Friday, January 30, 2009



Raenette Taljaard

Published:Jan 27, 2009

Tasks we face are no less daunting than those of the US
We must demand progressive policies, not dogma

THE inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th US president left much of the world yearning for just such a bi-partisan expression of hope and the possibility and promise of new, invigorated leadership.

Given its resonance with the quintessentially South African narrative of change and racial harmony, it is regrettable that a more high-profile South African presence was not felt in Washington, though thankfully, Madiba sent Obama a warm letter of congratulation.

In our own country, three years of pre- and post-Polokwane manoeuvring, mud-slinging and character assassination have generated a real yearning for a similar unifying, visionary leadership.

It is an even more poignant desire, given the resounding echoes of similarity between the inauguration of Nelson Mandela in 1994 and Barack Obama this year.

For though South Africa has travelled far on its road to democracy since 1994, the challenges it continues to confront in bridging the divides of its past amidst global adversity are no less daunting than the Molotov cocktail of challenges the US is confronting under Obama’s newly-minted baton.

The juxtaposition with our own prospective president, who is confronting charges of corruption and racketeering as he prepares to take office, is truly depressing. Our seeming national lack of vision is starkly juxtaposed with the US’s Obama moment.

While the inauguration oration contained a clear vision of the restoration of values in the US — crucially, the reassertion that security and civil liberty are not mutually exclusive concepts — it is with respect to the economy that Obama will face his sternest test. This test will have consequences that will reverberate in the very fibre of every emerging-market economy including our own.

And it is with respect to the economy that Obama has once again demonstrated pragmatic leadership free of ideological blind spots from which we can all learn.

In his speech, he said: “Nor is the question before us whether the market is good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favours only the prosperous.”

Given that South Africa is at a crucial point of governance transition, and economic-policy discourse, it is worth earmarking this progressive approach as worthy of note for our prospective rulers. For as we chart a new course to try to protect our economy from the worst fall- out of the global crisis and address our chronic growth and employment problems, it is worth reminding ourselves that we are not engaged in a zero-sum game between the market and the state as some ideologues on the left and right would suggest. It is worth reviving the progressive “third-way” of the Blair/Clinton years, as Obama is suggesting.

As we approach the elections, it is worth reminding ourselves as an electorate to look for such progressive ideas, not ideological dogma, in the manifestos of those who seek to lead us.