There is a popular definition: “Insanity: doing the same things over and over again while expecting different results.” The line is often misattributed to both Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein, but seems to have its origins in American football. Wherever it in fact comes from, it seems particularly apposite when applied to the ANC government, and never more so than at the Opening of Parliament when the President delivers his State of the Nation Address.
We don’t have to listen to the speech as it is delivered – the contents are all too familiar. There will the usual laundry list of half-hearted achievements, followed by rather vague promises related to future performance. Current problems like Eskom’s catastrophic decline and the impact of load-shedding on the the economy will be glossed over. Deep structural defects like healthcare, education and unemployment will simply be ignored.
Just like last year. And the year before that. And so on.
All of this stems from the fact that this is a government that almost since its birth in 1994 has done the same things over and over again, while telling the electorate that “This time it will be different!”
At the very centre of this process has been the appointment of an endless succession of party hacks – cadres – to the boards and executive suites of key institutions and enterprises. With the notable exceptions of SARS under Pravin Gordhan, and the Reserve Bank under Tito Mboweni and Gill Marcus, it’s hard to think of a single major organisation connected to the state that has prospered.
Eskom’s troubles have been publicly so well rehearsed in recent times as to warrant no further comment. But let’s not forget the SABC, which has lurched into a decline that makes the entity when controlled by the vicious propagandists of the National Party look good. SAA continues to operate inefficiently and provide sheltered employment for any number of incompetent and grossly overpaid staff, as well as draining public resources. Transnet, first under Maria Ramos and now Brian Molefe, stagnates: the country’s rail capacity is under-utilised, while our ports are shockingly expensive and slow by world standards. Government department after government department slide deeper into policy contradiction and woeful execution; the key metric is not what has been achieved during the year, but whether or not they have managed to acquire a clean audit.
Lift the lid on almost any one of these and the picture is the same: an inept board of directors, usually riven by in-fighting; a CEO more often than not at loggerheads with the Chairman, both of whom devote all their energies to the politics of keeping their jobs; a host of very senior officials suspended on vague charges and at home on full pay. Their organisations are paralysed by fear and inactivity as a result.
Yet rather than change the model, this is a government that insists on repeating exactly the same process. A Board will be swept out here, a CEO fired there, and both will be replaced by another set of dismal no-hopers whose only qualifications are an ANC membership card.
But this time, it will be different, won’t it?
We know the answer to that question, of course. But what truly alarms me is that the failure of the ANC to change course and to alter its practices is so blatant, so wilful and so destructive that it almost has to be deliberate.
Let’s use Eskom as an example for a moment. There was a very clear warning issued to government in 1998 that South Africa would run out of electricity by 2007. It paid no attention. Since load-shedding first struck hard in 2008, it has done nothing. As the 2014-2015 crisis intensifies, it still does nothing. Oh, except replace the CEO, as usual. No action to find alternative sources of power, no freeing up of independent power supply, no emergency decrees to ensure Medupi and Kusile are completed in the shortest possible time. Nothing, as usual.
This has to be deliberate, right?
Mind you – perhaps it’s not the government that’s insane? Perhaps it’s us, the electorate?That’s because we also keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
We keep electing them.