Bayethe Msimang: Concerns over John Steenhuisen's prospective leadership

John Steenhuisen, known for his pro-Western stance, has been a polarising figure in South African politics. writes Bayethe Msimang.

John Steenhuisen, known for his pro-Western stance, has been a polarising figure in South African politics. writes Bayethe Msimang.

Published Jun 12, 2024


Bayethe Msimang

The political landscape of South Africa is once again in tumult as speculation mounts about John Steenhuisen's potential elevation to the role of Vice President.

Investors, geopolitics analysts, and progressive civil society formations are watching closely, concerned about the ramifications this shift might herald for the nation’s stability and growth.

John Steenhuisen, known for his pro-Western stance, has been a polarising figure in South African politics.

His recent calls to dismantle the Black Economic Forum have sparked outrage, signalling a threat to the very foundations of South Africa’s economic inclusivity and empowerment policies.

Steenhuisen's controversial positions on geopolitical matters, including his public support for Israel, have not only alienated significant portions of the electorate but have also raised red flags among foreign policy analysts who fear a potential alignment that could undermine South Africa's sovereignty and diplomatic standing.

In stark contrast, the tenure of current Vice President Paul Mashatile has been marked by significant strides in stabilising the nation’s business environment.

Under Mashatile's leadership, there has been a noticeable improvement in government business operations, most prominently reflected in the reduction of load-shedding days and a bolstered national grid.

Eskom, South Africa's beleaguered power utility, has shown signs of recovery, contributing to a positive shift in both domestic and international business sentiment.

The juxtaposition of Steenhuisen’s potential leadership against Mashatile’s proven track record presents a dilemma for stakeholders.

Critics argue that Steenhuisen's lack of formal qualifications—contrasted sharply with Mashatile’s degree from the University of London—underscores a broader concern about his readiness to handle high office.

Furthermore, his political career has been marred by scandals and divisive rhetoric, raising doubts about his ability to unify and lead effectively.

The Democratic Alliance (DA), under Steenhuisen’s leadership, has struggled with internal cohesion and external alliances. His abrasive style and public spats with coalition partners, most notably during election rallies, have only exacerbated this instability.

The disintegration of the multiparty charter and the exit of Herman Mashaba’s ActionSA from the coalition highlighted these challenges, pointing to a pattern of political immaturity and opportunism that could undermine governance at a national level.

For the concerned investors, the prospect of Steenhuisen taking charge of government business, including overseeing Eskom, raises substantial risks.

The progress achieved under Mashatile, particularly in stabilising power supply and fostering a conducive business environment, could be jeopardised by a shift towards a leadership style that many view as erratic and divisive.

From a geopolitical perspective, Steenhuisen’s alignment with Western policies could realign South Africa’s international relations, potentially distancing it from traditional allies and altering its stance on global issues.

This shift might not only challenge the nation’s sovereignty but could also lead to a re-emergence of social inequalities and under-representation of black political figures, reversing decades of progress towards an inclusive society.

Progressive civil society groups express deep concern over Steenhuisen’s potential impact on social justice and economic empowerment initiatives.

His tenure might herald a resurgence of policies favouring the elite, exacerbating systemic injustices and side-lining the majority who rely on equitable policies for social mobility.

As South Africa stands on the brink of potential political change, the implications of Steenhuisen’s leadership cannot be overstated.

The decision on who will lead the nation’s government business and critical sectors like Eskom will reverberate across the socio-economic spectrum, influencing investor confidence, international relations, and the very fabric of South African society.

The nation must weigh the risks of deviating from the path of stability and progress that has been painstakingly forged under the current administration.

* Bayethe Msimang is an independent writer and analyst.

** The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of IOL or Independent Media

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