Leading the way in land of indecision
The events at Marikana last week have cast such a long shadow that right now it seems we have just two options: doom or gloom.
Our brightest industry, platinum, turns out to have less shine than we think. The industry is bedeviled by oversupply, rising labour and other costs and inter-union rivalries - the whole contributing to a toxic environment in which business, union and political leadership is conspicuous by its absence.
Prospects for domestic growth have been lowered and a massive petrol price hike is in the pipeline, thanks to relatively buoyant international markets as investors are betting on more cheap money from the central banks of the United States and the eurozone.
President Jacob Zuma flew in to Marikana, but he did not have the courage to meet the striking workers. It was left to former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema and opposition parliamentarians to address the protesters, Zuma’s contribution being to announce seven days of mourning and set up a five-person committee of ministers to think up what to do.
Meanwhile, as the events at Marikana were unfolding, Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel was telling Parliament that the youth wage subsidy was not government policy, even though his colleague Pravin Gordhan had already budgeted to spend R5-billion on jobs for the young.
This is the indecisive economy. Decisions are all well and good, just as long as they can be postponed until tomorrow. Or better still, next week.
We do have another economy, though. It is one where things get done. I could try to pretend this is that of the private sector, but the facts would not support this, for as we know far too well, private companies will too often connive and collude rather than compete.
But we do have some exceptions. One is Whitey Basson’s Shoprite, which has announced an increase in turnover of 14% despite trying market conditions. The Shoprite group created 7 000 jobs last year, bringing its total number of employees to more than 100 000 for the first time.
It operates 1334 stores in 17 countries, including 68 new stores opened last year. Some 10% of its sales are now outside South Africa and its turnover is greater than that of 31 African countries.
In the case of USave, one of its chains, Shoprite is opening a store every week and plans to increase this to two a week.
Impressively, food-price inflation for the group was 4.9% compared with the previous year. This compares with food inflation of 8.8% for South Africa as a whole.
During the past three months Shoprite has made three million social payments to grant beneficiaries, who access their money free of charge at group stores. This in a country where it is often said that banking costs are too high.
This is the decisive economy. Decisions are made and acted on. Services are provided, markets developed and jobs created. Shoprite rules, OK.