If Western Cape Premier Helen Zille had been listening carefully, she'd have heard what the African National Congress had been saying all these years: for the country to develop, it needs strong government intervention.
In an opinion piece on Monday, Zille praises the way Singapore pulled itself out of its colonial past to become a first world country. In between oohing and aahing about the country's efficiency and development plans, she admits that it doesn't score so well on democracy.
But then she asks: "How could we emulate Singapore's achievements in our democracy? Is it even possible, I asked myself?"
Perhaps it is, and the Democratic Alliance (DA) could stop trying to tear the African National Congress (ANC) apart and fighting against what has (until 2016 at least) been close to a one-party democracy. Granted, internal strife (including trade unions being difficult) and splinter parties like the Economic Freedom Fighters have done most to ruin the ANC, but the DA's been helping them, and in all these elections it's been messing around with its grand liberal ideas of more democracy.
In Singapore the governing party has 70 percent of the vote, very much the same level as the ANC's support had been for the better of the past two decades. It also has capital punishment as legal penalty, and didn't ANC president Jacob Zuma once mention the possibility of having a referendum on the issue? It's likely that the majority would bring back this punishment -- like South Africa had under apartheid.
Reading what the ANC has had to say in its policy documents throughout the years, and indeed in its latest policy discussion documents again, it's been dying to get on with this developmental state thing. Even Zuma last year said if he could be a dictator for six months, unemployment would vanish. But this noisy democracy, including the DA and now its partner-in-crime in some municipalities, the Economic Freedom Fighters, are not giving him a chance.
Maybe Zille could, if she survives until the DA's next policy gathering, suggest this course instead. Too much democracy can be bad for development, in the Singaporean argument at least. Look at how Rwanda is praised for its developmental trajectory, or even Uganda, which, like Singapore, has a benevolent dictator who has been around for three decades. Botswana might be another example.
Theo Venter from the School of Business and Governance at North West University has previously made a study of Singapore and observed that part of that country's success is that it is small, with a population of between five and six million (as opposed to South Africa's 52 million), and that it seceded from nearby Malaysia to avoid problems of diversity (the majority of the people in Singapore are Chinese) and that it has a good geo-political situation that enabled it to establish itself as a business hub.
"In South Africa, however, the governing narrative is how we could remain one country with our diversity. Only the far right and the far left were flirting with secession," he said.
Perhaps we can get the Freedom Front Plus to say something good about the success of Orania as a state in its own right at this point.
Asked about freedom of speech in Singapore -- Zille in her article implied she could theoretically say things about colonialism in Singapore that she couldn't say in South Africa -- Venter said: "There were two countries in my life that I have experienced as police states, South Korea and Singapore."
Even now from what he hears from students that side, "you would not even get appointed at a university if you are a controversial person".
So, perhaps Zille's next argument should be for the opposition to stop making a noise and help the ANC. That might not go down too well in her impending disciplinary hearing, though.
The upside is, should Zille's mission succeed and South Africa become like Singapore, Uncle Robert Mugabe from next-door Zimbabwe wouldn't have to fly so far for his next life-enhancing medical treatment.