As a consequence of systemic corruption, racialized economic policies, rampant mismanagement and appeasing Western interests, South Africa as a nation finds itself at a crossroads. Before us lie two paths.
1) Become an expansionist empire and utilize force to exploit local and international resources.
2) Completely revolutionise our economy, fiscus and political economy.
The two options may seem at first glance, extreme. However, I hope to show in this essay that they are indeed the only two options left to the nation at this point.
Many people believe there are multiple middle grounds between the two, but I believe whatever decision one takes it will result in the country lurching more towards one of these two inevitable outcomes.
Let’s unpack the two options to understand their consequences and my reasoning.
The Third World Social Contract
The current system like all system’s has certain economic realities and limitations.
Our current system operates on a fundamental truth: the ruling ANC/Eskom class is allowed to live lavish lifestyles at the expense of the fiscus as long as they provide taxpayers with services and economic prosperity that ensure an extremely high quality of life for a fraction of the price. South Africa’s Middle to Upper class live wildly discounted lifestyles compared to their contemporaries in the First World. Therefore these tax-paying citizens can stomach professional cartoons like Fikile Mbalula and Gwede Mantashe as long as the cost of living remains low and privilege and class are afforded to them thanks to capital and proximity.
This system has eroded dramatically over the last 2 decades but the rot truly began in earnest in 2010 at the outset of the Zuma administration.
Over a decade of mismanagement, the ruling ANC managed to exponentially inflate our national debt whilst not building or developing the country in a meaningful way.
The poor fools saw their predecessor’s achievements and failed to understand the difference between Opex and Capex.
Thus they spent the next decade using this free cheap money (debt) to pay salaries and themselves but forgot to build things in the process.
And building things is important you see. For buildings and things and infrastructure keep the “water” moving, and like all systems the water keeps the people appeased.
Secondly, infrastructure projects and development also serve as fantastic forms of propaganda to distract from theft and largesse. Unfortunately, the world’s dumbest government failed to realize this and created a mess that forced the light to be shone upon their incompetence. There is a parallel universe wherein the ANC ruling government doesn’t destroy Eskom via mismanagement and they keep inflating the national debt but the people of the state ignore both of the above as the music — consistent electricity — keeps playing and the tax-paying peoples of the nation keep enjoying the party and continue to stomach the deeply incompetent likes of Bathabile Dlamini and Lindiwe Sisulu.
Unfortunately for all involved, this isn’t the case. The failures of corruption, personal development and education are now fully on display every day in the form of load-shedding, water-shedding and soon-to-come fuel-shedding.
Before you cry foul at this description of South Africa, I’d like to remind you that this is the “social contract” of most third-world nations, especially the democratic ones.
The key to successfully running this pyramid scheme of corruption is to make sure you don’t steal too much, you see. In order to work out how much is enough, you need to ensure that part of your team of corrupt crusaders you employ the intelligent and mathematically capable and entrust them with ensuring that the books stay balanced. The poor ANC wasn’t smart enough to do this basic calculus and now they face the real possibility of losing one of the greatest cash cows in human history — the South African Fiscus.
So it’s quite simple: Govern well enough to produce infrastructure which in turn produces revenue in the form of taxes, which allows you to stay rich and to continue stealing.
This is literally the playbook of most successful nations and is the backbone of modern capitalism. Now in South Africa’s case, this means continuing the expansion of the fiscus and increasing GDP. If you can do these two things you can maintain our pseudo-political elitism.
But there’s fine print in the description above: the politically elite class has an insatiable appetite, for they are competing amongst themselves and their international peers.
It’s not simply enough to drive an expensive German car, you need to drive the most recent version of it to signal to your contemporaries — other ministers and tenderpreneurs — not only that you are also a benefactor of this largesse but that you are better at displaying it.
It’s no surprise that there is a direct correlation between the rise in valuations and revenues of Luxury Goods Brands and the GDP of Third World Nations. You can’t simply be a corrupt minister with a pair of Gucci shoes, you need the whole outfit to display that you’re not just a person with a maxed out credit card, you’re a person with a benefactor who maxed out their credit card to support your lifestyle. And this arms race for signalling constantly escalates, starting with cars and will escalate to owning dangerous wild animals: CC the entire Middle Eastern Oil Class.
So the very nature of the political elite ruling class means that their budgets need to balloon as their intra-politics require constant signalling. This is true in almost every society on Planet Earth, however, the big difference between the First World and the Third world is that the First World barons have evolved from sucking on the tit of the state to now having an allowance in the form of state-sponsored dividends — real estate levies, government bonds, stocks and owning infrastructure. Their 3rd world compatriots are still on the journey to this level of excess and for now, need to rely on the state for their cash flow. The more savvy of the elite in the 3rd world do this calculus very early on and focus their energy on not only stealing but using these stolen funds to invest in non-state bound vehicles that can generate them capital into the future that is free from government association cc: Motsepe, Ramaphosa, Shilowa, Shawn Mkhize, et al.
It’s a simple wildly powerful system that is the basis for most of capitalist societies and is the foundation for our former guardians: the British Empire.
The major difference between the Empire and the South African Government is that they A) Codified and formalized the corruption B) They knew how to balance corruption and infrastructure development and C) They were an expansionist empire.
C) Is critical. For C) ensures that any failures in accounting can be smoothed over with plunder. If you go over the budget by a 100% you simply account for those losses by increasing taxes on Indian Farmers or South African Gold miners. This means that most errors can quickly be covered up and the music never stops for the citizens of the Empire and the Gentry. However the music for the Indian farmer and South African miner is barely audible, this isn’t an issue as these people are second class citizens and all they really need is basic sustenance, only the citizens of England need an underground Metro and trans -national railways.
Which leaves the South African government with two options
1) Copy the British and become expansionist
2) Govern more efficiently and keep corruption in check.
Looking at the track record of the state over the last 20 years and understanding the arms race for signalling built into the political elite class, we know that the second option is highly unlikely therefore the only real option is 1) Become expansionist.
Expansionist behaviours allow us to exploit newly acquired resources to feed the ambitions and desires of the political elite whilst keeping the general population appeased.
This system — South Africa’s system of governance — is one which was designed for an expansionist empire that utilized violence and force to grow its coffers, meaning that the cost of corruption was maintained via expansion. In simple terms, Indian plundering enriched the British Empire, but above all else ensured the gentry were comfortable in their position as the proceeds of plunder were used to appease the masses and fund the lavish lifestyles of the gentry. Without this, the British caste system would have collapsed and we would have seen the monarchy go the same way as the French Monarchy. But Colonialism kept the people from going full Guillotine on the monarch.
Therefore — and this is a stretch — the South African Government needs to follow the path of the British Empire and steal other people’s shit or change the entire system.
Stay the course and solve today’s problem. However tomorrow’s problem is looking us dead in the eye and requires change. Change and Growth. Two things the ANC has not experienced in almost 12 years.
At this point I’m sure you would be very kind to point out that simply halving corruption would free up substantial amounts of capital to keep the country in the green and the majority of people happy. To some extent. The issue here is that on a long enough time scale human nature creates another Eskom class of some kind.
Therefore the only way to truly stop it is to change the system altogether.
What kind of revolution are you talking about?
We live in an age of unparalleled prosperity, where up until 2008 every year generation preceding the previous generation was wealthier than the last generation. Therefore whenever people in the Western world hear about the prospect of revolution their imaginations immediately go to a coup from some brown skinned country that created more chaos than growth and simply replicated the ends of the previous rulers. But I suggest a different type of revolution something much more sinister. A system of government intentionally designed to not allow for massive concentrations of power. A system that forces citizen engagement. A system that is designed to keep evolving. And lastly a system that actively disincentivizes rent seeking behaviour and extended tenure.
So let’s unpack all three and see if we can come up with a system that rocks.
A system of government intentionally designed to not allow for massive concentrations of power.
A president is a convenient idea for a child, but as adults we all know that one person cannot make all the decisions and secondly a leader is a cosmetic idea not a real one. A president is nothing without his cabinet and people to execute his desires and policies. The system I’m suggesting is one devoid of a president. Rather I suggest a system that prioritises policy decisions being made by citizens and via voting mechanisms. An example of this would be Liquid Democracy. All the people are given the ability to vote on all topics. And if they feel they do not want to vote, they can defer their vote to someone else.
A system that forces citizen engagement.
Youth apathy is not a consequence of generational shift as much as a consequence of attention colonization and a lack of faith in the system. Whether it’s the United States of America or South Africa, there seems to be a dearth of geriatrics ruling the world who have no interest whatsoever in increasing the youth compliment of leaders.
Solution: Create. A system that mirrors the world we live in, Politics needs to have a UX on par with YouTube and secondly needs to have the ability to show young people and citizens in general that their vote counts and not in an anecdotal way. Electing a leader every 5 years doesn’t show you the system is working it shows you that Voting is a chore you have to do every 5 years. Liquid Democracy allows for a citizen to see their vote working in real time and gives them countless options to test the input output nature of the system. If you press the button something happens and that is the most powerful political tool you can give to a technically inclined youth population.
A system that is designed to keep evolving.
One of the great challenges of our political system is that it was created for a much smaller, poorer simpler world. Therefore the idea that a system needed to evolve made no sense at the time. When someone was born the world was a certain way and upon death it remained that way. The world we live in today changes in between meals let alone lifetimes. Therefore our governance system needs to follow the same logic. We need the ability for massive input to keep adjusting the system to keep up with the changes in the outside world. Remember the system is an imagined thing that we all agree on, like money. But unlike money it currently cannot evolve without huge amounts of political will. However with Liquid Democracy the voters can change the system without permission and without the need to organize huge marches. Our current system requires 20 Soweto Derbyfulls of humans to get the state’s attention and even then the state’s response is always suspect as their motivation is to not improve the system but to appease the masses.
And lastly a system that actively disincentivizes rent seeking behaviour and extended tenure.
I cant name a single MP who has served for more than 2 terms in the US or South Africa or the UK or any other English-speaking country who has contributed more to the country than the country contributed to them. Being a civil servant, especially an MP is ridiculously comfortable. Imagine having job security for 20 years and almost no accountability.
b. The beauty of Liquid Democracy is that there are no MP’s and the closest thing the system has to this is Deferrers, Deferrers are great. You defer your vote to them and if they make dumb decisions, you can simply move your vote to another deferrer. No 5-year wait, no excuses, no gaslighting. Simply unfollow them and they can’t affect your vote anymore.
In summation, I’m not suggesting that Liquid Democracy is the be-all and end-all of corruption and human fallibility. No Liquid Democracy will highlight just how corrupt and fallible people are, but it will also provide you the ability to immediately punish these behaviours. When a company does something to irritate you or that upsets you, the simple solution to harming them is to stop using their product or service and inform your community. In politics, almost nothing can change the cogs and the reason for this is really simple, the system was designed that way. Once you’re in the club, it’s almost impossible to get you out.
Let’s just be adults. Let’s design a system not designed to smokescreen corruption and largesse, let’s stop creating systems that are designed to fool one another to enrich each ourselves. Let’s rather focus on a simple truth, economic prosperity is achievable in all of our lifetimes. We simply need to commit to real broad-based economic empowerment that affects all, not vanity projects and policies that enrich a small elite group. This small elite group includes you who is currently reading this. Real broad-based empowerment would make services and the internet as readily available as water and energy — two things also becoming luxuries for incoming earning South Africans. Without this, the only real alternative is to choose an expansionist approach. As delightful as that sounds this would need to be enacted by the same state that built a police force that has “lost” The police ‘lost’ more than 9.5-million rounds of ammunition over the six years to August 2019. It’s simply not possible without a revolution in governance and an exponential elimination of corruption. Two outcomes that would dislodge the political elite and create a functioning state. Which would be ideal, but unlikely.
I can’t state which is more desirable of the two as both are equally challenging, however, a South African revolution that dismantles systems of patronage and corruption and ushers in a new era is one that I think we can all dream and get excited for, the other option is to simply steal other people’s shit, an outcome that can only work if we eliminate corruption.
So either eliminate corruption via revolution or via apt governance, neither outcome one feels the current dispensation could manifest.
Choose revolution. Choose Liquid Democracy.