The Big Read: Looking for someone to blame

The Big Read: Looking for someone to blame

It’s difficult to capture in a headline the essence of what is going on, and going wrong in South Africa right now.
If you were to borrow the title from the world of books, perhaps Beryl Bainbridge’s slim 1996 classic of the night the Titanic sank Every Man for Himself, would be a handy summary.
If current happenings around here were a movie title, Friday the 13th Part 10, or some other horror film would fit the bill.
We now have a minister of mineral resources, the infamous Mosebenzi Zwane, who in his recklessness and ignorance gives a good impression that advancing the Gupta (and Zuma) family interests is his only purpose in political life.
Certainly, people in the mining industry advise that his obliviousness on the intricacies of his day job is, as one insider put it, “truly encyclopaedic”. No matter.
On Friday, he set his wrecking ball at the entire banking industry with a rogue statement and by lying to the country and the world.
Readers will recall, as one after another international mining investor leaves our shores, that this Gupta-appointed minister went off to Switzerland to strong-arm a deal in favour of his favoured family.
But pause for a moment and consider this: Zwane’s department is presiding over a catastrophic investment strike in our mining industry. The Fraser Institute, which measures the global appeal of countries for mining investment, ranks us now around 67th in attractiveness, or rather unattractiveness, out of 79 countries surveyed for attractiveness for exploration investment.
This is quite an achievement. Consider also the 2011 Citibank Survey stated that South Africa was the “richest mining country in terms of its reserves”, which it estimated at $2.5-trillion. So, we have what the world needs, but no one wants to come here.
No worries for the minister in charge, though. Here’s another thought and figure. Our downward slump in mining, to be polite about what has been a recent rout by foreign sellers or would-be sellers, is matched by something quite different, in fact its opposite, in the world of local banking.
Last year the World Economic Forum published its global competitiveness report. It ranked our banks as second-soundest in the world and our financial services and regulatory systems the third-best in the world.
Of course, these are the very sectors where the regulatory authority is either the national Treasury or the Reserve Bank, both of whose watchdog roles the destructive Mr Zwane and the goons from the Hawks are determined to defang. Better place them under the control of a toothless poodle that will do the Gupta or Zuma bidding.
On Monday, when the ANC turned in full combat mode on the ANC with the #OccupyLuthuliHouse movement arriving at the party front door, matters seemed to come full circle.
Having spent decades mobilising the masses against injustices, real or imagined, and against an array of “enemies” of the state and the movement, the ANC suddenly found itself confronted by the very forces it usually dispatches against others.
Eusebius Mckaiser, a commentator, asked of the ring of troops around Luthuli House: “Why does our democracy resemble a military junta?”
He might well ask, as does the country itself.
On Monday, while Mr Zwane, despite railroading and misrepresenting an entire cabinet meeting and government, continued in office, the HQ of the ruling party was besieged in downtown Johannesburg.
Of course, the occupants of Luthuli House now find that they are living under what they perceive as enemy occupation, or DA-controlled Johannesburg. But that must be small beer compared to the fact that the ANC is now marching on the ANC itself.
The responses to Monday’s events were about as considered and logical as the recent incoherence to the serial attacks by government factions and agencies on our zero-growth economy.
Beyond the physical intimidation, there was the war of words. One minister, Lindiwe Zulu, called the demonstrators “our own”.
This sensible position was immediately undercut by ageing party youth leader Collen Maine, who derided them as “cowards”.
Not to be outdone on the conspiracy front, ANC Youth League secretary-general Njabulo Nzuza said the protesters were paid R5-million facilitated by EFF chairman Dali Mpofu, but originating from the US.
I would rather think Mr Mpofu has other causes to fund and we only wish that there were enough interested persons in America ready to stump up for an anti- Zuma demonstration here.
The default position of always finding someone else to blame instead of introspecting on the causes for your party or country’s failure is a well-worn ANC trope. And the party leader, Jacob Zuma, who is the real and proximate cause of all this chaos and upheaval, has been hobnobbing in China with international leaders such as Vladimir Putin of Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.
Both are past masters of finding some or other international bogeyman to blame for their own misfortune or misrule.
The great historian Bernard Lewis wrote in 2002 on the two questions that divide winning parties and nations from the failed leaders and states of the world.
He said there are two basic ways in which people and nations respond to adversity and decline. The first is to ask: “Who did this to us?” The second is to inquire: “What did we do wrong?”
As writer Bret Stephens recently elaborated: “The first question leads to self-pity; the second to self-help.” The first question disavows personal responsibility and moral agency and the second commands them. “One is a recipe for economic failure and political squalor, the other for success,” Stephens notes.
Pity for us, in fact our greatest tragedy right now is that Zuma and his party only ask the first question. The answer for current travails lies in dealing with the second.
• Leon is a former leader of the opposition. Follow him on Twitter: @TonyLeonSA

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