The City of Surreal Ramaphosa on the banks of the Rubicon

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

Cyril Ramaphosa’s vision of “a first post-apartheid city with skyscrapers, schools, universities and factories” (if implemented) has all the potential of becoming a disastrous social engineering experiment wasting resources on a massive scale. Not because the idea of a new city is wrong per se, but simply because the president is ideologically wedded to state-led development, holding a very negative view of the role of the private sector.

Ramaphosa doesn’t consider the private sector as efficient or more effective than the public sector, despite the fact that State-owned enterprises are mismanaged, bankrupt and a drag on economic development with Denel and the SABC even struggling to meet salary commitments.

Peas of the same pod

The creation of such a city is, in the Ramaphosa framework, not a vision of dynamic economic growth, but an ideological blinkered perspective of how government can improve society. Ramaphosa and all the social engineers within the ANC are, in that sense, not far from the approach of Hendrik Verwoerd. The National Party was, just like the ANC, a force pursuing transformation through prescription and limitation of choices.

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Small enterprise: the canary in the coal mine of a toxic business environment

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

Small enterprise in South Africa is unimportant for the Government. Whilst there is lip service to creating conducive conditions for small enterprise, the Government ignores the reality of small formal firms disappearing at an alarming rate. Small enterprise is the canary in the coal mine of a toxic business environment:  they die off first before the toxic conditions are lethal for large businesses.

Big Government favours Big Business (for tax income) or Big Labour (watering its socialist roots to ensure worker class loyalties). Small business cannot fulfil either these roles.  The demise of small formal enterprises in South Africa (as recorded in SARS data) is indicative of an utter indifference by Government to the plight of small enterprise.

That raises two questions:

  • Is the demolition of the small formal enterprise environment a strategy by Government to achieve its objective of radical racial economic transformation?
  • Is it also a strategy to plug a hole in the leaking SARS ship since, from a VAT perspective, businesses with a turnover below R1 million is a drain on Treasury?

Based on SARS data on Value Added Tax (VAT) covering the years 2007/8 to 2017/18 the devastation on micro and small businesses with a turnover of R1 million or less, is evident.  The number of VAT vendors in this bracket declined by 49% from 300 299 in 2007/8 to 154 559 in 2017/18. 

145 740 small enterprises gone…

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Xenophobia: the solution is not better border control, but a change in economic policy

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

Is Donald Trump advising the ANC and the DA?  Bashing (illegal?) immigration is a key pillar in both these campaigns and both parties are as wrong and misguided as Trump on this subject, trying to address consequences and ignoring the cause.

The ANC election manifesto promises the party will ensure “those who come to South Africa do so legally and that the country knows what they do while they are in the country”. It will take “tough measures against undocumented immigrants involved in criminal activities in the country or in cross-border crimes, including those involved in illegal trading and selling adulterated food in townships and villages”. 

It is hard to spot the difference when the DA’s Musi Maimane says “securing our borders is not simply about keeping people out. It is about ensuring that all migration occurs legally and knowing who has entered the country. It is about being able to plan ahead and make sure our budgets can stretch to cover all they need to cover. It is about making it easier for those who want to enter South Africa legally – because we want legal, law-abiding people to bring their skills here and help grow our economy – but making it impossible for those who want to enter illegally.”

the fault line of prejudice …

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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.
  •  

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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