Malaysia’s lessons for South Africa

Malaysia’s governing coalition which has been in power since independence in 1957 has suffered a blow to its hegemony in the latest elections. In the federal legislature, opposition parties more than quadrupled in representation – from 20 in 2004 to 82. Opposition parties now govern 5 states, up from 1 in 2004.

The key cause of this seismic shift is an increasing disillusionment with the National Front coalition’s race-based policies. An article in The Economist explains:

Many Chinese Malaysians have tolerated the New Economic Policy (NEP), introduced in 1971 to redistribute wealth to the poorer Malay majority, as a guarantor of communal harmony at a time when all ethnic groups were getting richer. Now even some Malay voters appear to have turned against it, seeing it as an excuse for cronyism and corruption. Some voted for the opposition, a loose alliance of three parties, which called the NEP obsolete and, on taking power in Penang, has started to dismantle it, saying its provisions will not apply to state-government contracts.

The situation faced in Malaysia has parallels with South Africa’s own politics and race-based policies. While economic empowerment of the previously oppressed is vital, the way in which it has been implemented has to a large degree been a failure.

Afrodissident wrote last year:

Half our black population lives on $1 a day or under. In 13 years of freedom, unemployment has swollen by an official 25%. The number of South Africans living in relative poverty (calculated on income) increased from 40.5 (in 1996) to the whopping 47% currently.

We continued with:

BEE is an insult to the millions of poor South Africans and their ancestors who were oppressed under apartheid and colonial rule. It is an insult because it has resulted in little more than the creation of tiny black elite and an economic system based on patronage and cronyism rather than merit and innovation.

Moeletsi Mbeki, the president’s brother, says: “BEE looks deceptively like a form of reparation. The reality, however, is very different. BEE is a formula for co-opting – and perhaps even corrupting – ANC leaders by enriching them as private individuals.”

From Malaysia’s history it is clear that SA is not the only country where ethnically-based policies inevitably lead to self-enrichment and patronage. What I sincerely hope for is that this will lead to disillusionment with the party who perpetuates these divisive and ineffectual policies – just as it has done so in Malaysia.

True empowerment is not one black woman being on the boards of 71 companies (Danisa Baloyi – before Fidentia hit the fan). It it is not ANC funding fronts being awarded massive deals from state parastatals.

For the impoverished to receive true socioeconomic emancipation we need to create an equal and open opportunity society where an education system can provide much needed skills and catalyse innovation.

We need loads of scholarships (especially for teachers and other sectors facing personnel shortages). We need academies for promising pupils (perhaps modelled on Oprah’s school). We need small business resource and skills development hubs in the townships and rural areas.

As long as the ANC remains in power in its current form, BEE and other racially-based policies will continue. They will persist because they are a useful mechanism to plunder resources for the personal gain of a politically-favoured few. One day other parties will eventually pose a significant challenge to that at the ballot box. But who knows when that will be. Let’s hope it doesn’t take 50 years – like it did in Malaysia. South Africa – and especially its poor – deserves much better than that.

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One response to “Malaysia’s lessons for South Africa

  1. scorpions

    Support Bob Glenister (Hugh) now!!! Mr Glenister is serious about his coming court case against government to prevent them from disbanding the scorpions. Please help him to succeed in this process: All you have to do is to sms the words “scorpions yes” to 35052 and for every sms received a donation is made towards his legal costs. You can also mail the words: “Scorpions Yes” to or fax the same to 0880218521388. Please take a few minutes of your time and let us all stand together and help this very brave man.

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