Ditch ‘Useless’ Politicians, Top South African Banker Says

(Bloomberg) -- South Africans should use next year’s elections to vote out “useless” politicians who have failed to prioritize jobs and drive investment, and choose leaders who will get the struggling economy back on track, according to one of the country’s top bankers.

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“You have to have a half-decent government and I don’t think at the moment we are anywhere close,” Investec Group Chief Executive Officer Fani Titi said in a speech at the Gordon Institute of Business Science in Johannesburg last week. “We get the government we deserve because we either don’t vote or when we vote, we vote poorly.”

The African National Congress has led Africa’s most industrialized nation since White-minority rule ended in 1994. The government made initial strides in tacking poverty, unemployment and inequality, but its performance deteriorated markedly during President Jacob Zuma’s nine-year rule, which was marred by repeated corruption scandals, policy missteps and inappropriate appointments.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, who succeeded Zuma in 2018, has struggled to turn the situation around, with output constrained by electricity shortages and logistics bottlenecks.

The economy has expanded less than 2% a year over the past decade, the International Monetary Fund doesn’t expect its performance to improve markedly until 2028 at the earliest and the National Treasury has warned that state debt is approaching unsustainable levels.

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“If you are not a little scared about the country, there’s something wrong with you, because the trajectory is not good at all,” Titi said. “We are governed by guys in their late 60s and some in their 70s with no idea about how the world works.”

In a televised address on Monday night, Ramaphosa defended his administration’s performance, saying it had made progress toward ending power cuts, creating jobs and improving the rail system and ports. He reiterated the government’s commitment to a stable macroeconomic environment, a sustainable fiscal trajectory and reducing its debt, and pledged to press ahead with reforms to kick-start growth.

While much more needs to be done, “there are clear signs that our efforts are showing results,” the president said. “I am confident that through the actions we are taking now, we will overcome the challenges we face and build a society that works for all of its people.”

Titi conceded there was reason to be hopeful, saying there is a realization that urgent action is needed to tackle the country’s challenges, with the private sector now working with government to address energy shortages, logistics constraints, crime and corruption.

Several opinion polls show the ANC risks losing its national majority for the first time next year, an eventuality that would force it into a coalition if it wants to retain power. The next administration has to focus on creating an environment that unlocks private sector investment and allows business to create jobs, according to Titi.

Read More: South Africa’s Ruling ANC Sees Support Slip to 45% in Survey

The upcoming election will be an opportunity to vote in younger people who have ideas on how to move the country forward, and the 2029 vote “will be critical,” he said. “If we don’t get it right, then you get to a tipping point where you can easily deteriorate into a Zimbabwe, where the courts don’t work, where the economy doesn’t work” for those without political connections, and that can’t be allowed to happen, Titi said.

(Updates with president’s comments from seventh paragraph)

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