TheBigPond - spotlight on what South African business and business people have been up to in Europe. Edited by South African journalist Christo Volschenk from Stuttgart, Germany. Note: This blog has migrated to a new home at www.thebigpond.eu.
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FROM FIRST TO LAST IN 15 YEARS

As a journalist in South Africa my two biggest and most pleasant surprises in the years between Nelson Mandela's release and the 27th of April 1994 were the evolution in the economic thinking of the "democratic movement" (read government-in-waiting) and the incredible depth and quality of leadership in the movement.

Ten years later the first continues to surprise me and the second has turned into a source of concern.

About the first: In 2002 Stellenbosch academic Sampie Terreblanche revealed in an interesting book what was behind the ANC's major change in economic thinking, namely a secret "pact" between Nelson Mandela and big business favouring liberal economic policies.

Although I reported extensively on what the media called "the economic debate" in the years before and after 1994 I must confess that I never knew, or had the faintest notion, that such a secret "pact" existed, or could exist.

I always just reported enthusiastically and naively on every new "breakthrough" in the debate for the "liberal side". And when the "liberal side" finally and convincingly won the "war of economic systems" I thought the media was partly to thank for the result.

Of course, since prof. Sampie's book I know how naive I was.

For the record, I thought the "moment of victory" for liberal economic ideas in SA came with the publication by government of its Growth, Employment and Redistribution program (GEAR) in June 1996. At least, for everyone standing on the sidelines that looked like the moment of victory.

Of course, the real moment of victory came with the conclusion of the secret "pact". Prof. Sampie reckons the secret "pact" was agreed in 1993.

Which means I "wasted" 3 years in parliament between 1994 and 1997 trying to strengthen the hand of the liberal cause with my reporting. Little did I know I was fighting a war which was long over.

It would be interesting to know which individuals (on both sides) were in on the deal.

And whether people who played prominent public roles in this "economic debate", such as then Sacob boss Raymond Parsons and then JCI economist Ronnie Bethlehem, knew about the "pact" all along....

And economist Rudolf Gouws was a friend of Bethlehem. Did he know? If he knew, did other Afrikaans-speaking economists know?

If they did, everyone really played their hands very well. Because, no journalist ever knew (or at least, said anything in this direction).

But, all of this is just one, long introduction. I really want to write about that "second big surprise" - the depth of political leadership at SA's disposal in the mid-90's.

In the years after Mandela's release the depth and quality of leadership in the broad-based freedom movement was stunning. In parliament, outside parliament, in labour organisations, civic organisations and government.

Everywhere. And all were impressive.

Young leaders (for example Marcel Golding) and old (Joe Slovo) , male leaders (Cyril Ramaphosa) and female (Jill Marcus). (To name just a few.)

It was clear that years of struggle and living in exile have bred a huge crop of excellent leaders. It was a very relaxing thought at a time of great upheaval and uncertainty.

It was what differentiated SA from the rest of Africa.

In parliament relative strangers (to the mainstream media) like Jill Marcus, Maria Ramos and Alec Erwin were impressive like all hell. Trevor Manuel and Tito Mboweni went on learning curves so steep one sometimes feared they would fall over backwards.

Outside parliament impressive people like Van Zyl Slabbert were waiting eagerly to contribute their experience to the new SA.

Ten years later I fear for the depth and quality of the leadership pool. And often think of all the leaders we've lost - for whatever reason, I don't know.

Take the top position. In 2009 (15 years into our new democracy) we would have gone from Mandela, to Mbeki to Zuma. From having the best leader in the world to having the worst leader in Africa.

In parliament the exodus of leadership with business and financial expertise began in the opposition ranks. By 1997 (when I left) most opposition politicians with business savvy had gone. And a great number of good ANC politicians had swopped politics for a life in business - noticably affecting the quality of debate (and probably of legislation) in parliament.

I assume this trend continued after 1997.

Probably the biggest loss was the departure of Cyril Ramaphosa shortly after he had overseen the writing of SA's new Constitution in 1996.

He was very impressive throughout the 2 years it took to write the Constitution - ask any National Party negotiator!

Since then he has added employer-side experience to his extensive labour-side experience.

Now, there is a good candidate for president after 2009. (Is there anyone out there brave enough to enrage the ANC with a "Ramaphosa for President" campaign?)

If we can't have Ramaphosa, then Trevor Manuel would be a good alternative. But, Zuma? No thanks.

20.5.05 01:25


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I FEEL GOOD.....

This morning I feel vindicated.

I was correct in thinking the statements by SPD-chief Franz M?nterfering against ``unbridled capitalism`` will become a kind of a ``Rubicon moment`` for Germany.

And that the public debate the statement ignited could still become a very important one - a kind of a watershed moment for the German ``third way`` - an economic system which steers (or tries to steer) between capitalism and socialism.

This is how Wolfgang M?nchau, columnist of the Financial Times and Financial Times Deutschland, sees the debate (he wrote in today's FTD): ``This debate is the biggest conflict to hit the society since the Second World War. It will decide the future of Germany.``

So, once again, here is how I see the solution. This time in different words:

* Opting out of capitalism (read globalisation) is actually not an option which Germany can debate.

* But, hang on....it's not so terrible. Globalisation (read unbridled capitalism...the thing which M?nterfering hates so much) can actually be the tool with which Germany can build (read afford) a (new) social, just, people-friendly society.

* So, its your friend, not your enemy. It should just be ``managed`` (read exploited) properly by a society and government which knows how.

* The debate should not be about ``capitalism vs people-friendly``. It should be: How can we be the best at both globalisation and at building a social society?

* Looked at from this side, globalisation might just be the ``deliverer`` of social society, not the destructor.

* By not seeing this potential, the politician M?nterfering is letting a huge opportunity slip by for him and his party to ''re-define the future of Germany''.

* And by locking the society into a debate which is really a non-debate he is wasting precious time at a point when Germany actually has no more time to lose...


20.5.05 10:06


THE SINS OF THE FATHERS...

When I started out with this blog I said I was going to write about Germany and South Africa. Then I got so carried away by the M?ntefering-debacle that I forgot all about my Heimatland South Africa.

Until my mother phoned me on Saturday. Since then I've been a little bit angry. And ``verzweifelt``. Here's what she told me:

My sister is divorced and lives not far away from her ex-husband in the same Cape Town suburb. They have 2 children (a boy aged 10 and a girl aged 7). They ``share`` the children - weekends with her and during the week with him.

Last week 2 armed men came into the house of the ex-husband and told him they came to kill him. With the children shouting, crying and pleading, they pinned the father on the ground, put a gun to his head and pulled...the gun mal-functioned. So, they took long knives from the kitchen and attacked him again. In full sight of the children they stabbed him in his chest, kidnies and legs. A huge fight ensued which left the walls, floors and furniture bloodstained. They left him for dead, but, in fact, he's alive and recovering.

The only ones who won't recover are the children. Traumatised for life.

And I cry for my beloved country.

20.5.05 10:17


DEBATING THE WRONG THINGS.....

The debate is heating up. As expected, the ``attack on capitalism`` made by senior politicians of the governing party in Germany some 10 days ago, ignited a big public debate.

This debate is getting more heated every day.

But, it's still lacking the essential ingredient: mass participation. As long as it stays a mud fight between a group of politicians and a few senior businessmen, the debate will not bring much.

A second (more important) observation: It's still an ``either-or`` debate. Either we go for unbridled capitalism, or we go for the people-friendly, social system.

Really, really. Germany is knee-deep in s....t. It's at a cross-road in its history. Like South Africa was at a cross-road in the late eighties. At such points in history special leadership is required. South Africa was lucky to get it.

Germany is looking for someone who can ''think out of the box'' and come up with something completely original which grabs the imagination of the 80 million Germans.

And, this is what I think he should sell to Germany:

* We cannot opt out of global trends...that is, we cannot opt out of globalisation (read unbridled capitalism).
* The current debate ``capitalism vs social-marketism`` is thus total nonsense.
* Germans should rather debate: ``How can we win the globalisation war, without losing our social, people-friendly community?``

In short: Our private sector will go flat-out to win the globalisation race, while government will ``mob up behind the capitalists`` and keep society ``social``. We will run both races and win both.

There are economists in Germany with policy suggestions to do this....






20.5.05 10:22


M?NTEFERING HEARS HIS ??anti-semitiese onderrok?? IS SHOWING

To effectively, immediately and finally kill off a critic in South Africa, you just call him a racist. To do that in Germany, you simply call him an ``anti-Semite``.

Schluss mit lustig! One on the chin and you're out.

Sad, but true.

Sometimes (very often, in fact) this gives rise to strange situations. One of the strangest I've ever come across, happened today in Germany: Franz M?ntefering was told that ``his critisism of unbridled capitalism showed anti-semetic tendencies``. Because he compared capitalists with locusts. (He equated people with a plaque...same as the Nazis did....get it?)

As far-fetched as this idea is, it seemed to put M?ntefering and his political party under some kind of pressure. The Financial Times Deutschland even wrote: ``The anti-capitalism debate (what I've been calling the M?ntefering non-debate) threatens to de-rail...``

Now, really.

This M?ntefering debate (let's call it that for the moment) is part of the very important, much-needed, on-going discussion of how Germany's future should look. As such it is very, very important.

I think, so important that the Germans won't allow it to be ``killed off`` by such an off-the-mark, out-of-context remark.

But, one never knows. If the power of the ``racist tag`` in South Africa is anything to go by, then...well...then the debate is almost over.

20.5.05 10:52


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