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.
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
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.
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.
A higher than inflation salary increase for the public sector against the growing mountain of losses recorded in Company tax returns, does not signal an urgency for effective governance and economic stability to change from an environment where crime offers better returns than business. Important players in Government (and the ANC) appear not to grasp decisions and actions have systemic consequences.
South Africa’s public service salary bill consumes, according to Prof Jannie Rossouw of Wits Business School, about 45% of tax revenue. A 2017 OECD report found South Africa’s public service wage bill exceeded 14% of GDP: substantially higher than the benchmark of OECD and Emerging Market countries.