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Tim Modise: South Africans No Longer Have the Luxury of Being Able to Ignore Politics

Confidence and optimism in South Africa may be at all-time lows, but Tim Modise says that South Africans are more politically engaged than ever before. Speaking at PSG’s Think Big webinar, Modise says the impact of Covid-19 has been demoralising for people all over the world, and South Africa is no exception.

“We’ve had a major economic contraction and it looks like our rebound is going to be much slower than what will happen elsewhere around the world. Other countries might rebound to 2019 levels, but we will probably only recover half of that, or even less than half,” said Modise.

The economy and politics are inextricably linked and Modise says South Africans no longer have the luxury of being able to ignore politics.

“The government is a major player in our economy, and the fact is that the state has interests in about 700 state-owned entities, even though we only talk about seven or eight of them,” said Modise.

“These 700 have all been damaged over the last decade, with huge money and opportunities lost,” said Modise. We can’t look ahead at our economic future without seeing it in this context, and that is why the Zondo commission is so crucial at this juncture.

“The Zondo Commission has given South Africans a front-row seat to see what has been going on within the state. They can hear for themselves first-hand about how our institutions have been corrupted, and I know a lot of people are getting fatigued and demoralised by this, but the upside is that people now know for sure where the problems are, where previously those problems could be denied.”

3 critical areas of focus

In order to boost our economy, Modise believes South Africans – including politicians, businesspeople and ordinary citizens – need to focus on three critical areas. These are:

  1. Energy,
  2. Water supply, and
  3. Transportation.

“We all know that energy supply in South Africa is in dire straits. Some rural municipalities have run out of water. The train system has all but collapsed. A thriving economy will not be possible without addressing these critical systems, and public and private partnerships will be crucial going forward,” said Modise.

State of democracy

We have local elections coming up and ordinary citizens are more aware than ever of the role their elected officials play, says Modise.

“In Gauteng we have two neighbouring municipalities, one is Midvaal and one is Emfuleni. It is clear to the people living in Emfuleni that Midvaal, which is run by the young Mayor Bongani Baloyi, is being run much better. They can see that the state of the roads is better in Midvaal, and that there’s no sewage running in the streets there. This is going to inform how they vote in the upcoming local elections,” said Modise.

“The ruling by the Constitutional Court that we must go the route of the direct vote as much as possible at local government level, and also at a national level in 2024 could have a huge impact on South Africa,” said Modise, who looks forward to the emergence of independent candidates in national elections.

“The internal battles of the ANC are also going to determine the direction that South Africa takes in future,” he said. “For instance, there is a group that wants radical economic transformation and is fighting for that. And then there’s a group that wants a stable country, a growing economy and a corruption-free South Africa.”

Modise believes the tension between these and other factions will continue to grow and we may see a fragmentation in time.

What to do if South Africans wish to see change

“When ordinary South Africans realise that whatever is going on in the country, and in our communities, is as a result of the choices that we make, then we will see change. This is when things will either improve or collapse completely,” said Modise.

Modise believes that it is our actions, and ultimately the way we vote in elections, that will determine where South Africa stands in 10 years’ time.

“What we need as a country is to reignite our national self-confidence and become more proactive,” added Abigail Munsami of PSG, who hosted the conversation with Tim Modise. In addition, she said we need to nurture and embrace public private partnerships beyond the pandemic in order to fill the gaps left in the wake of state capture of our state-owned entities.