14 April 2014 | Opinion
John Kane-Berman, outgoing CEO of the South African Institute for Race Relations (SAIRR), headed one of the country’s top think tanks for the past 30 years.
Berman addressed delegates attending the 5th Annual SSI Conference, held at the Gordon Institute of Business Science campus in Johannesburg on 2-3 April 2014.
John Kane-Berman speaks about the power of ideas in driving nations
“My predecessors made numerous attempts to dissuade the government from its ways. This was done mainly through research into the practical impact of the various components of apartheid,” said Berman.
The main objective of the institute is to work for peace, goodwill and practical cooperation between the races. This has been done by using research designed to bring about greater knowledge and understanding between different groups. The organisation has also been committed to the rule of law and to the defence of individual rights and liberties.
Berman gave delegates a brief illustration of South Africa’s history during apartheid and the role the SAIRR played in exposing the impact of apartheid and persuading government to change its ways. One of the key points he raised was the power of ideas.
“Ideas drive nations, pre-date policies and inform visions,” said Berman.
The institute’s main objective during apartheid was to work for peace; goodwill and practical cooperation between different races, and they had a vision for South Africa that was the complete opposite of the National Party’s vision.
“Some visions, such as the old National Party’s vision of stopping all black urbanisation by 1978, turned into nightmares based on fantasies. Other visions, such as that of equality before the law, as we all know, are the foundations of civilised society.”
He also spoke about relief work and the importance of policies that make such work necessary.
“If we really want to increase the life chances and opportunities of previously disadvantaged people in the country we have to deal with tough policy issues that are prejudicing the futures of these people,” he said.
The SAIRR’s strategy is focused on highlighting the impact of harmful policies by conducting research into alternatives and putting these into the public domain.
“To dramatise the role that we’re playing in this regard, we’ve adopted the slogan,‘The power of ideas’, as well as recently putting forward a 12-point policy plan to help the country achieve the much higher rate of growth that it needs,” says Berman.
The 12-point policy plan was outlined as follows:
- Make faster economic growth the overriding priority and not just one among a whole number of other priorities.
- Make strike ballots compulsory, send violent trade unionists to prison and where unionists deliberately cause damage during strikes, sue them into bankruptcy.
- Introduce a voucher system to help the process of privatising schooling to the maximum extent that can be done.
- Do the same to the maximum extent with health care.
- Sell South African Airways and all our other state-owned enterprises to the private sector.
- Slash red tape to unleash the energies of the private sector.
- Maximise trade to promote competition and bring down prices.
- Radically redesign some aspects of land reform.
- Replace all racial legislation with colour-blind measures to deal with deprivation, whether that deprivation is past or present and whether it’s the result of policy or circumstance.
- Professionalise the public service by making appointments only on merit.
- Elect half of MPs on a constituency basis, in order to make parliament accountable for the election instead of owning the party headquarters.
- Decentralise government and policing to promote accountability and competition.
Berman also addressed the importance of the private sector in South Africa’s economic survival, as well as the need for an increase in investment in South Africa.
“The long and short of it is that without the private sector South Africa would be a basket case,” he concluded.