British student of political economy Susan Strange said of the Dark Ages, “There was no vision of how one made a better life.”
The Book of Proverbs in the Bible discusses the consequences of a world without vision. Part of Chapter 29 reads, “Where there is no vision the people perish.” Without vision the Middle Ages struggled along for a thousand years in the gloom of the inquisition, feudalism, absolute monarchies and an almost total absence of human rights. Plenty of people did perish unnecessarily as Proverbs warns.
So, in South Africa, what is our economic vision? Do we have one or are we also stumbling along in the dark? With unemployment running at close to 40% by the expanded definition, if we do have a vision, it sure doesn’t seem to be working. In some developed countries 8% unemployment is thought of as a national emergency.
The truth is we do not have an effective vision, and certainly not a shared one. We are struggling in the gloom like blind people and no one in a position of power has any idea of how to fix it. In addition, government does not tolerate contrary opinion. Do not speak out against the hallucinatory imaginings of the so-called National Health Initiative or point out the damage inflicted by the Employment Equity laws, stay away from criticising the money spent on themselves by cabinet ministers and other senior officials. The people in power know best. Anyone who disagrees with them is obviously wrong, perhaps even a wilful saboteur. We are expected to recognise the wisdom of our national leaders. They are wise enough to be able to mediate for peace between a giant invader and the much smaller victim of the invasion. Think of that before you criticise.
In 1994 our ruling party rode to power on a wave of euphoria. Our first head of state was a man of genuine omniscience. He did not expect them to be in power till Jesus comes. In fact he put that time period at about twenty-five years, after which he expected them to lose power. This was an astonishing piece of prophecy that now looks likely to come very close. To date their time in power has reached twenty-nine years.
Government’s problem is that they are now faced with a large group of voters with free-floating hostility towards them. It seems that the majority of South Africans do not believe that the government has a vision for the future. And they really do believe that their personal incomes are likely to fall further in the years ahead. Most ordinary taxi-drivers, delivery workers, small business owners, vendors and others outside the civil service doubt that Government has a workable vision for the future. Simply put, most of us doubt that government cares about us.
Like the world in the Middle Ages, we are wandering in a wilderness without direction and without vision.