State-owned enterprises: The Parable of the Talents

Johannes Wessels

Total disregard for governance and the basic enterprise principle of return on investment emerged from testimonies before the Zondo Commission, confirming the ANC approach to enterprises and corporate governance considers productivity, accountability and skills as immaterial. Ideological nepotism and cash-for-cadres dominated appointments and decisions. 

Both Government and the ruling party cannot submit a defence of “we were not aware…” about the dire state of Eskom, Transnet, the SAA or the SABC.  Warnings against the mismanagement of state monopolies and the stifling effect of State-owned enterprises (SOEs) on the economy had been voiced over and over again, also in parliamentary standing committees. There the ANC majority vote repeatedly treasured party and cadre loyalty higher than their oath to keep the executive accountable. 

The testimony of Barbara Hogan as well as the annual reports to Parliament by Transnet, Portnet, SAA, Eskom, Sefa and others reminded me of the parable of the talents as recorded in Matthew 25: 14 – 30.  

The difference with the Gospel according to the ANC is evident.

The Enterprise Gospel of the ANC 25: 14-30

14 “For it will be like a Government embarking on a National Development Path, who called its citizens and entrusted to them opportunities. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to their ability to serve him as assessed by him. Then he went away. 16 The corporates who had received the one talent went at once, manufactured and traded and made five talents more. 

17 So also the SMEs who had the two talents were also productive and made two talents more.  

18 But the SOEs (State Owned Enterprises) who had received the 5 monopoly talents for power generation, rail transport, operation of ports, toll roads and a subsidised airline:

  • Went and dug their power stations into mountains of ash by not maintaining them, paid big bonuses to themselves, poorly managed new projects by consortia whose overspending benefited the investment arm of the master and spent lots of money on expensive coal contracts with friends of the master,
  • delayed the upgrading of the rail road that would have enabled the coal terminal in Richards Bay from reaching its export capacity,
  • applied the money to develop the Port of Ngcura as an elephant with a politically incorrect colour, despite the advice of the strategists of Portnet,
  • contracted an unsustainable e-toll system since that is more wasteful than a simple fuel levy, and
  • hired and parted with SAA CEOs at a tempo just equalled by the regularity of the SAA receiving bail-outs with tax money. 

Corporates, you are an exploiting servant…

19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And the corporates who had received the one talent came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me one talent; here are five talents more.’ 21 The master said to them: ‘You are an exploiting servant. You have been too successful, I will take some of the talents and give them to those who previously haven’t received talents so that they can be on the same level with you.  You will also be fined if you do not meet the Charters’ requirements.’ 

Enterprises, I will divert 30% of your talents to black-owned businesses

22 And the SMEs also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, but you have too many talents. I will give others up to 30% more talents through preferential tenders than to you and you will only be able to obtain talents in future from me if you adhere to BEE requirements.’ 

Reaping where I didn’t sow…

24 The SOEs who had received five talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, we knew you to be a hard man from our experience in Quattro Camp, you reap where you did not sow, and gather in Nkandla where you scattered no seed except amongst the women. 25 So we behaved as you are doing, looking after cadres and cronies, tolerating poor productivity and trying to hurt big business and SMEs. Here you have your old coal-fired power stations, but they are in bad shape, and here is Kusile and Medupi:  they cannot work as they were designed to work, Ngcura is a poor investment, the rail road to Richards Bay will only be completed by the time Europe will move away from coal…’ 26 But the master answered: ‘You faithful servants! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed. 

Cast them in the outer darkness so that they can weep and gnash their teeth…

27 I am proud of you, I will not privatise you. I will bail you out again and again and tax the corporates and the SMEs more,as well as the poor. I will continue to grant you tariff increases way higher than inflation, since you are behaving in accordance with how I think…28 Don’t fret, we’ll give some privates the opportunity to generate power but they will be obliged to sell to you so that you can look good to the outside…

29 For from everyone who has I will take some more except from those with BEE riches. But to those cadres of mine I will provide in plenty.

30 And cast the productive servants into the outer darkness of load-shedding and high tax burdens. In those places there should be weeping and gnashing of teeth…’

The reading of this text doesn’t warrant a sermon. The message is clear enough…  (and also available in several blogs on )

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s