Richard Tren, TES Contributor
South Africans head to the polls this week and the ruling ANC will almost certainly be returned to power, despite years of low economic growth, high unemployment, and endemic corruption. Loyalty to the party that Nelson Mandela led and that helped to usher in democracy trumps, for the time being, the widespread dissatisfaction that most South Africans feel. The ANC will be helped, no doubt, by the fact that millions of South Africans will be voting thanks to the HIV/AIDS treatment program, without which they would have died or would be too ill to get to the polls. The program, which is the world’s largest, is paid for mostly by western donors. Now might be an appropriate time to question the wisdom of continuing to support the ANC’s failing policies.
South Africa has a complicated history with HIV/AIDS. As the epidemic spread in the 1990s and early 2000s, the ruling party responded with too little, too late. Under President Mbeki, the government refused public funds for those desperately in need of the expensive HIV/AIDS treatments that were then on offer, in spite of preferential pricing offers from pharmaceutical companies. As former ANC Member of Parliament, Andrew Feinstein, explains in his book After the Party, a curious AIDS denialism, along with outlandish conspiracy theories, gripped the ANC under Mbeki, causing, by one estimate, 300,000 deaths.
After Mbeki’s ouster, in part caused by his stance on HIV/AIDS, the ANC ramped up treatment programs, funded mostly by the US-taxpayer under President George W. Bush’s PEPFAR program. According to UNAIDS, over 7 million South Africans are HIV positive and over 4 million are receiving treatment. However, at least 6 million HIV positive patients should be receiving treatment, and in recent years the South African Department of Health has struggled to keep patients on the program. Maintaining treatment regimens is critically important in keeping the viral load down, and in stopping the development of drug resistance.
Given these failures, it was entirely reasonable for the PEPFAR administrator, Deborah Birx, to indicate her willingness to cut funding, as she recently did. With limited available funds, Birx is duty bound to direct resources to those countries and programs where they will do most good. Birx ultimately decided not to cut PEPFAR funding to South Africa. It is not for me to second guess the PEPFAR Administrator, but there are other reasons to re-consider funneling aid dollars to the ANC.
Aside from South Africa’s poorly performing HIV/AIDS program, the country’s public health system is deteriorating rapidly. In 2018 the Department of Health’s own Office of Health Standards Compliance found that 85 percent of all public facilities did not meet the most basic standards of care. Stories of drug stock-outs and poor treatment, including actual abuse of patients, are common place. A whistleblower at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in Johannesburg, which was once a world-class teaching hospital, recently revealed that severed limbs, along with discarded babies, both dead and alive, are often found after being thrown down the hospital’s laundry chute.
In the face of such horrifying lapses in basic standards, one might think the Minster of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi, would push for public sector reforms and perhaps even allow the high-quality private health sector to expand. One would be wrong, however. Motsoaledi is pushing ahead with a National Health Insurance scheme that would effectively nationalize all healthcare and drive the private sector out of existence. The government has neither the expertise, the capacity, or the tax revenue to pursue this policy, but is pushing ahead regardless.
South Africa’s state-owned monopoly electricity supplier, Eskom, has been so poorly and corruptly managed that power outages across the country are now common place. This has contributed to a shrinking in manufacturing and mining, among other sectors, adding to millions of South Africans that are now out of work. Add to this the decline in economic freedom over the past decade or more, and it is no wonder that there has been barely any economic growth. Millions of South African children are growing up with parents who have never had formal employment and lack any real prospects of ever getting a job.
Aside from the ANC’s disastrous health and economic policy proposals, the government has shown that when it comes to foreign policy, it is no friend of the western democracies. Time and again when given the opportunity, the ruling ANC sides with the likes of Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela and against the United States and other democracies.
In March a delegation of ANC Members of Parliament travelled to Venezuela on a “fact-finding mission.” The real purpose of the trip was to support Nicolas Maduro and to oppose those struggling to restore democracy, to say little of safety, security, and normalcy, that that strife-torn country.
The donor aid provided by taxpayers from the United States and elsewhere is fungible. Though very few individuals would begrudge the individuals receiving life-saving AIDS treatment, the unfortunate reality is that these programs allow the ruling ANC to divert other funds to either corrupt or deleterious functions.
Unless South Africa, under relatively new President Ramaphosa, dramatically changes its policy direction, freeing the economy, protecting property rights, and reducing the size of government, donor aid will be simply aiding and abetting government failure. At some point taxpayers in the west have to ask whether or not they are happy to see their hard-earned money being used in this way.