The economy at an irreversible tipping point, caving in like the Antarctic ice shelf?

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

The South African economy now resembles the slow-melting Antarctic ice shelves where a sudden instability and crumbling emerge, causing a dramatic cave-in of these buttresses and an inevitable and unrelenting acceleration of glacial flows into the sea. It is as if the long period years of economic melting caused by poor policies, public service inefficiencies and rampant corruption have brought the country to an irreversible tipping point.

The Helmond Glacier in Greenland

There are signals of a sudden surge in movement in the destabilisation of trust and hope in a better future.  This has already triggered an acceleration in the erosion of both the country’s productive knowledge and its capital base.  

Fund managers of local financial service providers told EOSA of a substantial increase in local investors exiting local equities and investment instruments, shifting their investments off-shore.

And wealth managers of European banks who have escaped the January northern winters to visit their South African clientele, remarked that in almost every meeting with clients they were asked whether they do not know of someone in Europe who may be interested in a South African golf estate villa, seaside mansions or Lowveld game farm. They do not easily get interest from South Africans to invest in real estate here.

“We are open for business” is an irritating toddler tune

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The celebration of rampant incompetence

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

As grotesque neon-light signboards shout their messages out in the darkness of night, the ANC’s signature of their quarter century of rule has been rife in evidence in the first weeks of 2020. No, not the good life of liberty that the movement had promised, but the embrace and celebration of rampant incompetence.

Nowhere was that more obvious than:

  • in the jubilation about matriculation results;
  • when senior well-decorated police officers didn’t know their right from their left at the funeral of Richard Maponya;
  • in both the presentation of and applause for the platitudes in Pres. Ramaphosa’s ‘January 8 speech’.

Matric results: better outcome than Bantu education?

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Betting on the “good ANC guys”: Building sand castles in an hourglass

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

The perception of numerous commentators and business leaders that South Africans should mobilise behind president Cyril Ramaphosa, Pravin Gordhan and Tito Mboweni to support the “good guys” in the ANC to ensure an economic recovery, is not only simplistic: it is utterly naive.

It is also not new. It is a rehash of the theme of the 1970s when the National Party was assessed as comprising good guys (the verligtes) and bad guys (the verkramptes) with many commentators arguing the case to support the verligtes. The person who eventually took the quantum leap with a definite break with apartheid (F W de Klerk) was not counted amongst the verligtes. He was seen as rather conservative and a natural choice to chair the Ministerial Council for White “Own Affairs”.

Verlig-verkramp focused primarily on how Nationalist MPs were oriented on apartheid. That analysis had no eyes for another fundamental division: The PW Botha approach with the security structures of the military and national intelligence as key players versus those who preferred a civil-oriented approach with parliament in the fulcrum. De Klerk belonged to the latter faction. Botha and the securocrats had commenced talks and interaction with both Nelson Mandela (then in Pollsmoor) and the ANC in exile, but De Klerk was largely uninformed and excluded from these discussions.

Playing whilst the resource base is shrinking…

Verlig-verkramp was an insufficient perspective to detect the person who would make the decisive break with apartheid.

Now, many commentators and business leaders still cling to the hope for action and clear policy direction, contrary to what is happening in reality. The hope that “Ramaphosa knows what is required” is based on viewing the ANC as comprising a “good ANC” and a “bad ANC” and that the good guys will restore the country to a golden growth path. Treasury’s document on economic policy is clung to as a lifebuoy.

The good guys are supposedly led by Ramaphosa, Mboweni, Pravin Gordhan and Gwede Mantashe, with the bad guys represented by Ace Magashule, Faith Muthambi, Supra Mahumapelo and others.

This cowboys-and-crooks-perspective is naïve. It also fails on at least four grounds. 

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Ramaphorian air spray no longer conceals the stench of a decaying economy

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s commitment to revitalise the economy reminds one almost of president Zuma’s commitment to combat corruption: spraying air freshener to divert attention from a rotting carcass.

Read instructions on the can for effective application…

The person who promised in his New Dawn manifesto a growth rate of 3% in 2018 through “an unrelenting focus on economic growth” has delivered after 18 months a growth rate of 1.3% in 2018 and negative growth up to date for 2019. Some people would say low growth is still growth, however economic growth below the population growth rate impoverishes the population.

He presides over an economy in worse shape than when he assumed power: one characterised by:

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From Leader to Laggard: the Brain Drain & SA’s slide to the bottom

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

Is South Africa’s ‘radical transformation‘ from a leader to a laggard in the upper middle-income countries the cause or the result of a brain drain? It is hard to tell.  What is certain, is that there is an extremely strong inverse correlation. 

In fact, it is so strong that one can use one statistic to deduce the other. And if high-skilled emigration is going to continue, the country’s decline towards the ranks of the lower middle-income countries will also continue.

Figure 1

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Ten wasted years: Preferring “Dumbing Down” to “Productive Knowledge”

Johannes Wessels

@johannesEOSA1

TEN WASTED YEARS…  Tito Mboweni’s colloquium “to think outside the box about economic growth” is akin to closing the stable door after the racehorse had not only bolted, but already won a race elsewhere. Scavenging in the ANC dustbin of rejected advice, Mboweni picked Harvard economist Ricardo Hausmann as advisor, knowing well Hausmann’s advice on productive knowledge had been flatly ignored by the ANC Government since 2008.

Hausmann considers productive knowledge as the key factor that separates successful countries from unsuccessful ones. A lack of productive knowledge therefore retards economic growth and development.

From 1990 to 2003 South Africa lost 7% of its professionally qualified people, predominantly high-skilled whites.  After some stability that came during the high growth Mbeki-Manuel years the exodus was re-triggered by the growing ineptitude of an administration that radically transformed departments and state-owned enterprises (SOEs) into little more than facades.

The police service, SAA, Transnet, the NPA and municipalities are some examples where cadre deployment trumped productive knowledge. The result:

  • At township level, the disgruntled resorted to service protests.
  • At professional level, they packed their bags and headed to the emigration counter with highly skilled blacks now outnumbering their white counterparts, bound in solidarity by a deep non-racial gatvolheid in the slide into corruption, lawlessness, dismal public services and the undermining of property rights. 
  • At investor level, South African businessmen have emigrated through FDI:  fixed investment by South Africans abroad exceed fixed investments lured to our shores.
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Make BEE growth compatible

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