‘We’ve learned important lessons’

Former Deputy Finance Minister, Mcebisi Jonas, speaking at the Open Book Festival at the Fugard Theatre last week.

One of the most important lessons that we’ve learnt as a country was the importance of civic organisations and speaking out.

These were the thoughts of the former Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas, who was speaking at the Fugard Theatre as part of the Open Book Festival on Thursday September 7.

Mr Jonas was removed from the position in the now infamous cabinet reshuffle earlier this year. He said that in the time since he was removed he has been engaging with the stakeholders and various communities. Mr Jonas also reportedly turned down a R600 million offer from the Gupta’s and has since resigned as a member of Parliament.

Mr Jonas was in conversation with eNCA journalist Lester Kiewit addressing the current state of the nation.

He discussed everything from the economy, the social grants system to the importance of active citizens and media as well as accountable leadership

“One of the weaknesses we have, since 1994 has been the decline in social engagement between different groups of citizens. We are a country in a crises, effectively. The levels of poverty and inequality, and youth unemployment is probably the biggest challenge that we all have to face. There are also huge changes in the global economy.”

Mr Jonas also referred to the rising state of populism both locally and internationally as an issue. “It’s natural, populism is a response when you don’t have answers. Populism avoids complexity. By its very nature it strives on simplicity and contexts where there is social tension and mistrust.”

On the government, he said the biggest failing of government was the lack of an inclusive economy.

“There are things that have been done very well. Whether you like it or not, our social grants system has worked very well, notwithstanding some of the problems we’ve had recently and continue to have.

“There are lessons that we are learning very fast as a country. One of them is we have also given too much power to political parties” Mr Jonas, who said that he originally came from an NGO background, said they are learning quickly the importance of active citizenship. “We have to ask questions about what is happening and act on what is happening. We cannot wait for December (ANC electoral conference) to solve our problems, because it will come and go.”

Mr Jonas also said that robust debate in various parliamentary committees was a positive thing.

When asked about South Africa moving out of a technical recession earlier this month, Mr Jonas, said it was a good thing.

However, he added: “We also need to temper that with the harsh reality. Our economy is not growing, it is not growing at a pace that can address our fundamental challenges. Our fundamental challenges are inequality and unemployment.” He also said there was a need to address the structure of the economy and diversify. “We are still over dependent on commodities. We need to diversify our economy.

“The state needs to play a more robust role in economic reform. State-owned enterprises are not performing at a level that they need to.”

He also said government accountability and showing leadership was vital.