Have we reached social deadlock on the way forward?

21 April 2019 - 00:02 By ONKGOPOTS E JJ TABANE

Late last month the government was handed a report from a gathering of eminent people convened by former president Kgalema Motlanthe under the Inclusive Growth Forum.
As he was receiving it, finance minister Tito Mboweni made a side remark that I found astounding - he said those outside government need to understand that as they criticise government, four fingers are pointing at them, especially those who used to be in government.
He sounded like a man burdened now with having to figure out how to make the economy work when he used to have the luxury of tweeting great ideas such as establishing a state bank and keeping the streets of Johannesburg as clean as the ones he seemed to have enjoyed in the Rwandan capital Kigali.
Or maybe he was referring to Motlanthe who once, at the receiving end of a similar remark a few years ago from Gwede Mantashe, dared point out the ruling party was losing its way.
I will always argue that in order to achieve the inclusive growth that has now become our new slogan as we try and get out of the economic inertia that is upon us, we need to take the role of social partners seriously. This will mean that their inputs on the debate will be from a different vantage point that may annoy those who are in power.
Motlanthe, in his remarks at the handover of the report, made a crucial point of observing that often we confuse government and the state and so end up ascribing the failures of the ruling party to our collective failure as custodians of the state. I can't put it quite the way he did but I understood him to invoke a new sense of patriotism that we all need to cultivate inside or outside government. The inclusive growth forum was highly critical of the failure of government to sustain a growth trajectory that is consistent, meaning there will be a smaller and smaller pool from which resources to fight poverty will be found.
A failure to plan. This charge was led by former statistician-general Pali Lehohla who pointed to "poverty of planning" and the failure of government to use the mountain of data generated by Statistics SA. I had a sense that he was frustrated by being ignored over the years when raising the parlous state of planning that seems to afflict government.
Two other crucial issues debated at the launch were the lack of a sense of social cohesion and the clueless way that government approaches the second economy.
The key panellists deliberating on all these issues underlined a sense of exasperation with the slow pace of attending to matters that can result in inclusive growth. Gauteng premier David Makhura, who was the only government voice on the panel, argued that none of the issues raised were insurmountable and all that needed to be done was to "humanise" all these efforts.
This left the audience gasping at whether or not our leaders understand the gravity of what needs to be done. Are all these difficulties we face the result of a lack of humanity? If we woke up to a better moral state of our nation could this resolve the perennial problems of poor planning, poor leadership and lack of social cohesion?
As we seek a new government at the polls, should we not primarily focus on what the politicians plan to do about these fundamental issues facing our country? Do we believe that any of these parties have applied their minds adequately to what will change the fortunes of our economy?
I believe our debates and therefore our ability to make that determination remain shallow. On the one hand we have a government that seems to be fast running out of ideas. On the other we have opposition parties that have untested alternatives, and in some instances, mindless ideas that have never found resonance anywhere else in the world.
Between those two extremes there is no hope for the inclusive growth needed to take this country from the brink. We have a business sector that remains reluctant to invest, a labour force that is impatient and a civil society that is under constant intimidation by those in power. Have we reached a social deadlock on the way forward for our country?
• Tabane is a TV talkshow host and author of 'Let's Talk Frankly'

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