Enterprise policies as untested as the practice of bloodletting: no wonder they fail (1)

More than 3000 years the practice of bloodletting was applied to cure a range of illnesses: intense headaches, constipation, abdominal pain, boils or fever… It was administered by barbers (they had sharp blades) and later by qualified doctors. Some of the famous who received this treatment were Marie Antoinette (when giving birth in 1778 to her daughter Marie-Therese) and George Washington in 1799 on the day of his death when doctors drew about 40% of his blood in an attempt to cure him from a severe throat infection. In Washington’s case, the bloodletting did not cure him and one can only wonder to which extent it had contributed to his death. In 1793 acute bloodletting by guillotine definitely caused the demise of Marie Antoinette.

Why did the bloodletting practice with its origins in ancient Egypt continue until a century ago as an esteemed medical practice? Two reasons:

  • The existing paradigm considered bloodletting successful, elevating it to the realm beyond questioning or doubt. It was practised by all the trained practitioners. It was therefore not questioned. Respect for specialist insistence on accepted practice re-enforces paradigmatic reign. Even after the description of the circulatory system by William Harvey in 1628 it took three centuries before the practice of bloodletting was largely abandoned as an unproven cure. One of the most striking examples of this blind acceptance of so-called “expert opinion” is the 1500 years that Greek physician Galen’s doctrines were revered. Galen said of one of his cures: “All who drink of this remedy recover in a short time, except those whom it doesn’t help who all die. It is obvious that it fails only in incurable cases.

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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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Fragmentation of South Africa: Is the ANC succeeding where the NP failed?

Remember, South Africa as a unitary state is a recent experiment and the verdict on its success or failure is still to be determined…” These words by Lawrence Schlemmer, one of the foremost analytical minds in SA during the latter quarter of the 20thC are today far more relevant than when he uttered them in 1996 when we were enjoying a drink whilst waiting at the late Jan Smuts Airport on delayed flights. Having just read Jacques Pauw’s The President’s Keepers I was starkly reminded of Lawrie’s words.

Lawrie Schlemmer

South Africa is unravelling…

I had the privilege of meeting Lawrie when he was a strategy advisor to the Urban Foundation in the years 1987 onwards. His sharp intellect and wit made him an impressive debater. He was totally independent – apart from his utter dependence on nicotine.

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