Will Cyril be remembered as Nongquase II ? The modern day killing of cattle…

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

Just just now (and not “long, long ago!”) there was a man who ordered his people to shut their doors and refrain from going to their places of work. His name: Cyril Matemela Ramaphosa. He told the people of South Africa that there was a way to ensure that the reputedly voracious beast called corona virus would not create havoc in the land.

The Keiskamma Tapestry, Cattle-killing Panel, Detail 3. Copyright Robert Hofmeyr

All his people had to do was to follow the advice of Nongquase as recorded in writing by William Wellington Gqoba who, as teenager, had lived through the infamous cattle killings and the resulting famine amongst the Xhosa:

Shut yourselves in your huts… In order to survive, you are to use many doors to close each hut, fasten every door tightly, and abstain from witchcraft.”

William W Gqoba: The Cause of the Cattle Killing

Substitute the words “abstain from witchcraft” with the phrase “abstain from going out to work and buy only what we allow you to buy”, and one has the contemporary equivalent of a decision that had decimated the livelihoods of tens of thousands of the Xhosa in the mid 19th C with a spiralling death peak caused by the resulting famine.

This is how it is happening in real time now. Cyril called together the many-too-many chiefs that form his cabinet. They talked and they talked and they talked. And they consulted with themselves and they consulted among themselves and they consulted again for themselves.

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Locked-in on Freedom Day: Proposals for Level 4

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

Point of departure

The following is EOSA’s position concerning the lockdown as a measure to combat the spread of the Covid 19 virus:

It is false to be locked into the binary notion that it is either about saving lives or about growing the economy. That dichotomy is based on the incorrect assumptions that:

  • lock-down will not cause the death of thousands of enterprises and jobs, or  that should that happen,
  • such a decline will not have any impact on the well-being of people and that it would pose no threat to the wellbeing and livelihoods of the population.

The well-being of our democracy is at stake

EOSA is committed to the guaranteed constitutional right to freedom of movement and choice. The lock-down regulations that nullify these rights are dangerous to more than the lives and dignity of people (think about the abuses by members of the police and the defence force) and the livelihoods of people (the damage to the economy, businesses and the government’s budget deficit). The regulations are in fact dangerous for the well-being of our democracy.

A balance should therefore be sought: regulations should promote and protect both lives and livelihoods and all these should be tested against the constitutional guarantees.

As and when the constitutional freedoms are impacted upon by regulations (as is currently the case) full disclosure is required so that the premises on which the measures to combat the perceived threat can be evaluated and tested in the court of public opinion.  In addition, parliament and its committees should be seen to be able to exercise oversight on all administrative actions based on decrees issued under the state of disaster.

During full lock-down, the government had not – based on information in the public domain – paid sufficient consideration for the implications of the regulations on the economic well-being of society.  

Proposals for Level 4 (Public sector)

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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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Betting on the “good ANC guys”: Building sand castles in an hourglass

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

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 (the verkramptes) 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 “Own Affairs”.

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.

Playing whilst the resource base is shrinking…

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. 

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Treasury’s document: Small shift in common sense; no giant leap in ideology

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

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. 

Much bolder than the elaborate National Development Plan (NDP) that received mere lip service during the Zuma-Ramaphosa era from 2014 – 2018, Treasury’s document bluntly concludes:   

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.”

Ideological drift sand

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