South Africa’s institutions have either been forsaken or deliberately weakened for political expedience, with State transformation becoming so politicised that economics is almost only about political power, former Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas told delegates at an Afrikaanse Handels Instituut small and medium-sized enterprise indaba earlier this month.
Speaking after being axed from his position, Jonas said the country now needed to focus on its institutional frameworks that have been “so carefully constructed as part of our democracy” and which are designed to keep “us in check” by ensuring that the rules of the game and democratic accountability hold firm.
“I fear that, increasingly, we are failing to build institutions that go beyond political regimes; we are building institutions that mirror the incumbent,” he stated.
Jonas told delegates at the indaba in Centurion that, although he was outraged by the underlying factors that led to his and former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s axing, “it’s a fight we all have to fight; this isn’t about us as individuals – it is about the country as a whole”.
Thus, Jonas said, the country needed to ensure that it strengthened and protected State institutions and policies to ensure that it contributed to social trust.
“We’re at a point where political short-termism is beginning to [enter] into our institutions, thereby undermining the potential to serve the national interest and a national agenda.”
He compared the current political framework to the eighteenth century, where “prosperity was about who controlled trade – the occupation of political office seems to be a very powerful vehicle for self-enrichment and [for the enrichment] of those close to [those in power].”
Jonas, who claimed he was offered the position of Finance Minister in the past by the controversial Gupta family, which has close ties with President Jacob Zuma, further called on citizens to stand up to the politicisation of the economy, where “empowerment becomes about the replacement of one group of beneficiaries or business with another.”
He said the country needed to focus on broadening economic participation to include the majority of citizens who still find themselves excluded from the economy through the diversification of the economy and investment in new sources of growth.