Enterprises, unlike bears, don’t hibernate: lockdown will cause the death of firms and people

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

Government’s decision for a stringent lockdown has put at least 100,000 formal enterprises – incorporated and sole proprietorships – on death row by effectively freezing the economy. Unlike bears, firms do not hibernate well: without customers and clients buying their goods and services, they starve and die.

Business relief measures by the government and the funds established by the Ruperts, Oppenheimers, Motsepes and others may enable some enterprises to pull through. But a substantial percentage of formal SMEs will not. Not with an economy that is likely to retract by between 6 and 10%.

Enterprises are already in a predicament and have run up more losses than profits since 2014. SARS data shows that the assessed losses exceed the assessed taxable income for the period 2014 to 2018 by R830 billion (Figure 1).

An economy already damaged by anti-growth policies has now been dealt a vicious blow. The damage is systemic and a systemic approach is required to restore a healthy business environment.

Figure 1: The pre-Covid 19 situation of SA firms was dire

The economy doesn’t resemble Eskom’s electricity supply. Load-shedding means no electricity during the power lockdown, but when the switch is thrown on again with the transmission lines conveying electrical current, the lights burn, the fridges cool, the stoves cook and TVs entertain just like before. 

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30 years on: Is Ramaphosa preparing his version of FW’s “to-the-dustbin-with-ideology” speech?

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

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? 

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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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SA Government values mice as cheese factory managers more than productive knowledge

Almost 50 years ago, in 1970, Alvin Toffler in Future Shock wrote: Knowledge will become a more important driver of growth than capital or labour.

The two parties that then dominated the South African landscape did not hear the message: they had ideological ear wax and blinkers.

Inside the country the National Party wasted an opportunity to revamp and refocus Bantu education. In the words of Verwoerd, Western education was “of no avail for training which has as aim absorption in the European community while he cannot and will not be absorbed there. There is no place for him in the European community above certain forms of labour. However, within his own community all doors are open… For that reason, it must be replaced by Bantu Education. In the Native territories where the services of educated Bantu are much needed, Bantu education can complete its full circle, by which the child is… developed to his fullest extent in accordance with aptitude and ability…”  

The harvest: the Soweto 1976 riots. 

In exile and underground the ANC under the SACP influence believed labour was all important and capital from hell and that labour time was all that gave value to a product or service – a belief still voiced in 2016 by their leader.  (That statement was never repudiated by Ramaphosa or any leader in the ANC.)

The 80’s introduced “liberation before education”, the burning of schools and the intimidation of teachers and after 1994, the ANC government ensured SA’s education system became one of the worst performers in the world at the highest cost (% of GDP).  

The harvest:  a suffocating labour regime that leaves SA businesses hamstrung (considering productivity levels) and that promotes low-employment business practices.

Whilst race remains an important indicator to measure inequality, trying to always explain situations from a racial perspective often implies ignoring solutions with better potential than betting on race.  The ANC is not alone in operating with racial blinkers. Musi Maimane’s statement that race remains “the only consistent measure we have at this point for measuring inequality”, is simply wrong.

So is Ramaphosa when he offered protection for Maimane for that remark.

And so is Chris Bateman’s editorial to a recent Bloomberg report on Johann Rupert’s comments during the Chairman’s Conversation when he wrote: “What he (Rupert)  misses in his strong argument that Eskom and other SOEs are the real monopolies, is that White Monopoly Capital, like all effective propaganda, is built on the fundamental truth that our Gini-coefficient runs on racial lines – due to the architecture of apartheid.

There are non-racial measure tapes available… and some measure more accurately than race.  After a few examples where the ANC government chose cadres rather than knowledge, the focus will fall on one non-racial explanation for income and wealth inequality.

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The Chairman’s Conversation: Triggering a Groot Trek of productive knowledge out of SA?

Johannes Wessels

@johannesEOSA1

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…

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State Capture disguises the devastation by anti-business policies: Bafana-Bafana fared better than the economy

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.

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