diverted to pay for the tournament. The South African Treasury said spending on health was increasing but did not deny that the money had been transferred. The cost of providing new and renovated stadiums for the World Cup is rapidly rising, with construction bills hundreds of millions of dollars over budget. The budget blow-out is due to inadequate government planning. President Thabo Mbeki has staked South Africa's reputation on the success of the World Cup.
Surrendered guns used by criminals
A "sizable number" of guns surrendered to the police for destruction have mysteriously found their way to criminal syndicates and warring taxi groups. Crooked police working at firearm centres at several police stations countrywide have been selling guns to criminal syndicates. The guns were meant to be kept in safes pending their destruction.
We are at war
South Africa’s top businessmen have expressed outrage at spiralling crime, saying violent criminals have plunged the country into crisis. Johann Rupert spoke of South Africans “being at war with ourselves”, and Saki Macozoma decried the country’s descent into “criminality” following the murder on Friday of world-renowned KwaZulu- Natal battlefields historian David Rattray at his home. The 49-year-old Anglo-Zulu War expert was shot three times in the chest at his home in Fugitive’s Drift, apparently by would-be robbers, and died in front of his wife Nicky. The historian had influential friends throughout the world. Billionaire businessman and chairman of Swiss luxury goods group Richemont Johann Rupert described the murder as “senseless”. “Is this the society that thousands of people fought and sacrificed their lives for? People who do not believe that our country is in crisis with violent crime must be in denial,” said Rupert. “This is not the type of country I’d hoped my children would live in ... we must now realise that in this country we’re at war with ourselves. South Africa has definitely lost one of its great sons ... he gave his life to promoting Zulu culture,” he said. Businessman, former activist and ANC National Executive Committee member Saki Macozoma described his death as “an example of the criminality that pervades our society.”
Thursday, January 25, 2007
JOHN Lennon once sang, “How can I go forward when I don’t know which way I’m facing?” How right he was. Everyone is a little exercised on the issue of crime right now, but the contradictions abound.
For a start, we give convicted criminals resounding farewells at the gates of our prisons, sending entirely the wrong message to those who might be considering augmenting their income by illegal means. Loyalty is a good thing, particularly when it is shown to someone who has shared the trenches with you, but as leaders we really do need to be a little more circumspect about these things.
African National Congress (ANC) leaders could, for instance, on the occasions of Tony Yengeni’s entry to and departure from prison, have demonstrated their loyalty in a less public fashion. Simply because when you carry Yengeni to prison shoulder-high but scream in protest when a farmer who accidentally shot a young boy gets what you perceive to be a lenient sentence, you are harming the very fabric of the justice system.
And that is quite apart from the damage done by perceptions that some prisoners are more equal than others: that apparent parole violations go unpunished, that the rules that apply to release into correctional supervision are bent, and that animal cruelty laws can be ignored in the interests of “cleansing”. What an extraordinary irony it will be if Yengeni returns to prison for animal cruelty. But that is another matter.
Then, of course, when four police officers are slaughtered by an armed gang in the so-called Jeppestown massacre, Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula instructs his police service not to hesitate in using their firearms when they perceive themselves to be under threat.
President Thabo Mbeki and his cabinet engage with big business in trying to devise better ways of combating the crime wave. It seems at last that the penny has dropped and that government is going to take the war against crime more seriously than in the past. The slight improvements in the annually released crime statistics are simply irrelevant in the context of the deluge of crime committed each year.
While he is no longer a member of the government, Jacob Zuma is the second-in-command of the ANC. He muddied the waters considerably when he gave an interview to a German newspaper, making the astonishing claim that football lovers who visit our shores for the 2010 Fifa World Cup will be safe. How he could say that is anybody’s guess, particularly remembering that the coach of a foreign team of disabled swimmers was raped within 100m of the front door of her hotel.
But Zuma went further. He said that the perception that crime was rampant in SA was a media creation. In other words, that the high crime rate did not really exist. Wow!
Mbeki appeared to take issue with his deputy when, in his New Year’s message to the nation, he appealed to all people to co-operate with the police in fighting crime. It seemed that the president was moving to fill what many commentators have seen as a vacuum in government responses to crime. That vacuum has in the past been characterised as a failure by government to clearly and loudly condemn all crime.
Mbeki went further when, sharing a platform with Zuma during the ANC’s birthday celebrations, he again urged an increase in community action to combat crime. He was taking the lead, telling the nation to stop tolerating crime and criminals. It was the leadership many believe is a vital component of taking the war to the criminals.
But, within days, Mbeki would tell the nation that it was only a “perception” that crime was out of control in SA. He told radio journalist Tim Modise that he could not believe that South Africans would be afraid to walk in the streets outside the SABC offices in Auckland Park. He was entirely wrong: people are generally afraid to walk in the streets, particularly after dark.
Now the ANC has, after its lekgotla last weekend, made what is probably its toughest statement yet on the crime wave. It appeared to be highly critical of Mbeki and Zuma and said that government’s response to the crime situation had to be well considered, effectively co-ordinated and comprehensive. But ANC spokesman Smuts Ngonyama reportedly said that seeing the ANC statement as a repudiation of Mbeki was “politicking” and unhelpful in the fight against the criminals.
I have heard that a clear space should be kept between party and state, but this is ridiculous.
Lennon asked a good question.
Nobody can prove that the majority of the country’s 40 million to 50 million citizens think that crime is spinning out of control
President Thabo Mbeki
South Africans believe government is failing to combat crime despite President Thabo Mbeki’s claim that crime is not spinning out of control.
A Markinor survey revealed today shows that South Africans are more critical of the government’s handling of crime now than they were a year ago.
"In fact, crime and unemployment are two of the critical delivery areas in which government has consistently achieved less than a pass mark over the years," Markinor Director and political analyst Mari Harris said in a statement.
Only four in every ten adult South Africans think the government does enough to reduce crime, according to a Markinor bi-annual government performance barometer conducted among 3,500 people in November 2006.
However, they do have a "relatively high level" of trust in the Scorpions and mostly agree with the way in which the elite team handles high-profile corruption investigations.
"But, when it comes to government’s crime fighting efforts in general, the survey shows a significant drop in confidence," said Harris.
A fifth of adult South Africans were of the opinion that the country was becoming less safe - among them a substantial number of African National Congress supporters, said Harris. While 44 percent of people surveyed in November 2005 rated their personal safety as improving, only 37 percent felt the same way in November 2006.
Although President Thabo Mbeki had acknowledged the negative impact of crime on the public, he had raised ire in suggesting that crime was not out of hand, she said.
On Monday, Mbeki told television interviewer Tim Modise that it was just a perception that crime was out of control.
"It’s not as if someone will walk here to the (television) studio in Auckland Park and get shot.
"That doesn’t happen and it won’t happen. Nobody can prove that the majority of the country’s 40 million to 50 million citizens think that crime is spinning out of control."
However, the survey showed that only four out 10 South Africans believed that the government was effectively reducing the crime rate "very well" or "fairly well".
"South Africans thus do not necessarily share the perception expressed by the president that crime is under control," said Harris.
Crime experts and victims have accused Mbeki of being out of touch with reality.
Institute for Security Studies senior researcher Johan Burger told the daily newspaper Beeld that Mbeki had shown he was not clued-up about the experiences of ordinary people.
Former Springbok rugby wing Gerrie Germishuys, who was recently attacked at his home in Northcliff, Johannesburg, said: "If the government’s armed bodyguards were taken away from them, they would realise how unsafe the country has become."
Burger said there were some positive indicators that crime was levelling off, but it had to be appreciated that this was from an extremely high level.
"If crime is not out of control, it is under control. And, it may be a bit early to say that," he said.
"One should not be duped by positive tendencies, because it does not make one any safer."
President Thabo Mbeki, dismissing crime as a perception problem rather than a death problem, said you could walk from Auckland Park to the SABC studios (a block away) without getting shot. Of course it’s possible. Probable even.
But the sad fact of Mbeki’s SA, and with which he will not deal, is that being shot, savaged or raped here is nevertheless a serious prospect.
I first thought Mbeki was being cynical. But his uncontrollable (and therefore not premeditated) default on crime (and AIDS) seems to be denial.
Yes, the president will concede, levels of perception are unacceptably high. There were 19000 fatal perceptions last year. A good friend of the chief of police has just been charged with one fatal perception and, last week, a narcotics perception. Mbeki trusts the chief of police, he says.
The president says he knows crime is not out of control because he travels around and speaks to imbizos. But it is impossible to be frank with Mbeki. If a peasant in Mpumalanga were to stand up at a presidential imbizo and complain about crime, Mbeki would argue with him until he won. That’s how he talks to people. Ask his many advisory groups how stilted their exchanges are. People who cross Thabo Mbeki are cut dead. At the imbizos, he says, no one raises fears of safety with him. What’s his point? That the problem doesn’t exist?
There’s no point getting hot under the collar about the president. Mbeki has just over two years to go and, in truth, he’s lost interest in us. Wipe yourself out in a celebrity drug binge or car crash and your family may warrant a presidential visit. But that’s all the sympathy on offer.
Mbeki knows the political game from here on in is all about a graceful exit. His thankfully conventional default on economic policy (basically, to leave things alone apart from colour tweaking) means he comes to the end of his term with more honour intact than many a departing leader. He’s made a political mess of the country, but not an economic one and, like scissors cuts paper, economy trumps politics. The trick for the next two years is to follow George Bush’s advice and to remember that “you can fool some of the people all the time and those are the people you need to concentrate on”. ‖
YOU still have time to go out and buy the current issue of the FM. It has a fantastic cover story on the way the ANC is being eaten away from the inside by greedy officials securing contracts for themselves and their friends.
The article helped me crystallise something I have only half realised, and that is the way we have been overwhelmed in this country since the ANC took power in 1994 by projects. Have you noticed?
Everyone seems to be working on a project. Of course, it’s because projects have budgets and budgets are there to be bled dry by officials and consultants and friends. Some of the projects even have some sort of good intent, though usually only when government is not involved.
I wonder how many projects actually stand the test of time. Normally, it’s just build it and bugger off. Collect your cheques when you pass Go. A few years ago, it was decided to build a ferry over the bottom reaches of the Mbashe River in Transkei, to join the communities on either side. More than R20m was spent on building a magnificent winding road down the to the river and up the other side. The pont itself was a gleaming piece of engineering, powered by huge outboard motors. A new boathouse housed spares, petrol and staff.
Six months later the pont was gone; stolen or washed away, never to be replaced. The road is now a crumbling mess and the boathouse has burned down. Projectitis is incurable and it kills the one thing all successful societies take seriously — maintenance and the culture of caring for what you already have.
26 January 2007
A confidential internal report has painted a grim picture of disarray in the African National Congress Youth League, with seven of its provincial structures collapsing or in deep crisis.
And insiders say the unwavering support of the league’s national leaders for Jacob Zuma is a significant factor in this decline.
The plight of the youth league is acknowledged in last year’s organisational report of its national working committee, which has been leaked to the Mail & Guardian.
The report paints a picture of leadership squabbles, political infighting and internal rebellion. Seven of the league’s provincial structures have been replaced by “task teams” dispatched by the national leadership. The only provinces to escape the imposition of task teams are the Northern Cape and Limpopo.
The findings of the report raise major questions about who the league speaks for, and whether it can bring a meaningful mandate to this year’s key ANC national conference in Polokwane.
With the ANC Women’s League, it has guaranteed representation and voting rights at the conference, and was recently elevated to the status of a province in the ANC constitution. This means the youth league could have a much higher number of delegates than the 50 that is traditionally sent to the conference.
Zizi Kodwa, the league’s national spokesperson, acknowledged that the organisation was facing problems, but denied that it was paralysed in some provinces. The situation differed from province to province. “From where we stand, the youth league is not weak in seven provinces,” Kodwa said.
The league’s national leadership does not appear to be in a hurry to arrest the slide described in the report.
Instead, the organisation has postponed its elective conference, scheduled for July, to March next year, saying that it has an interest in, and hopes to influence, the outcome of the ANC conference in December.
This hints at the national leadership’s vehement desire to install Zuma as ANC president. However, league sources say they are facing “increasing opposition” over their support for him.
The league’s national leaders face a rebellion in the Eastern Cape after disbanding the provincial executive committee (PEC) last December. Eastern Cape leaders claim they are being persecuted for successfully campaigning against Zuma loyalists at last year’s ANC provincial conference and supporting a conference resolution nominating Mbeki as the Eastern Cape’s candidate for the ANC presidency.
The report lends credence to this version of events, referring to “continued pronouncements of the ANCYL in the Eastern Cape on ANC leadership issues, which have reflected contrary views to the policy positions of the organisation.”
After the ANC provincial conference the ANCYL Eastern Cape provincial spokesperson, Nkosifikile Gqomo, went public, saying that the ANCYL in Eastern Cape “supports the third term for the current president [Thabo Mbeki]”.
There is also known to be strong resistance to the league’s national position on the ANC succession battle in Gauteng, North West and the Western Cape.
The 64-year-old league played a key role in the ANC’s shift away from passive resistance in the early 1950s under such leaders as Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu, and has historically been an influential power-broker in the ANC.
Instead of its traditional allocation of 50 delegates it has been given the status of a separate province at this year’s ANC conference -- apparently meaning that the size of its delegation will reflect its organised membership. Kodwa claims the league has 800 000 paid-up members. This potentially gives its president, Fikile Mbalula, significant clout.
The right of youth league and women’s league to nominate candidates independently was withdrawn when the women’s league in KwaZulu-Natal named Winnie Madikizela-Mandela for the position of party deputy president on the eve of the 1997 conference in Mafikeng.
With the advent of South Africa’s democracy, under Peter Mokaba’s leadership, the “Young Turks” were a force to be reckoned with in the broad movement and played a key role in positioning Mbeki to fill Mandela’s shoes. In 1997, with Zuma’s support, it carried Mbeki to the party’s highest office, despite a challenge from Cyril Ramaphosa’s camp.
Its autonomous status in the ANC has allowed it to publicly endorse leadership candidates well in advance of elections and promote them, giving them an edge in a party that discourages open campaigning for top positions.
However, there are clear signs that its influence in the ANC is waning.
In Mafikeng in 1997, it failed to secure the ANC deputy presidency for its candidate, Mathews Phosa, after the league was told by party elders that the post would go to Zuma.
At the same conference, the league -- then aligned with Mbeki -- also failed to have Steve Tshwete elected as party chairperson, a job which went to Mosiuoa Lekota.
The league has also been weakened by its attempted forays into business and links with such figures as murdered mining boss Brett Kebble. Political commentator William Mervin Gumede, writing in Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC, says: “ANC Youth League members, once among the major power-brokers, are now too focused on making a fast buck to swing the election, but the yuppie politicians could be useful as noisy campaign troops.”
The ongoing leadership dogfight in the league, with some provinces opposed to giving the leadership to Zuma, means the league might not vote as a homogeneous block and that may decrease its influence at the conference and dilute support for its preferred candidate, Zuma.
Parliament was quickly losing its influence and power to hold the government to account, Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Tony Leon charged in his weekly letter on Friday.
Suggestions that Minister in the Presidency Essop Pahad lied to parliament was evidence that the legislature was now perceived as toothless, he said.
"Did Minister Pahad lie to parliament? If so, what will the reaction of government be... what is parliament going to do about one of its most senior members and ministers misleading the house?" he asked.
In response to DA parliamentary questions, Pahad denied that writer Ronald Suresh Roberts was working on a biography of President Thabo Mbeki when he was allegedly involved in brokering the R1.43m deal.
"But it is not just such aberrations emanating from the ruling party that undermine public trust in parliament.
"More serious is a broader systemic failure, whereby the legislature's operations are continuously undermined by the ruling party and its standing reduced to that of a second-class institution," said Leon.
A steady decline in parliament's influence and standing in 2006 did not bode well for 2007, he said.
"A drastic change is required if our highest legislative body is to fulfil its constitutionally entrenched function, namely, to frame, debate and pass the laws and to offer a check to executive power."
Leon said the sexual harassment claims against expelled former ANC chief whip Mbulelo Goniwe was merely the most sensational evidence of senior government appointees undermining the reputation of the legislature.
"Through his actions, President Mbeki's hand-picked appointee gravely tarnished the reputation of our highest legislative body," said Leon.
The impression that sleaze was defaming parliament was also underscored by the Travelgate affair.
'Important for MPs to focus'
"Regardless of declarations from Goniwe that the offenders were innocent until proven guilty, fully 32 MPs accepted plea bargains, effectively admitting guilt and agreeing to pay fines.
"While some of the early ANC plea-bargainers were fired, the ANC has yet to take action against the latest offenders," he said.
Leon blamed Speaker Baleka Mbete for parliament's degeneration into a "second class" institution.
"(Her) inability to assert parliament's prerogatives, and to forward tough questions about governmental corruption or ineptitude, confirms the unsettling impression that parliament is allowing its teeth to be pulled," he said.
It was important that MPs focus on their core functions if the house was to regain its standing in the eyes of the public and its effectiveness.
"It is vital that MPs commit to their Constitutional function as guardians of public liberties and of our citizens' right to know - in a word, to resume with vigour and determination their role as overseers of the executive," said Leon.
Jan 25th 2007
A controversial vote shows how far the country's foreign policy has changed
LESS than a month after taking up its seat (for two years) at the UN Security Council, South Africa created a stir with its very first vote. It was the only country to side with China and Russia in opposing a resolution calling on Myanmar's military rulers to improve their appalling human-rights record. China's and Russia's knuckles are regularly rapped over their own records in this respect, and the Chinese have vested interests in the Burmese junta. So their veto was no surprise. But South Africa's vote seemed odd for a country whose first democratic president, Nelson Mandela, said it would regard human rights as “the light that guides our foreign policy”. Archbishop Desmond Tutu declared that the vote was a betrayal of South Africa's past.
The official explanation is that, although the situation in Myanmar is bad, it does not pose a security risk, so it is beyond the Security Council's mandate. The problem, South Africa argues, would be best tackled in other UN bodies, such as the Human Rights Council. But South Africa's vote may have had less to do with UN procedure and more to do with sending some strong signals about its foreign priorities.
The vote presented a chance for South Africa to “nail its colours to the mast”, says Garth Le Pere of the Institute for Global Dialogue, a local research outfit. That means waving a flag for poor countries to redress the perceived hegemony of the West. China has become a big trading partner for Africa, and Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, made his first visit to South Africa last year. South Africa is building closer links with Brazil and India, and has defended Iran over its nuclear ambitions. It also wants the poor world to have a louder voice in the Security Council, the World Bank and the IMF.
This is quite a change from the Mandela presidency, when a freshly democratic South Africa, basking in its moral glory, promoted the upholding of human rights as its guiding foreign-policy principle. Now President Thabo Mbeki's priority is to put African interests and those of the poor world, as he sees them, first. South Africa has been preoccupied with building a stronger continent, including new structures such as the African Union (AU), in the hope of reducing Africa's reliance on Western help and its vulnerability—in Mr Mbeki's view—to Western meddling. South Africa has sent peacekeepers or mediators to trouble spots across Africa, from Sudan to Côte d'Ivoire, and may now send troops to Somalia. These efforts have produced patchy results, but South Africa, once an international pariah, has become a favourite mediator for addressing Africa's myriad conflicts.
But the Myanmar vote is an awkward way to advance such worthy aims. Mr Tutu argued that South Africa would not be the free country it is today if others had taken similar views at the UN in the apartheid years. Its moral reputation has already been tarnished by its failure to denounce Robert Mugabe's dreadful regime in neighbouring Zimbabwe. South Africa will have a chance next week to redeem itself, at least partly, when the AU decides whether to let Sudan, whose government has overseen mass-murder in the Darfur region, take the organisation's annual chair. South Africa is expected to oppose the move, as it did last year. But from being a rare African beacon for human rights, it has become more like most other countries around the world—putting their own interests before principle.
January 22, 2007
The version of the free market system adopted by the African National Congress (ANC) government had led to "truly bizarre" outcomes in government policy and was to blame for the crony capitalism in SA, Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) president Mangosuthu Buthelezi said on Friday.
"There is a dangerous disjuncture which has led to multiple contradictions in a government committed to, as President Thabo Mbeki eloquently put it, the 'broad family of ideas that might be called left'. In practice this has led to some truly bizarre policy outcomes," Buthelezi said in a statement.
An example of this was that while Finance Minister Trevor Manuel had rightly said that people should not become dependent on social grants and should seek work, it was the "crippling rigidity of the labour market legislation" that the government enacted which had made it onerous for work seekers to get jobs, he said.
"This heart and head split in government thinking is again expressed in its reluctance to develop standard antitrust and a pro-competition legislation to break the grip of our public and private cartels and monopolies on our economy."
The consequences of this "free market" were painful, Buthelezi said. Bank charges were among the highest in the world and provided little incentive for poor people to put money into bank accounts. Yet without banking facilities, people could not obtain loans to purchase property or start their own small businesses.
"Many in the ANC have clearly twisted the fundamentals of the free market model to suit the needs of its real constituency -- the lucky elite few in its own ranks at the expense of the unlucky masses," he said.
The South African free market model should be based on "meritocracy, hard work, integrity and genuine individualism".
The ANC had laid the foundations for a well-functioning enterprise economy in 1994. "Thirteen years on, clearly something has gone wrong in this country as crony capitalism and rampant materialism have, hand in hand, rotted our society," Buthelezi said.
January 22, 2007
The critical lack of skills crippling virtually all structures of government and impeding effective service delivery will be high on the agenda when ministers and other senior government officials meet at this week's cabinet lekgotla.
While the cabinet remains tight-lipped about what will be discussed, it is understood that senior government officials are deeply concerned that skills development and acquisition could become a stumbling block for government's Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for SA (Asgi-SA), aimed at overcoming the obstacles to a higher rate of economic growth.
The skills shortage has become the focus of a dedicated joint initiative for priority skills acquisition, under the leadership of Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, which aims to radically reduce the skills deficit within three years. The lack of skills is regarded as an obstacle to improving the capacity of government to spend the ever higher revenue collected by the South African Revenue Service in the current buoyant economic conditions.
Government's massive R410bn infrastructure programme and the preparations for the 2010 Soccer World Cup have also boosted demand on the very small pool of skilled people in the country.
In desperation, cabinet ministers such as Mlambo-Ngcuka and Public Service and Administration Minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi have been driven to extend the hunt abroad for skilled foreigners and South African expatriates.
The challenge for government to spend its resources is likely to become more acute when Finance Minister Trevor Manuel tables his budget in Parliament next month, as he is expected to report a very small deficit, if not an embarrassing budget surplus.
The medium-term budget policy statement tabled in October projected a budget deficit of 0,4% of gross domestic product, but this could again be overtaken by strong revenue inflows and high levels of underspending by the state.Another obvious programme to receive attention will be poverty alleviation.
Mbeki is expected to announce an expansion of the expanded public works programme as a way of providing job opportunities for the unemployed in his state of the nation address early next month.
Mbeki said in the African National Congress (ANC) national executive committee's January statement that the programme was on course to reach its target of 1-million job opportunities in five years.
By June last year it had surpassed its employment creation targets across four sectors, with more than 300000 work opportunities created.
An extended meeting of cabinet ministers and other key government officials is held each year at this time, and was preceded by this weekend's ANC lekgotla. The ANC lekgotla debated the party's approach to the issues to be raised at the cabinet lekgotla.