Friday, November 21, 2008

Dennis Davis Interview: Forecast 2009

Cape High Court Judge Dennis Davis speaks to David Ansara after moderating a debate at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS). He discusses some of the challenges - and opportunities - facing South Africa in a turbulent and changing world. For a full account of the night's proceedings see here.

Well I think this evening is just a wonderful illustration of the possibility for debate in South Africa because you had people from slightly different viewpoints very seriously talking about what is going to be happening in 2009 both economically and politically and the challenges are immense. Also you find 250 people here listening intently for close on two hours which indicates that what's wrong in this country is not having enough fora like this in public space, that's the problem.

DA: A wonderful forum indeed. One of the things that I liked about your closing is you were talking about this dialectic between strengths and opportunities in 2009. Could you elaborate?

DD: Oh, sure. The truth is economically the world has got to the point where the old model of capitalism has gone. No doubt about that. So the opportunities – that creates the crisis, that's the threat – what's the opportunity? Can we actually start carving out some form of global governance and economic response that will get us out of the mess and because it will get us out of the mess, I believe may get us to a very much more egalitarian vision of the world than the one that we've suffered under for the last twenty years. That's the crucial area.

No doubt about it, we are moving from an era of what they call Adam Smithsonian globalization to some form of Keyensian globalization. How that works, I dunno, but that's what's going to happen.

And politically in South Africa we don't know what's going to happen, but sure as hell we know one thing is that there is now far more contestation of political space in South Africa than in the past fourteen years. So people are going to have to win power from more what they do, it seems to me, rather than simply the pedigree that they have.

DA: And economically the way that South Africa has responded to outside forces in the past, there was a suggestion that we always muddle through. How do you think the country and its leadership can reclaim that agency on the international stage?

DD: Well, they've done quite well. I mean, I don't think we've done badly, but the fact that we are growing and we're going to grow at over three percent this year is extraordinary. And the fact that we will grow next year is not bad.

It's not that we've done badly, it's that we could do better, we have to do better. So the claim on the international stage is much more of a political claim rather than an economic claim. I suspect that we have far more credibility in the way that we've managed our economy than, say, the way we've managed Zimbabwe, if I could put it that way. But the real question for the economy is how do we in fact go up a gear, how do we actually (that's an unfortunate term), how do we go up another notch by having created the stability and now start in a sense addressing those key issues of education, health, et cetera.

That's the challenge for another government, that's the challenge for economic policy is how do you do that? You can't say that the government hasn't got a major role – it has, and it's failed. So the real issue is to puzzle out how you get better delivery in an increasingly fraught economic system. Now if we can do that then in fact we do become in a sense a model for the rest of the world.

DA: In many ways some of the failure, and you alluded to it in your moderation of the debate, of South Africa has been in the implementation of policy and not so much in the envisioning of policy. So this new Keynesian world that you talk about, is this going to be big states…?

DD: No, no, no-no, it means much more a question of what kind of global governance will take place. How do we deal with the environment globally? How do we deal with an international financial system which at this particular point in time has been unregulated and can no longer be so? Remember somebody said here this evening, for the first time in God knows how long, we've got nationalized banks, and no other banks. So clearly that notion of regulation and accountability to the public domain is going to be far more an issue in the 21st Century going forward than it has been up until now.

DA: But maybe in South Africa is that more…that that higher level of regulation and involvement, isn't that going to contribute towards what Raenette Taljaard was talking about, of this blurring of party and state?

DD: No, neah, that is always a danger, you know, one doesn't know, but I'm saying that – well, that's the challenge of course can we move into a situation whereby it's not about ethnicity, it's about views and values and whether poor people, whether you want one form of policy or another. That's a difficult question, and of course there's always danger. I don't however see, it all depends, it's possible that it could all go down an ethnic toilet, it's possible. But I don't see that necessarily happening. I think that we forget about the fact that the constitution is what people are campaigning about. They're not campaigning about ethnicity, what's significant is what they're really campaigning about is who owns the constitution, who owns the freedom charter? And that's good, because we're actually moving slowly towards a value-orientated debate.

DA: Just wearing your legal hat for a while, if you were a panelist here today, you would have been called upon to speak about the state of the judiciary and the rule of law, the independence of the courts…

DD: Well I think, how well have we done? Quite well, better than I think you think. Look, of course there are problems and I'm not going to deny that, but the fact of the matter is that by and large the fact that people are actually campaigning for a constitution, saying "we are the people who are the custodians of the constitution". There have been a lot of threats, but everybody recognizes the work of the constitutional court and the notion of an independent judiciary. Compared to where we've come from, remember where we've come from. We came from a society where the rule of law was in fact applied in the abuse rather than in the use. That is the important point. Okay…

DA: Thank you Dennis Davis, thanks very much.

DD: Take care.

DA: Bye!


Photo by David Ansara

1 comment:

  1. He evidently has not read Adam Smith. Adam Smith was in favour of regulation in order for trade to occur. Sigh. Poor Smith keeps on getting maligned by people who evidently haven't read him.