Thirty years ago (on New Year’s Eve 1989), FW de Klerk knew that the South Africa was on the verge of massive change. The combined debilitating effects of apartheid’s shackles on the economy (including sanctions) and the impossibility to continue with the disenfranchisement of the majority of the population, prompted him to prepare his watershed 2 February 1990 speech in which he effectively pulled the plug on apartheid.
Will the combined negative legacy of the transformational drag on the economy and the implosion of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) prompt Ramaphosa to discard the ANC’s ideological stance in 2020?
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
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
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.
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.
Instead of a State of the Nation Address brimming with details about the “extraordinary measures” required to realise Vision 2030 or the “difficult choices that will not please everyone” in order to get the economy growing again, president Cyril Ramaphosa’s SONA 2019 Mark 2 was more like a story in the tradition of One Thousand and One Nights.
was a missed opportunity.
Not as disastrous as PW Botha’s Rubicon speech of August 1985, but akin to it in the sense that the President doesn’t appear to grasp the dire economic circumstances and the drastic policy and execution mode changes required to address these.
The stories of A Thousand and One Nights originate from the virgin bride Scheherazade who staved off execution the morning after (a fate that befell numerous one night brides preceding her) by enthralling the Persian Shah-ryar through story-telling without divulging the conclusions. Shah-ryar then kept her alive in order to hear the conclusion the next night, just to be enthralled by another story that would not be concluded. SONA 2019 Mark 2 tried to work magic on South Africans, foreign investors and rating agencies by fable after fable without a hint of how this would be fulfilled.
Stark dividing lines on the economy and the future of the country were drawn during the Chairman’s Conversation when Johann Rupert of Richemont, Remgro & Reinet was interviewed by Given Mkhari of the MSG Afrika Group. The Black Management Forum called for controlling the “levers of legislation to determine what happens with capital, opportunities and business prospects” (state control of the economy) with Rupert hinting that “it would be quite easy to lose interest: South Africa has one last chance…”
On talk radio, news websites and social media reactions rolled in, many calling Rupert “racist”, “paternalistic” and even “an arrogant ignorant” whilst others concurred with his comments about the young chasing BMWs and immediate satisfaction, rather than patiently building their businesses and wealth.
The event and the reactions thereto is far more than a storm in a tea cup and one that the whole business community should take note of, as well as every company and politician that had attended the recent Investment Summit.
The contours of the Chairman’s Conversation, the few comments from the floor and the tsunami of social media condemnation reminded me of a period in world history that had changed and influenced (almost) everything since then. My sense is that both Rupert and the BMF reckon South Africa is at the brink of society-shaking change as well. That change does not necessarily bode well for the future of South Africa…
The anger because of billions lost through corruption and state capture comes at an enormous opportunity cost. The focus on the Zuma-Gupta-axis acts as blinkers that prevent a focus on the massive cost of adhering to failing economic policies and strategies – a cost far greater than the billions swindled away through corruption.
Three figures show clearly that the economic malaise is much deeper than the damage caused by corruption parasites and that the impact of poor policies started long before corruption landed under Government privilege at Waterkloof. Blaming the economic ills of South Africa on State Capture is a massive over-simplification.