Beware of Economic CODESA

Posted by on Oct 24, 2013

Beware of Economic CODESA

South Africa’s political economy has found itself, once again, in a state of damaging uncertainty. In many respects, the country’s young democracy manifests all symptoms of its evolutionary ‘teenagehood’, namely:  pretentious ideological contestations, careless social conduct, self-centred preoccupation with short-term goals, and self-defeating machinations for power and wealth accumulation.


The socio-political milieu is burdened by the triangle of market failure, state failure and corruption.  The fact that these phenomena are as prevalent in many other emerging democracies and economies is cold comfort for the poor and disadvantaged in South Africa. The root causes of these socio-economic problems are well known and generally acknowledged. Yet the absence of an inspired and principled leadership has allowed this configuration to persist thereby inflicting substantial damage to the country’s social fabric, with widespread negative impact on investment and job creation.  The situation calls for urgent attention given the prevailing high and rising unemployment, widespread poverty, volatile global conditions and dwindling investment trends


Understandably, therefore, some have called for the formation of a socio-economic CODESA- inspired by the process that helped resolve the political and stability crisis that bedevilled the country in the period preceding its 1994 democratic dispensation. However, an economic CODESA has very little chance of success in the prevailing circumstances. And, in fact there are reasons to believe that it might help delay the interventions that are so urgently needed.


For any consultative process to succeed, the first prerequisite is the presence of inspired, trusted and committed leaders within the various participating stakeholders. Otherwise, the process itself is bound to get embroiled in endless contestations about the bone fide of the representative leaders and their credibility to be around to oversee the implementation of whatever is agreed upon. A case in point is the fractured state of the business organisations, their leadership credibility and their long term commitment to sustained focus on complex interventions that are needed if issues such as the shortage of skills, poor training, collusive behaviour within the business sector, and the inequities within the business environment are going to be resolved.


Likewise, within the public sector the cohesive leadership commitment is lacking in order to remove the abuse of public resources, the systemic inefficiencies within the state sector, poor service delivery and the corrosive spread of manifest corruption. Other social structures such as trade unions, the media, academia, religious groupings and similar potential stakeholders suffer from some or other critical leadership fault-lines too. The congregation of such stakeholder leadership within a socio-economic CODESA is likely to create a platform for political grandstanding, opportunistic brinkmanship, and  self-serving short-termism- all of which are exactly what South Africa does not need at this point in time.


South Africa has achieved a great deal over a short period of time since its dawn of democracy. A careful and objective analysis of these achievements would demonstrate that the successes were the result of inspired leadership and commitment to the long term goals despite their short term pains. This is also the lesson of all successful societies. The remaining challenges that South Africa faces are no different in essence. We need to accept a few foundational truths. First and foremost is that there are no quick fixes. Long and inspired commitment is needed to remove systemic fault-lines. In so doing, there is no self-enrichment, nor is there necessarily any short term political popularity. And, there is no room for vacillation. Second, and as importantly, no amount of public promises, manifestos, and policy propositions is a substitute for consistent and sustained action. Social progress and economic development require the implementation of many of our public policies that are by and large sound.


An economic CODESA is likely to delay the urgent implementation of what needs to be done. Over the past decade, there has been no shortage of lekgotlas, summits,  seminars, workshops, study groups, and old and new growth paths. But there has been a dearth of action. Much like all other emerging economies, South Africa needs to enter the implementation mindset. Inaction is the country’s most damaging deficit. This needs to be remedied via committed and professional implementation and not yet another media spectacle of talks and  grand promises.