If Ramaphosa’s bold plan to restart the economy was a film, the premiere already proved it’s not an ‘out-of-the-box’ blockbuster that will rake in Oscars for economic growth and sustainable job creation. Growth through state-led infrastructure development XXI is a lame sequel fit for an infamous Razzie award.
Like its predecessor – the lengthy National Development Plan – the Economic Reconstruction & Recovery Plan (ERRP) is a sure box office flop.
The ERRP announced by the president after lengthy consultation processes with big business and big labour states “Non-implementation of the ERRP could lead to loss of economic capacity, including collapse of the supply capacity, consumer and business confidence, the labour market and increased vulnerability of the poor. The overall plan aims to mitigate these risks”.
This script suggests its authors live in a make-believe reality: South Africans, whether tax payers or the growing number of unemployed, know consumer and business confidence and employment are not waiting for collapse through the non-implementation of a plan. It has collapsed already and was meticulously crafted by the very same government now purporting to be capable of getting the economy firing on all cylinders again.
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”.
Like an infant caught red-handed when breaking a precious antique Grecian vase, the Ramaphosa government tries to escape accountability for the economic havoc caused by its lock-down strategy. It vehemently denies that that strategy has caused, and is continuing to cause, immense economic damage, joblessness, bankruptcy and hunger, blaming the naughty Covid-pandemon for toppling the “vase” (i.e. the economy) without government having a hand in the tragedy.
In child-like fashion it is spinning endless stories of how it miraculously prevented a larger tragedy by ensuring the vase did not fall on the Persian carpet.
Just in case that defence may not work, it also seeks safety in numbers, arguing every other country is in the same boat, having implemented lock-downs and suffering similar economic shrinkage. To make sure it will escape accountability, it also hides behind “scientific advice” that only they can see.
Johannes Wessels (@johannesEOSA1) & Mike Schüssler (@mikeschussler)
When president Ramaphosa in his path-forward-to-lockdown-level-3-address-about-announcements-that-would-be-announced-when-central-command-will-be-ready-to-announce-these acknowledged some mistakes and promised that the government would rectify these, it invoked the fear of Russel Ackoff’s f-laws: correcting mistakes whilst pursuing the wrong strategy takes one further away from one’s goal.
The python of state control is still crushing our freedoms
Voila! Progress? The economy could now reboot. Rather déjà vu.
Instead of opening, the python of state control is not releasing its crushing coils around the economy and continues to squeeze the life out of our constitutional freedoms. Jogging on a beach or a family drive in a vehicle through the Kruger National Park is still considered as a far greater danger of spreading the virus than a church gathering of 50 people.
The management of the Covid 19-strategy has deteriorated to the level of a farcical comedy, comprising announcements by the president that are then (partially) revoked by members of cabinet.
Add the illogical utterances by Cele and Mbalula, the promotion of syndicate smuggling through prohibition measures on alcohol and cigarettes and the prescriptive diktats by Ebrahim Patel on what kind of clothing may be manufactured by textile factories and displayed and sold by stores, and it looks like another performance of the circus of incompetence.
True to form the new show revealed that the ban on cigarettes remains a key strategy in protecting the citizens from the voracious Covid 19 beast. Should the SAPS find at a roadblock (and Cele promised many of these) discover cigarettes, there will be problems: “if it is illegal to sell cigarettes, it is illegal to buy them“, he stated, adding that SAPS has the right to search for such invoices.
And whilst domestic air travel for business purposes appear to be allowed, the hotels or guest houses where business travellers would overnight, remain closed.
Is Covid 19 this government’s Vietnam?
No reshuffling of cabinet by the president, rather a confirmation of the collective nature of the decisions and more calls on the citizenry to obey the lock-down regulations and to persevere in unity that lives can be protected. It reminds of the US leadership that had called for more commitment and perseverance whilst muddling on with the Vietnam war which they knew they could not win.
Is the government treating the citizens like mushrooms on “the Covid 19 pandemic” just as the US government had misled the American population about that war?