Former DA leader Tony Leon’s policy suggestions are as outdated and irrelevant as those of the Tories who are having a torrid time at the moment, writes MEOKGO MATUBA
As the British Prime Minister, Theresa May limps along trying to remain relevant, our own home-grown Tories have become insistent on beating the same drums of yesteryear. Maybe not as conservative as May’s Conservative Party, former leaders of the Democratic Alliance continue to propose policies that are as outdated as May’s government and therefore continue to miss the mark when reading the pulse of the South African population.
Those of us who are following the Brexit transition are aware that May is doing particularly poorly compared to Labour Party’s Jeremy Corbyn at the moment. May seems to be propping up a government that has run out of ideas, whose proposals are outdated and therefore irrelevant at this current juncture in British politics. Hence the poor performance at the polls earlier this year.
Corbyn, on the other hand, seems to be hearing the voice of the electorate, making his left politics mainstream and having his policy proposals being snatched up on a weekly basis by the Tories. Some pundits, even within the Conservative Party, suggest that by December, May will be gone.
Clearly having been intellectually tossed out by the Maimane faction within the DA, Tony Leon, who served in President Zuma’s administration as ambassador to Argentina, continues to humdrum on policies that are stale, because they are that old, and tactics which continue to have a go at President Jacob Zuma.
Zamani Saul, chairperson of the African National Congress in the Northern Cape, writes in his paper, Anatomy of a Faction, that factions can be based on ideology too. Maimane, at the DA Western Cape Provincial Congress, suggested that South Africans could no longer concentrate just on one man at the expense of the other over 50 million. Leon, writing in the Sunday Times, under the title: Zuma administration is in a league of its own, dedicates his entire column to attacking President Zuma and, prophesying the demise of the ANC, lays this demise squarely at the feet of this one man, the ANC president.
The ideological differences in the DA spread further than focusing on President Zuma. While Maimane takes a more nationalist approach to his speeches and policy proposals, such as Broad-Based-Black-Economic-Empowerment and state-owned enterprises, Leon suggests eighties styled privatisation.
Like Javert, in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Leon just will not allow President Zuma to redeem himself through a number of policies that have seen growth in the last quarter that very few economies experienced around the world.
Jean Valjean is the main protagonist in Les Miserables and is convicted for doing good; stealing bread for sister’s children during a great depression. After attempting to escape prison a few times through which his sentence was just lengthened, he is finally released. Eventually he arrives in a French town, revolutionizes the manufacturing sector of the town, earns a fortune and eventually is installed as mayor.
Valjean is asked to lead the town as its first citizen because he is kind hearted, taking in an orphan girl, pays his employees well, maintains hospitals, orphans and schools. Yet he must do all of this and hold his office while carrying around his dom pass, because people must know he is a convict.
Javert, a policeman, refuses to acknowledge the good the administration of Valjean has done or even the positives that Valjean himself has performed. All he does is condemn Valjean as a criminal. All Leon does is condemn the Black administration despite their achievements.
Leon attributes the dismal state of state-run infrastructure to President Zuma and his administration. Yet he forgets, for example, that as early as 2007, when the DA took over the administration of the City of Cape Town, they were warned that they were investing too little into water supply infrastructure. Cape Town’s draught today has as its contributing factors, with lack of rain, poor water infrastructure. All of this, thanks directly to decisions that Leon’s DA would have made because he was the leader and the municipality was being run by his party.
Leon would do well to drop by his erstwhile colleague and foe Helen Zille and take up Patricia de Lille’s seat at the breakfast table. There, Zille will hopefully school Leon in the work of Francis Fukuyama, an American political theorist, who believes that it is institutions which shape the current trajectory of a political establishment or entity. These institutions, Zille being a fan of Fukuyama will let Leon know, are formed over years of history. No institution pops up out of nowhere.
There is evidence within our history of the institution of state capture. There is evidence of state capture by White monopoly capital of our political institutions such as the executive. An example of state capture in history is the Afrikaner broederbond, ensuring that members were placed in key strategic positions of influence in the state, in state-owned-enterprises and state entities such as the, then, state-broadcaster. Kitchen cabinets, unlike some have suggested, are not unique to the Zuma administration.
This lesson in Fukuyama, from Zille, would do Leon well because in his column he broadly attacks the state of SOEs without offering anything new or proposing a way in which these entities can play a meaningful role in the economic emancipation of the majority of South Africans. The column glaringly displays Leon’s utter lack of understanding our institutions of SOEs. Radical economic transformation, that is to invest in the lives of the majority of South Africans, is not what Leon and his ilk are interested in. Protecting past privilege, like the Tories, now that’s his game.
The reality is that Leon offers a policy as outdated as May’s promises and therefore continues to be as irrelevant in the lives of the majority of Black South Africans as when he led the DA. This reality is compounded by the fact that SOEs have finally taken seriously their constitutional mandate in recognising the injustices of the past and ensuring that redress is real. Old White companies, Leon’s buddies, are no longer benefitting solely from SOEs and hence the push from Leon’s quarters to throw as much mud on SOEs in order to push for privatisation.
In the financial year ending March 2016, Eskom had a turnover of over R163 billion while Transnet had a turnover of over R62 billion. SA Express saw a turnover of over R2 billion while Denel yielded a turnover of over R8 billion. Yet while these figures may look good, all of us realize that as state assets they can and must do better. Selling-off the assets of the people is as short-sighted as it is archaic.
The sad reality is that, unlike May who will soon be confined to the annals of British history because she has become irrelevant and out of touch with her people, personalities such as Leon continue to dog our mainstream media. Despite his proposals suggesting nothing new and being old-fashioned free market economics, which even his party has abandoned, we remain subject to his ranting.
If anything, these ill-informed rants affect not political parties, because these get rid of leaders such as May and Leon, but these diatribes affect the very quality of democracy. It is therefore safe to conclude that if President Zuma is a threat to the ANC, then Tony Leon is a threat to our democracy.
Matuba is Secretary-General of the ANC Women’s League