/Helen Zille: What I learnt from tea with Thuli – personal responsibility is key

Helen Zille: What I learnt from tea with Thuli – personal responsibility is key

2019-06-10 05:00

We avoid biting the bullet of personal responsibility in almost every policy arena – from Aids right through to parents, which is why the success of the Marshall Plan has eluded South Africa, writes Helen Zille.

As we rounded off our high tea last week, Professor Thuli Madonsela and I agreed to write two articles each. The first to summarise our own input to the discussion. The second to set out what we learnt.

My first article appeared last week on News24. This is my second.

Over tea, Professor Madonsela handed me a folder, summarising all the laws, since 1856, that established “the architecture of privilege and disadvantage” in South Africa. I agree that we have to face and address the cumulative impact of this legacy. Prof Madonsela’s document culminates in a call for “a type of Marshall Plan, aimed at accelerating the advancement of social justice focusing on zero poverty and equalising opportunities in South Africa by 2030.”

She will convene a Social Justice Conference at Stellenbosch University in August, which will be the “ideal place to reach a national accord” on her proposed “M-Plan”. If I am invited, I will certainly attend. Indeed, I have done quite a bit of preparation already, working through the file Prof Madonsela gave me over tea. It prompted me to do further research.

First, I needed to understand more about the original Marshall Plan of 1948. It was a strategy spearheaded by then US Secretary of State, George Marshall, to assist 18 European countries rebuild their ravaged economies after World War II.

In terms of the plan, the United States donated $12bn (nearly $100bn in real terms today), spread over three years, to the 18 countries, to create conditions for sustained economic growth. The money was used to support the removal of trade barriers, modernise industry and establish a sustainable market economy to prevent the spread of communism.

The Marshall Plan also required cutting red tape, improving the investment climate, increasing productivity, and adopting modern business practices within the rule of law.

The $100bn (in today’s value) was not distributed evenly between the 18 states. Britain got the most, ($26bn), while West Germany got $11bn.

The historical consensus is that the Marshall Plan was a success and met its objectives.

Why? Because it was well-conceived and efficiently implemented to build viable and sustainable European economies, rather than promote dependency.

And the institutional mechanisms (that were either restored or re-built from scratch) ensured accountable disbursement of funds, preventing any possibility of enriching a small, politically-connected elite.

Can we do the same? Unfortunately, the recipe has eluded us so far.

Africa already receives money

People who call for a Marshall Plan for Africa fail to calculate how much international aid the continent has already received (and continues to receive), without reaping the reward of sustained economic growth and job creation as a result.

If the Social Justice Conference is to have real value, it is essential to analyse the reasons for this failure and how to fix it.

The latest figures I could source (2016) show that the top ten Official Development Assistance (ODA) donor countries transferred $50bn to various African countries that year. Over a three-year period (the same time frame as the Marshall Plan), this amounts to $150bn, the equivalent of one-and-a-half Marshall Plans.

And, unlike the Marshall Plan, aid and debt relief to Africa is a sustained and repetitive pattern – not a “once-off” transfer. The total amount over the past three decades would amount to many combined Marshall Plans.

Now, let’s disaggregate the statistics for South Africa. Between 1994 and the present, our country received aid from 21 OECD countries totalling $54bn, more than double the amount the Marshall Plan allocated to Britain (its greatest single beneficiary). Compared to the amount allocated to Germany to resurrect its shattered economy, South Africa received almost five times as much.

Calculated per head of population, the amount given to South Africa is even more generous compared with European countries. And this does not even factor in our country’s own mineral wealth, which should have been a launch-pad for sustained growth during the commodities boom, as the driver of industrialisation. This did not happen, primarily as a result of poor policy choices.

Why did the economy stall?

The key question is: How is it, that with all this assistance, over so many years, our economy has stalled, and unemployment spiralled from 3,7 million in 1994 to 9,9 million today? And how is it possible that inequality within our black population is now as wide as it is between the richest whites and the poorest blacks?

Why have all these billions failed to help us build an inclusive economy, attract investment and achieve sustainable growth?

We know the answer: policy uncertain, an incapacitated captured state, the near collapse of our criminal justice system, our weak public education system, the extent of corruption and crime. These factors, in combination, destroy investor confidence required for ongoing economic growth.

Francis Fukuyama was right when he said: Sustained progress in a democracy requires three strong pillars: a capable state, the rule of law and a culture of accountability.

Most of the literature on Africa focuses on the widespread failure to build a capable state and the absence of the rule of law.

My life’s experience shows that a culture of accountability is an equally important component and extends far beyond government. If a country is to succeed it requires a culture of individual accountability and personal responsibility.

Analyses of South Africa tends to ignore this crucial issue. Increasingly (and patronisingly) the majority of South Africans are regarded as permanent victims of the past, lacking the personal agency to influence, let alone improve, their prospects.

Let me address this in the context of what is perhaps the most sensitive topic of all – our HIV/AIDS crisis. It is well known that South Africa has the biggest HIV epidemic in the world. More than 7 million people are living with AIDS and the prevalence among the general population is 18.9% (although it is much higher in some provinces than others).

Billions in international aid have helped us develop the largest HIV treatment and prevention programme in the world.

However, the rate of transmission of the HI virus continues to grow, primarily among young women in their teens and twenties. Surveys show that almost everyone knows AIDS is transmitted primarily through unprotected sex. Despite this, we have failed to significantly change the practice of unprotected, intergenerational sex with multiple concurrent partners.

Many reasons are given for this. But I nevertheless keep asking: how did other countries worldwide achieve behaviour change and thereby significantly reduce HIV transmissions?

Even Thailand (the international capital of sex tourism with the highest HIV rate in the region) has adopted policies that have drastically reduced HIV transmission by requiring sex workers to take personal responsibility to prevent the spread of HIV.

As a result, there were only 6 400 new HIV infections in Thailand in 2016, out of a population of 70 million, compared with 270 000 new infections in South Africa with a population of 55 million.

We avoid biting the bullet of personal responsibility in almost every policy arena – from Aids right through to parents (usually fathers) who abandon their children and fail to pay maintenance for them, or ensure that they complete their schooling.

Every time I raise these issues it causes a national melt-down. But unless we discuss this “elephant in the room” we will not deal with the necessary preconditions for the success of international donor support.

In order to progress, South Africa desperately needs international funding. But the Marshall Plan has taught us that this should be geared to create conditions necessary to attract investment and drive sustainable economic growth.

I hope Professor Madonsela’s conference in August focuses on these preconditions for success. If it fails to do so, it will, once again, merely dance around the invisible elephant.

– Helen Zille is the former DA leader and premier of the Western Cape.

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