The Church in 2018
The Catholic Church has developed a stronger voice on political and social issues, especially through the statements by the bishops’ Justice & Peace Commission and its chair, Bishop Abel Gabuza, and in 2018 that pressure needs to be maintained, according to a Catholic political analyst.
With the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as president of the African National Congress, it has become even more possible to have a more constructive relationship and find ways of walking with government, said Mike Pothier, senior researcher for the Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office (CPLO).
Mr Ramaphosa now faces a complex task every bit as difficult as the one he faced 25 years ago when he led the ANC’s side in the negotiations for a post-apartheid, democratic dispensation, Mr Pothier noted.
Mr Ramaphosa has spoken out strongly against state capture and has promised to tackle corruption, address land reform, job creation, education and economic growth.
“Let’s hope that he succeeds and that he does not end up being martyred before he can complete his task,” Mr Pothier said.
The analyst doesn’t anticipate a breakaway in the ANC as a result of the elections, but further crumbling, fragmentation and infighting is a possibility.
Mr Pothier noted that there is a combination of political factors that are negatively affecting the economy.
“There is a lack of vision, a lack of direction and a lack of planning,” he said.
National Development Plan
He predicted that Mr Ramaphosa will try to resurrect the National Development Plan, and engage with businesses and labour.
“I doubt whether it makes a difference in the short term, because our economy is beset by political and structural problems. Even if Madiba was still the president and our politics was perfect, we would still have massive unemployment because the mines are in shutdown. Our mining industry is just a declining industry, worldwide commodity prices for things like coal and iron have been depressed, and if the Chinese economy remains relatively slow it will continue to be the case,” Mr Pothier said.
“We have these really deep structural economic problems which not even the world’s best president could solve overnight.”
While there are signs that the economy is beginning to perk up a little bit, especially in agriculture, economic problems are going to be with us for a very long time, Mr Pothier said.
However, Mr Ramaphosa’s success will help prevent the final downgrade of South African bonds to junk status.
“[Rating agency] Moody’s still have us one notch above junk status, and they would probably review that in February or March. They may say the economy is looking kind of pear-shaped, but the Ramaphosa election does have the promise of creating stability, which could prevent us from that final downgrade — which will be huge. It will mean we import much less, food prices stabilise and should continue to do so and may even come down in some respects,” he said.
If the economy begins to strengthen, with inflation remaining low, which it is, the Reserve Bank may have the confidence to reduce interest rates.
Our Judiciary Remains the Shining Star
Socially, most of the signs are fairly positive, Mr Pothier said. Many of our institutions are holding up very well, with the shining star being the judiciary.
Parliament has also been reasserting itself with good work on the Eskom inquiry, the new SABC board and other interventions.
The Church, he said, should continue to focus on the poor, with massive unemployment a big problem.
“The Church has to be asking questions of government and business about how resources are applied and how they are shared, he said.
“Business sits on huge amounts of cash, and this is available cash which they could — and perhaps would — invest in building factories and importing equipment if they had political stability and certainty,” Mr Pothier said.
“The Church needs to be saying that on the one hand they understand that attitude but on the other hand it does not serve the common good of South Africa, he said.
One of the moral responsibilities of business is to invest back into the common good and the community.
“Business needs to be much more orientated towards solving social problems in terms of job creation and training, passing on skills, trying to deal with inequality,” Mr Pothier said.
He referred to Pope Francis’s statement to a group of Latin American politicians in December that politics should be “first of all, a service. It is not the slave of individual ambitions, of the arrogance of factions or interest groups. It’s a service of sacrifice and dedication, to such a point that at times politicians can be considered as ‘martyrs’ of causes for the common good of their nations.”
“2018 will still be a difficult year for most,” Mr Pothier said, “but I do foresee improvements, and in the long run these will affect the country positively.”