Skills more important for the economy than splitting fine or frizzy hair: it’s education, not race, that counts

Johannes Wessels (@johannesEOSA1)

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

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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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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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White Monopoly Capital: astute reverse double somersault or a Janus performance?

Is the presidential acknowledgement of entrepreneurs as heroes and not villains the equivalent of Pope John Paul II’s admission that the church was wrong to condemn Galileo for endorsing a helio-centric view? If so, it is one of the most astute political reverse double summersaults. As deputy-president Mr. Ramaphosa himself sung heartily the “Down with White Monopoly Capital” song in the Zuma choir.

Janus Ramaphosa

Does the comment during the dinner of the Investment Summit really signal the dawn of economic freedom or was it merely a modern manifestation of Janus? Will the future reveal a Ramaphosa butterfly that was an ugly caterpillar under Zuma or is the two-mouths-two-messages the real reality?

The first requirement to assess future options is a proper understanding of the present. Let us explore that by assessing the ANC Government’s (and Ramaphosa’s) views on SMEs:  does it indicate an embrace of private initiative or something else?

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SA’s fight against unemployment: The importance of pet food, popcorn & detergents in the quest for growth

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

On a sunny autumn morning in Bloemfontein I visited a business hand-picked by Government as a National Gazelle: one of the firms Government believes has the potential for massive growth and substantial job creation to attack the three-headed dragon of inequality, unemployment and poverty.

Popcorn & Flat Bread

The National Gazelles Programme is financed (well, by tax-payers) through SEDA (Small Enterprise Development Agency) and the Department for Small Business Development (DSBD). In the first phase 40 firms were identified in “10 priority industry sectors aligned with the National Development Plan and SEDA’s SME strategy”. The recruitment of the next batch is underway. (In enterprise literature, a Gazelle is defined as a company that grows by at least 20% per annum for 4 successive years)

Having covered  the decline in the number of formal businesses and how company losses now exceed taxable company income , as well as Government’s failure to create a business-friendly environment , the focus is now on the positive steps Government has taken to promote private enterprise.

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Cyril on a tight-rope: Paradox, not policy certainty the outcome of the ANC conference

Will the honeymoon breathing space of optimism that the worst corruption is over and that more business-friendly policies and better public spending behaviour be utilised or wasted? With new reports of the ANC’s national executive committee setting wheels in motion to recall Zuma as president, it is important to note that acting against Zuma would still not set enterprise friendly policies in place.

South Africa’s post-apartheid ANC policies and strategies dealing with enterprise development have been largely driven by an increasingly unfriendly framework for established businesses as well as an anti-growth premise. In the final gasps of December 2017, the ANC Conference even took unanimously policy positions that makes mockery of Ramaphosa’s utterances of making growth the priority.

The decisions to endorse Zuma’s announcement on free tertiary education and to change the Constitution to enable expropriation without compensation, provide ample proof the ANC doesn’t understand what is required to ensure growth and to step back from the fiscal cliff.

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