SARS commissioner Edward Kieswetter’s biggest headache is not the gaping R300 billion crater in tax income this financial year or the growing Everest of assessed losses for companies that will impact negatively on CIT for years to come. His biggest problem is how to convince taxpayers to sustain a government that under the pretext of “a better life for all” has served up a toxic mix of corruption, wastage, mismanagement and anti-growth policies.
In addition, the very same government has doggedly pursued a lockdown strategy not underpinned by much logic that could yield any outcome other than a severe economic disaster with long term humanitarian effects. These effects include shortened lifespans, poverty related deaths, and deaths from medical conditions the government deemed non-essential. The toll of this inept strategy will in all likelihood dwarf the real Covid 19 death toll.
Lockdown has mowed down millions of jobs and several hundred thousand businesses. Those that survived have been severely crippled: they have a radically reduced income, have run up losses or have achieved less than half their previous taxable income.
One recalls the words of Saint Augustine, bishop of Hippo Regius in North Africa, whose theology and philosophy influenced ancient as well as modern thought: “Without justice, what are kingdoms but great bands of robbers?”
A tumult about a shampoo advertisement diverted attention from the biggest economic decline under the ANC government to date. A quarterly GDP figure that confirmed the country is plunging into poverty got less attention than a Clicks advertisement. The deteriorating economy will entrench the country in the bottom half of the Economic Complexity Index (ECI), making it less and less attractive as a destiny for both skills and capital.
Splitting “frizzy and dull” hairs from “fine and flat”, however, is apparently for South Africans far more important than worrying about an additional three million unemployed or thousands of businesses pushed into the abyss of loss and debt. Reading Figure 1 (ECI data) reminds of the typical good-news, bad-news joke: the bad news is that SA has slipped from the top third of countries to the middle third. The good news is that this ranking is far better than where the country is heading for. The ECI, developed by Ricardo Hausmann of Harvard and Cesar Hidalgo of MIT, measures the productive capabilities of large economic systems, whether cities, regions, or countries and is based on the knowledge accumulated in a population that gives expression to the diversity and complexity of economic activities.
Almost simultaneously with the DA’s embrace of non-racialism as a pillar of their redress strategy that will not use race as a yardstick to address inequality, the 2020 Q2 GDP demolition figure was released. The throttling of the economy by the government’s lockdown strategy made far less ripples than what TREsemmé claims to smoothen out in frizzy hair.
The commentariat treated the DA like TREsemme
It was not only the Twitterati that underplayed the economic news: the same sentiments dominated in serious opinion pieces and radio and TV talk shows. And the commentariat effectively placed the DA in the same box as TREsemmé:
Carol Paton, editor at large of Business Live, reckons race will matter forever and lamented the DA’s policy removal of race-based redress “since that will affirm suspicions that the DA is a party whose real agenda is to defend white privilege by denying that such privilege exists at all”.
Stephen Grootes, radio presenter and Maverick columnist, echoed that “firm evidence and the lived experience of South Africans” indicate whites are rich and blacks are poor.
A Coalition of the Offended encompassing inter alia Julius Malema, the Daily Maverick, Justice Malala and Twitters’ @BiancavanWyk16 emerged: all deeply shocked and emotionally wounded, found Clicks’ sacking of an executive and suspension of selling TREsemmé insufficient.
Some called for “attacks” on Clicks stores and the malls that provide rental space for Clicks. Others demanded a sort of #BlackHairMatters kneeling, some were just happy to find something to be unhappy about and some considered the actions of others in the coalition either overboard or underwhelming.
Whilst one can understand that the EFF, the ANC and a plethora of beneficiaries or wannabe-beneficiaries of BEE, are obsessed with affirmative action, expropriation without compensation and preferential procurement mechanisms enabling hiked prices, it remains amazing that leading commentators such as Paton and Grootes ignore the hard evidence that race is not the best proxy for measuring inequality and that the application of race fails to target those really at the bottom of the pit.
Way back, Census 2011 already provided evidence that education is a far more reliable marker.
Race as a marker for household income inequality weighed and found wanting
South Africa’s economic growth rate has dropped through the floor: the lockdown economy has shrunk in 2020 Q2 by 51% (Q-on-Q annualised). Whilst the third quarter ending 30 September will register substantial growth, it will not bring the country back to where it was prior to lockdown. As cause (lockdown) and consequence (massive unemployment, poverty and the destruction of existing wealth and the means to generate wealth, i.e. businesses) of this economic meltdown mature, the future bill for yesterday’s stupidity will grow exponentially.
The government has been blaming Covid 19 (this time apartheid and colonialism cannot carry the can), talking about “unprecedented economic consequences of the pandemic”. Pres. Ramaphosa refers to the economic effects of the global coronavirus pandemic”.
The prolonged lock-down has been a roaring success: not in enabling the public health system with “sufficient beds, ventilators and staff” for the inevitable “Covid-peak”, but in empowering organised crime syndicates.
Not only did the ban on the transportation and sale of liquor and cigarettes provide an unprecedented window of opportunity for already existing smuggling networks to strengthen their production and supply chain networks, they were wholeheartedly supported by the government to expand their client base exponentially.
The government by decree stopped the legal trade in liquor and cigarettes, effectively providing a protected oligopoly for the smuggling networks. Since there was no competition, they hiked their prices. That saw:
cigarette cartons that would cost around R450 before lock-down selling at anything between R1 500 to R2 000;
Gordons Gin selling at four times the pre-lockdown price, and
A litre red Robertson box-wine fetching R1 400, easily beating some of the prices achieved by top wines at the Nederburg Auction.
Patel hounded Dischem, but the smugglers, spazas & tenderpreneurs were the price hikers
Business for Ending Lockdown (B4EL) notes President Ramaphosa’s announcement of a move to lockdown level 2 commencing 17 August. While the further relaxing of restrictions is an improvement compared to remaining at level 3, B4EL will not thank the government for giving back to the people of South Africa that which belongs to them.
B4EL is a campaign to completely end lockdown. The campaign was founded this week (The Enterprise Observatory of SA is one of the founding members). It is supported by several of the most well-known and largest business organisations, already counting almost 60 000 businesses. For more information, see www.endlockdown.co.za.
The president’s announcement only underscores the fact that the lockdown remains unnecessary, arbitrary, and, by the president’s own admission, fraught with corruption.
In his weekly letter from the president’s desk (13 April), pres. Ramaphosa lamented the vandalism that had caused the demolition of schools, describing it as “a great indictment of our society”. He pointed to the despicable implications: “When lock-down is lifted and learning resumes, thousands of our children will have no school to return to, depriving them of the right to education…”
The irony of his words is that the government is currently the vandal-in-chief. The damage done to schools in the president’s lament of four months ago is dwarfed into insignificance when compared to the destruction its lock-down strategy is inflicting on South Africans.
The sheer magnitude of their destruction boggles the mind. They have: