Martin van Staden is a member of the Executive Committee and Rule of Law Board of Advisors of the Free Market Foundation. He is pursuing a doctorate in law at the University of Pretoria. Visit martinvanstaden.com.
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This article was first published on Dailyfriend.co.za on 15 March 2022
The first four items of the post-ANC government’s agenda
It might not be in 2024, and it might not even be in 2029, but at some point in South Africa’s future, there will be a day after the African National Congress (ANC) – or whatever other rebrandings or affiliates it may have picked up along the way – has been substantively defeated at the polls.
The immediate agenda of any post-ANC government must be set early on by its constituency. If not, that government – whether a Democratic Alliance government or a multi-party government – is going to want pragmatism to lead it by the nose, and will tend to want to avoid any substantive vision. We have seen this multiple times, where a misplaced preoccupation with colouring within the lines and projecting an image of stability, has delayed or even entirely set aside necessary action. There is cause for concern that this is what the post-ANC government will do unless there is sufficient public pressure for concrete action.
Here follows a modest proposal for the first four items that must be on the post-ANC government’s agenda that must see the light of day within the first days of that administration.
1. Send them back to Europe
The first order of business must be for the new Minister of Labour Deregulation to announce that the Western European (anti-)labour laws that the ANC imported into South Africa since 1996 will be packed-up and sent back to whence they came. Those laws were never fit for purpose in a developing economy that has millions of unskilled people desperately trying to find work.
The Labour Relations Act, the Employment Equity Act, the National Minimum Wage Act, and all their associated regulations, need to be repealed entirely during the first parliamentary session. After these three, other labour laws must also eventually arrive at the chopping block. The common law of labour must fill the void, and must be developed in line with the best principles of our equitable legal tradition.
The unions will threaten violent mass action, there will be allegations of severe social injustice from the domestic and global left, and even the new, emerging woke capitalist class will complain about it. But it is something that must be done and must be done with unmatched speed.
Anyone who says that “it cannot be rushed” must immediately be retired from political service, as to not rush it would be reckless and irresponsible. Millions are unemployed, and millions more are likely to join their ranks, unless swift and unequivocal legislative action is taken.
At the end of this process, any national labour department or apparatus must be disassembled, and any residual scope for labour regulation must be entrusted to municipalities (see “Devolve, devolve, devolve!” below).
2. Send them into unemployment and prison
Once the worst anti-labour laws have been got rid of, the Minister of Public Administration must, at will, fire every civil servant in the central government who was appointed by the previous government. This must be mirrored by new governments at local and provincial level. All former civil servants will have the opportunity to immediately reapply for their old jobs, but only after going through a real, merit-based vetting process.
Although something like this cannot be done in one fell swoop, it must be done as quickly as possible in key ministries and agencies. Two of these where it must happen almost immediately is the National Prosecuting Authority and the South African Police Service. No person who is even casually associated with the ANC or its subsidiaries must be left anywhere near these organisations. These institutions must then be given a strict mandate to investigate and prosecute all suspected cases of corruption that have taken place in recent years. No more commissions of inquiry.
3. Devolve, devolve, devolve!
This is going to be a bitter pill to swallow for any new, post-ANC government. The ANC had been vanquished, after all. The good guys would now be in power – there would be no need to devolve power and authority to lower levels of government. It is clear that this will be the sentiment, but it must be resisted.
If the post-ANC government wants to ensure that a potential future ANC government is handicapped if it tries to loot and destroy the State or economy again, it must speedily decentralise as much as it can. If possible, it must entrench such devolution by constitutional amendment.
Provinces and municipalities must be allowed to either have their own police services, or (and this is the more constitutionally plausible option) to be in effective control of their respective divisions of the central Police Service.
Tax policy and collection must primarily be decided and conducted at the municipal, or at most the provincial level, and must flow up in terms of voluntary agreements between the tax-collecting sphere of government and the national government. The national government, outside of wartime, must have no competency to set tax policy or collect taxes. This check and balance is necessary and important for the following reasons:
The electricity apparatus must also be decentralised.
- It will end the disharmony between the reality on ground-level South Africa and the ivory tower of national politics;
- Municipalities will finally be answerable to their citizens about all dimensions of service delivery;
- The central government will no longer be able to threaten or victimise other spheres of government; and
- The upside-down pyramid of South African federalism will be turned rightside-up by respecting the principle of subsidiarity. Central government must support the lower spheres, not set their agenda.
As John Kane-Berman has suggested, Eskom’s plants must be sold in groups of no more than three to private investors. I would suggest that each (private) contributor to the grid must then become a shareholder in the new grid, with their share representing the proportion of power that they contribute. The grid, governed by what will hopefully be dozens of shareholders, will set its own rules and standards (see “Cut, cut, cut!” below), provided it does not stop any new player from also contributing into the grid.
To the extent that it might appear necessary, Eskom may retain no more than three power plants to supply subsidised electricity to poor communities. But this arrangement must be coupled to a strict sunset clause.
4. Cut, cut, cut!
Government spending must be cut, taxes must be cut, and economic regulations must be cut.
The post-ANC government will feel a certain obligation to, if not increase taxes and spending so that a “capable state” could be created, at least keep taxes and spending at ANC levels. This desire must be resisted.
South African entrepreneurs, innovators, and wealth-creators are at the end of their tethers. They cannot be saddled with any greater burden than they already are, and in fact this burden must be speedily reduced. The post-ANC government will need a healthy, vibrant, and unencumbered private sector to help to achieve its mandate to clean up the post-ANC South Africa.
This process of cutting will involve reimagining government as a supporting, not a leading, force in poverty alleviation and wealth-creation. Today the State is largely regarded as the primary provider of education, healthcare, and service delivery. It has thoroughly crowded-out the private sector, and this must stop.
At best, the State should assist with the funding of education, healthcare, and service delivery for poor communities. It must not provide, manage, or oversee those services. And to whatever extent it regulates those services, this must happen at the municipal, or at most the provincial, level.
There is much else that a post-ANC government would have to address early on in its administration, but these are the four most important things it must devote immediate attention to. If these four items are implemented, it would invigorate the economy and send an unequivocal message of intolerance to rent-seeking politicians and union bosses.
Going with this programme, however, requires the type of leadership among the ranks of the post-ANC government that would make most contemporary South African opposition politicians uncomfortable. That is why the initiative will have to reside with civil society and the electorate. The politicians will not go down this route by themselves.