The socialist ideology of the ruling ANC government has become a stumbling block for the growth of South Africa, and the country should be aware of the ideological path it is following.
These comments come from former Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter, who told the Business Day Spotlight podcast that a debate about the ideological bent of the country was something he hoped to spark in criticising the ANC government.
“We also saw a narrative emerge that started to challenge the ANC’s thinking,” he said.
“Previously, few people were prepared to challenge the ANC on their ideology, and hopefully, one of the issues that catalysed the discussion was the ideological direction we should be taking as a country.”
South Africa should debate publicly whether it wants to be a socialist country, as the ANC wishes, or a liberal free market economy.
“More and more, I see the word ideology coming to the fore as one of the stumbling blocks for the growth of South Africa,” De Ruyter said.
“If I had not been so overt in my criticism, I am not sure that would have come about.”
De Ruyter said the only thing he regrets about his decision to criticise the government publicly was its timing, adding that he should have only done so after he left Eskom.
“But, the central thrust of the argument I made and the allegations I made have been largely corroborated by a number of external data points,” he said.
Earlier this year, the former Eskom CEO said the ANC has investors “heading for the hills” about their economic policy, which is ideologically blinkered and subject to rapid change.
These comments were made in De Ruyter’s new book, Truth to Power: My Three Years Inside Eskom, in which he exposes widespread corruption and incompetence at the power utility.
The former CEO said the governing party had a profound lack of business acumen, which led to counter-productive legislation.
Even President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is regarded as a successful businessman, “is not someone who has hands-on experience of building an enterprise from the bottom up”.
“Shrewd corporate dealmaking, lubricated by favourable black empowerment legislation, built his fortune,” according to De Ruyter.
The ANC simply fails to understand what moves investors. Strict procurement and labour laws “poison the well and have them heading for the hills”.
“The lack of self-awareness from the ANC was astonishing. It was as though they did not realise that they were the government,” De Ruyter said.
Meeting with high-level politicians and ministers would be all talk and no action. There was also a distinct lack of coordination and cohesion between different spheres of the government.
The President allows each minister “to cook their own broth as far as policymaking is concerned”, resulting in policy uncertainty among investors.
According to De Ruyter, politicians also tend to have a two-to-three-year horizon, living from election to election, whereas infrastructure investments require decades-long horizons.
This resulted in clashes between politicians and investors, including Eskom executives on the side of the investors.
De Ruyter added that “debating with Marxists is like debating with members of the Flat Earth Society. You will never win”.
“But for the ideological blinkers over our government’s eyes, South Africa could do great things.”