The statements of the government and the ANC are as unrealistic as the famous stories of Baron von Münchausen: both are so far from reality that they belong to the genre of heroic fantasy. However, the differences are also glaring. Von Münchausen’s tales are creative untruths, entertaining its hearers because of the skilful transition from reality to absurdity. The ANC’s untruths are serious policy statements, parading absurdity as real truth.
Whereas Von Münchausen’s tales emanate from a witty brain, the ANC’s tales emerge from an institutionally entrenched delusional disorder.
The very first paragraphs of the January 8 declaration suggested the following reality:
“The January 8th Statement… gives inspiration and encouragement…
“The people of this country have entrusted the ANC with the responsibility to… building a better life for all. Over the course of its history, the ANC has lived up to this responsibility.
“In government, the ANC led the reconstruction of our society from the ashes of apartheid misrule.
“Prior to the onset of the global financial crisis, our policies contributed to the revival of our economy, the creation of millions of new jobs, the stabilisation of our public finances and the reduction of poverty.
“(T)hese achievements earned the ANC the confidence and trust of the South African people.”
JSE’s head of equities voices his despair
The ANC has lived up to the responsibility of a better life for all: not even Red Riding Hood will believe that.
The government has stabilised public finances! Not even Tito Mboweni believes that (and if he does, Fitch, S&P and Moodeys don’t).
The centrepiece of the Ramaphosa government’s recovery and economic resuscitation scheme – the loan guarantee fund – is as helpful as giving a desperately hungry infant a dummy, pretending it is food. Not even 5% of formal registered businesses have applied for funding and by end November about 1.8% of these firms have obtained assistance from the scheme.
It is far more affordable to cut Company Income Tax and to raise the VAT threshold to get the economy growing again, than to continue with the current package of the Economic
On the other hand, the government, being out of pocket and not keen on disbursing billions that it would lose if the beneficiaries cannot service the loans, had asked the banks to apply their own existing loan assessment criteria when evaluating the applications. Were it a Khula or a SEFA process, the money would long ago have disappeared. So, despite utterances of concern about the low and slow disbursement process, the president cannot be surprised or concerned that the banks are circumspect.
The government, however, kept its focus on basically two things:
Promoting Covid-19 to the highest pedestal of dangers, wilfully ignoring all other existing problems as well as the additional problems the lockdown strategy would create, and
Pursuing its social engineering efforts to reshape the South African economy in particular, and society at large, by limiting state relief measures to businesses complying with BEE (effectively throttling white sole proprietor businesses to death), deciding which kind of businesses are essential and which not, and pursuing anti-tobacco and prohibition agendas by bans on cigarette and alcohol sales.
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
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.
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
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.
Will the most important Government document on economic policy since the ANC threw GEAR (Growth, Employment and Redistribution Policy) into reverse, namely Treasury’s “Economic transformation, inclusive growth, and competitiveness: Towards an Economic Strategy for South Africa”, convince both Moody’s and potential investors that South Africa is a stable investment destination?
Since its release end August, the Treasury document attracted both support and condemnation. For some it signals a first ray of the much-delayed New Dawn promised by Ramaphosa’s 2017 manifesto; for others, a total onslaught on worker’s rights and a selling out to the forces of unbridled capitalism.
bolder than the elaborate National Development Plan (NDP) that received mere lip
service during the Zuma-Ramaphosa era from 2014 – 2018, Treasury’s document
“The current state of the South African economy is unsustainable. Low economic growth entrenches poverty and inequality… Addressing our economic challenges requires an immediate focus on policies that will raise South Africa’s potential growth.”