The orgy of mass destruction that began in KZN on Friday 9 July has done immeasurable harm to the communities and organisations affected and to the country at large.
I spent most of last week in affected areas seeing for myself and speaking to people on the ground. I don’t think I would have quite believed the extent of senseless destruction had I not been there. It is genuinely hard to describe in words.
History turns on moments such as these. This coordinated looting spree has the potential to greatly accelerate South Africa’s descent to a failed state. It has dealt a body blow to confidence in our state and in our economy.
The first “no” is the easiest “no”. The state’s failure to anticipate and act swiftly to quell this insurrection before it properly got going means there is now a heightened risk of recurrence.
This will scare away more skills and investment and our tiny tax base will shrink still further, with terrible consequences for our ability to provide social services and relief to those millions of vulnerable households who need these now more than ever.
But there is also the real possibility that this devastation will convince people of the changes we need to make if we are to build our society into one which really does deliver a better life for all.
Sometimes hard evidence succeeds where reasoning fails.
The mayhem last week is painful proof of the DA’s long-held view that the rule of law, a capable state and a social market economy are essential prerequisites for a successful South Africa. South Africa needs a government that is deeply committed to each of these fundamental, interdependent principles.
The rule of law
The rule of law is a precondition for safety, stability and order and therefore an indispensable characteristic of a functional society. Where people feel emboldened to rebel against the rule of law, as they did in KZN and Gauteng last week, wellbeing, investment and productivity give way to suffering, anarchy and destruction.
A capable state
The rule of law requires enforcement by a capable state. It is no coincidence that the state intelligence and police services failed utterly to protect people and property before and during the uprising. And no one will be surprised if the state fails to arrest, charge and imprison the perpetrators for their actions.
The institutions of our state have been severely weakened by years of cadre deployment, the ANC’s policy of basing public service appointments on political loyalty. Cadre deployment is directly responsible for the incompetent, corrupt and captured state that let citizens down so badly last week.
The DA has spoken out against this unconstitutional policy since its formal adoption by the ANC in 1997 and consistently called for public appointments to be based on merit (ability to get the job done, which requires skills, experience, commitment) rather than on considerations of political loyalty, identity or patronage.
Inherent in the concept of the rule of law is a culture of accountability. But it is only possible to instill this in society when institutions of state, such as the National Prosecuting Authority and the whole criminal justice system have the necessary capacity.
A capable state, acting in unison with a social market economy, is also an essential precondition for tackling the dangerously, unacceptably high unemployment, poverty and inequality that exacerbated the chaos. This imperative has never been more urgent than it is now.
A social market economy
Last week laid bare not only the incapacity of the state to deliver on its most basic responsibilities, but also the incredible capacity that resides amongst private citizens to make the right decisions and get things done. It was private citizens who protected people, jobs and workplaces. With no established systems, budget or leadership, private citizens performed the state’s most basic role of providing protection and stability.
The contrast between a capable, motivated private citizenry and an incapable, demotivated state has never been more starkly on display. Can anyone now still support the ANC’s ideology of a command economy, controlled at the centre by the state?
This should deal a death blow to the ANC’s many attempts to centralise economic control in national government, including its attack on private security companies, private gun ownership for self-protection, metro police services, private medical aids, and independent power producers.
The more economic decision-making and control is decentralised to private individuals and organisations – where the capacity and incentives reside – the more jobs and tax revenue will be created to provide a lifeline to the millions of citizens suffering in abject poverty.
Without a healthy, growing economy that only the private sector can deliver, all talk of a basic income grant is merely hollow rhetoric and empty promises. If we are serious about a basic income grant – and we should be – then we need to be equally committed to a market-driven economy.
This has been a hinge of history moment. If ever there was a need for South Africans to come together around these operating principles and to back a reform agenda, it is now. The DA will continue to fight for, operate by, and govern according to these principles. A vote for the DA in the upcoming local government election will be a vote for the rule of law, a capable state, and a social market economy.