Manuel and Vavi's unlikely duet
ONE could easily become excited about the diagnostic report by Trevor Manuel's National Planning Commission that was announced last week.
It's a pretty substantial document, and fifteen of the country's best brains spent more than a year working on it.
However, "best brains" does not necessarily mean academics or intellectual philosophers.
There are certainly some, but the 15 members of the commission comprise a fairly well-balanced collection of decision-makers and leaders from the industrial and business sectors, and even political heavyweights such as Manuel himself, Cyril Ramaphosa and Joel Netshitenzhe of the Mapungubwe Institute.
Other prominent members of the commission include Elias Masilela, chief executive of the Public Investment Corporation; Bobby Godsell, chairperson of Business Leadership South Africa; Dr Miriam Altman, researcher at the Human Sciences Research Council; Dr Vincent Maphai, corporate head of business at SABMiller; Jerry Vilakazi, until last month the chief executive of Business Unity South Africa and now Netcare chair; and Professor Karl von Holdt, former head of Cosatu's research unit Naledi, and now professor at the Society, Work and Development Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand.
Yet another academic with close Cosatu ties is Chris Malekane, professor of economics at Wits.
When the report was announced last week, Manuel and commission deputy chair Ramaphosa made no bones about the fact that South Africa was gradually sliding into collapse.
It's also a remarkably honest report, if one considers that it was a written under the direction of politicians.
To get to the "dangerous" portions, however, one has to read the whole report.
The chapter on the public service and the corruption within it – no doubt a sensitive matter for those in high places – is the penultimate part, comprising 34 pages out of slightly more than 200.
But once you have read that far, you realise that Manuel is increasingly singing from the same song sheet as Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, who warned, in a discussion document for Cosatu’s upcoming mini congress, that South Africa was heading to become a banana republic.
But hang on - Manuel is no friend of Cosatu.
For more than a decade, just mentioning his name stirred strong emotional responses within Cosatu's leadership corps – negative reactions, because Manuel is regarded as the main architect of Gear, the macroeconomic strategy Cosatu interpreted as supporting everything that was ugly and ruthless about capitalism.
The economy changes Gear
The South Africa that the ANC inherited when it came into power in 1994 was bankrupt, with huge indebtedness. And Manuel was not solely responsible for the writing and application of Gear.
Former president Thabo Mbeki was probably the chief architect and Tito Mboweni, the then labour minister and the ANC's head of economic policy, also played a significant role.
Outside the ANC, well-known economists also had a hand in it.
The provision of basic services like electricity and running water to large parts of the population is today regarded as the ANC's crowning achievement since 1994.
One day, when history has been stripped of the preconceptions of current political views, something else will be highlighted as the biggest gift the ANC gave South Africa: the turning around of government finances from virtual bankruptcy and the application of fiscal and monetary discipline, despite enormous populist political pressure during the 1990s.
For that Manuel should get most of the glory.
To know what is required to write Gear, is one thing. To apply Gear, knowing it means that your UDF comrades are being thrown into the street and that their children consequently go hungry, is something entirely different.
The realisation that Manuel and Vavi are eventually starting to speak the same language is an exciting development, but there are deep wounds that will take a long time to heal before they can become political partners.
The documents that Manuel's commission published last week are an exposé of the country's weaknesses. They propose no remedies.
Now the commission will work on them for six months and in November come up with proposals on what needs to be done to tackle the problems/weaknesses/challenges.
If the November proposals are written with as much honesty and professionalism as last week's diagnostic document, South Africa will have a roadmap for its future.
That will be besides the other roadmaps that we already have: the new economic growth plan, the Ipap2 industrial policy and even the integrated energy plan.
The value of Manuel's diagnosis is his findings on the public service and corruption.
The public service has become so debilitated under the ANC that it cannot get anything going – not even the wonderful policy proposals and plans.
A developing state is one that can effectively intervene in its economy.
The collection of taxes is currently more ore less the only area of excellence in our public service.
The commission says in its report that the provision of quality public services is the single most important thing that can be done to overcome the inequalities of apartheid.
Vavi has put it slightly differently: that the public service and its officials are the arms and legs of the revolution.
But it seems highly unlikely that Vavi and Manuel will ever see eye to eye.
On the other hand, stranger things have happened in South African politics.