Tue Dec 06 10:12:30 SAST 2016

Jay Naidoo: Chairman of the Development Bank of Southern Africa

Chris Barron | 2010-07-25 00:00:40.00 Comments

The former cabinet minister says Cosatu should consider quitting its alliance with the ANC, writes Chris Barron

Jay Naidoo, the founding president of the trade union federation Cosatu, who led it into an alliance with the ANC and SA Communist Party, says it may be time for the congress to quit the pact.

"If there is no commitment to dealing with joblessness, our failures in health and education, and to acting decisively against corruption, then I think the alliance will have outlived its usefulness," he says.

"The working people cannot just be the voting fodder of a political elite," says Naidoo, alluding to the ANC's dependence on the organisational muscle of Cosatu in elections.

In a hard-hitting interview after the publication of his memoirs, Fighting for Justice, Naidoo accused the government, of which he used to be a member, of arrogance, a lack of accountability and a failure to tackle the culture of corruption and entitlement which, he says, is tearing the country apart.

"I am convinced that the only way to ensure the commitment of leaders across the board is strongly organised independent social movements that are vigilant and bang on the doors of power."

Naidoo feels "the greatest ticking time bomb" in South Africa is youth unemployment. He says Cosatu must accept the proposal by the minister of finance, Pravin Gordhan, of a wage subsidy to encourage first-time employment - a proposition strongly rejected by Cosatu.

"We need young people to have a ladder into the formal economy, and Cosatu has to accept this," he says.

Naidoo says that, while fighting malnutrition, he has seen enough failed states, ripped apart by youth unemployment, to appreciate the crisis facing South Africa.

The common ingredient in failed states is young people who feel "alienated" by the system, and bring the entire system down.

He rejects claims that South Africa's inflexible labour regime makes it hard to tackle unemployment.

"There are huge vacancies within the state and private sector, but not appropriately trained people to take those jobs. There is something fundamentally wrong with our education system that produces even graduates who do not have the skills that allow them to take the jobs that do exist."

He says the success of Trevor Manuel's planning commission in determining the country's growth strategy will be critical. However: "I do not think it has the power it needs to achieve the expectations we have of it," he says.

Naidoo, 55, is more relaxed and mellow than the passionate and frantic individual who spearheaded the doomed Reconstruction and Development Programme for the Mandela government, but is quickly roused to anger when talking about its replacement by the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (Gear) programme.

As chairman of the Development Bank of SA, Naidoo started an initiative five years ago to create capacity in local government.

It was a great success, he says, and he blames "political interference" for the fact that 90% of municipalities are still dysfunctional.

"One of our big challenges in this country is creating a professional civil service where civil servants are protected from political interference. Political interference is a key factor in disrupting service delivery."

Naidoo says a "culture of greed, corruption and entitlement is destroying the social fabric".

If it becomes "embedded" we're lost. "We're not yet at a tipping point," he says, but "decisive action is needed from all sections of society, including the media."

A closely related concern is the hypersensitivity and aggression with which politicians react to criticism.

"You must accept that if you're in public office you're under scrutiny. Demonising criticism is contrary to the whole culture of what we fought for."

Naidoo says he is "distressed by the huge amount of political arrogance we have in this country. Part of our problem is we have people in leadership who think they know everything, and so we rob ourselves of the enormous contribution that could be coming from other sectors of society."

He says one of the greatest mistakes of the ANC government was to marginalise civil society. "We had this notion when we became government that it was our right to deliver water and houses and jobs, and no one else's. The reality is we didn't have the capacity to do those things."

One of the most damaging results of this arrogance was to create a culture of entitlement and dependence.

"We made people bystanders in their lives, so they sat back and said: 'Okay, we'll wait for our houses and electricity and social grants.' We demobilised the society, removed the enormous energy we had in society about us being able to do things for ourselves."

Badly needed is a culture of accountability, he says.

Naidoo is "delighted" that President Jacob Zuma has committed his administration to improving performance, but says that unless politicians are held to account the commitment is mere posturing.

"I'm waiting to see the first person that will be punished for not delivering, I want to see the first person who is fired for not performing or for corruption."

He says the debate within the ANC about nationalising the mines is "an unnecessary diversion".

"What I want to see is a focused debate on how we're going to tackle youth unemployment and corruption, how we're going to fix up education in schools and fix up our hospitals."

He does not think talk of nationalisation will deter serious investors.

Far more harmful is the awarding of mine prospecting rights to an ANC/Zuma-connected company.

"If the predatory elite get their talons into the issuing of state licences, that really will divert international investment from our country."

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