Truth be told, Bophuthatswana was more progressive than this ANC

I confess upfront that on this occasion I am guilty of the saying ‘’hindsight is always 20/20’’. Growing up in Hammanskraal and later establishing a successful business in Ga-Rankuwa and Mabopane, I can attest to the assertion that the neoliberal governance and economic management model of Bophuthatswana was appropriate – both for its time and today.  

I am not going to dwell on the politics of race, apartheid and independence. That’s for another day. This article looks into the management of the economy, including the industrialization strategy, employment strategy, education and social services delivery under Chief Lucas Mangope for the 17 years from 1977 to 1994.

Chief Mangope and his fellow leaders were old-style African nationalists who, as chiefs, were raised on the norms and values of servanthood, firm leadership and clan culture. Many of them were teachers, devout Christians and conservative traditionalist. Their concept of society was a hierarchical construct and communalism where the collective interest superseded the individual’s selfish ambition.

‘’Motho ke motho ka batho ba bangwe’’ (one enjoys being human by the help of other humans or, put another way, one cannot be human when fellow humans don’t achieve the best they can be). In its nonracialism and view of humanity as a unit/clan/family, this worldview transcended the Black Consciousness philosophy of the same time and the National Question that eluded the exiled African National Congress

This value system of pursuit of the common good was the bedrock of the political, cultural and economic model of the homeland. The administration was characterized by strict adherence to the rule of law, with zero tolerance for political corruption, nepotism, tribalism and favouritism in public affairs. The public service was known for fair recruitment practices, absence of xenophobia and active recruitment of expatriate skills for agriculture, health care, rural development, finance, broadcasting and the favourite, education.

The economic strategy rested on key structural reforms (which the left derisively calls neoliberal policies) including first class nonracial education with pursuit of excellence on math and science, maintenance of peaceful labour relations in the workplace, affordable waged labour, special processing zones (Babelegi, GaRankuwa, Mogwase and Thaba Nchu industrial sites), subsidized public transport and foreign direct investment.

South Korea, Singapore, China and now India adopted the same reforms and, with firm visionary leadership, they are reaping the fruits of their labours. The secret is that the vision of a wealthy country is built on the buy-in and sacrifices of one or more generations that are inspired by honest leaders to forego instant gratification so that future generations can have a better quality of life.

The Bophuthatswana citizens were inspired by Mangope to dig deep into their meagre savings to contribute to the establishment of the University of Bophuthatswana. The first students had no qualms taking residence in mobile prefabricated units. Public servants enrolled in large numbers and attended classes in the evenings and Saturdays. The university produced many well-known professionals, administrators and captains of industry who have been instrumental in the process of transforming and developing governance in South Africa, including academia, research, medicine, law and the economy.

As the basis of a future competitive economy and a decent standard of living, basic education enjoyed priority attention.  Teacher and student unionism was forbidden, as was the growing practice in South Africa outside Bophuthatswana of public servants holding active office in party politics as branch executives. Politics should have no role in the classroom, teacher recruitment and discipline of children.

While some form of democratic engagement between educators, pupils and authorities is desirable in a democratic dispensation, limits are required. In Bophuthatswana the phenomena of loitering uniformed school children during school hours, substance using children, absenteeism of teachers or learners, vandalism of school property, children going on strike, teachers downing chalks and teenage pregnancy were nipped in the bud with a firm hand.

A high failure percentage was an anachronism and a scandal in education circles. Alas, today our education system is in a crisis as various studies show. About 85% of black children aged between 15 and 24 are not in education, employment or training (NEET). The dropout rate in basic education is 40%.

The meagre fiscal transfers from Pretoria to Mmabatho were not wasted on grandiose self-promoting events or buildings as was usual in authoritarian regimes such as Idi Amin’s Uganda, Jean-Bedell el-Bokassa’s Central African Republic, Omar Bongo’s Gabon or Zaire’s Joseph Mobutu.

The resources were used for critical infrastructure in new townships (such as Madikwe, Selosesha, Temba, Mabopane, Mmabatho, Mothibistad, Ga-Rankuwa Unit 8 where I bought my first house, and fixed capital formation, which is the firm foundation for economic development.

Government officials and ministers did not push their children to high office. The children were employed according to their merit like everybody else. There was no nepotism in hiring, promotion or financing. And there was no cadre deployment or tender kickbacks. Ministers lived amongst the people in townships and villages, modelling humble character and oneness with the community.

Development finance institutions in agriculture and small business development were established to provide mentoring, extension services, subsidized manufacturing hubs and emergency relief. The Taung agricultural college produced young farmers while supporting barley production at the local irrigation scheme. Agroprocessing experts were recruited from as far as Sri Lanka, Israel, Tanzania, Lesotho, UK, Taiwan and Zimbabwe.

Pilot projects in rice (Dinokana), citrus (Winterveld) and meat production (Moretele) in deep rural areas were introduced. Sadly, many potential communal farmers which looked promising – including women and youth – during Bophuthatswana failed when the North West provincial government of the post-Mbeki regime closed down extention services, the marketing board and the Taung agricultural college. The potential for sustainable commercial farming was sacrificed on the altar of patronage politics and corruption.

The mixed economy strategy and public ownership of certain enterprises, especially the so-called commanding heights of the economy, was a distinguishing character of the Mangope political economy. The government had shares, through public servants pension funds, in Standard Bank, the Sun City complex and Pilanesberg game park, among others. The pension funds also went into co-investment arrangements in the establishment of factories (Babelegi Industrial area where people of Ga-Ramotse and Temba walked to work in the 70’s.

Ga-Rankuwa Industrial area where I started Black Like Me in 1985, with no government contacts required), retail malls and petrol stations. This arrangement was to be replicated in today’s pension funds’ investments into mining, retail malls, apparel, oil and telecoms. However, the Public Investment Corporation under the ANC is mired in unnecessary controversy, exposing public servants’ savings to risk.

The governance model just outlined with examples, spanning the political economy, public service and education was rooted in old-style African patriarchy, humility, modesty, discipline, clan culture and collective benefit. We have lost most of these values in the rush towards an undefined democratic dispensation, mindless pursuit of riches, rejection of tradition and lack of respect for the community.

Had we known what we know now, ‘’hindsight being 20/20’’, we would have insisted during the restructuring of government in the North West and elsewhere, that active efforts be made to preserve what was good and progressive in the traditionalist governance model of Bophuthatswana.

We need to reclaim the capacity for a shared vision, human solidarity, respect for each other and nonracialism