As we enter a new decade, President Cyril Ramaphosa faces the daunting task of rebuilding a deteriorating economy that is beset by staggering corruption and the appointment of incompetent officials. Principled leadership is required in all spheres of government to put the country on a path of economic growth and to improve the quality of governance. The past decade was dominated by a great deal of lip service rather than instituting practical measures to mitigate and work towards solving the issues facing the country.
The government adopted the National Development Plan (NDP) at the beginning of the past decade as its blueprint for eliminating poverty and reducing inequality by 2030. However, most of the key objectives of the plan have not been prioritised and the country has suffered damage that could have been avoided. Unemployment is at 29%, the education system is a mess, the health system has collapsed, state-owned enterprises have become a liability to this fiscus because of corruption, and we have exceptionally high inequality levels.
By official count, 6.7-million people are unemployed in South Africa. More than half of the youth live in poverty and most black women are poor even with an overwhelming increase in the number of them obtaining university degrees. Black South Africans are suffering despite the projection of success. Yes, we are more educated than ever before, but that education has not taken place alongside an increase in wealth acquisition of any kind. When you look at black people who are “rich”, they constitute a small percentage of the general body of the community; this black bourgeois’ job is to take attention away from issues that affect black people and put it on “all lives matter”.
This also includes pulpit pimps who masquerade as pastors. I have a problem with the church being the centre of the black community: its mandate is only to take, but never to give back — except for hope. With so much money being given to the church by black people, why are there no 100% black-owned schools, supermarkets, hospitals and banks? The centre of any community must be such essential institutions, not the church.
Youth involvement threatens the imbalance of power that favours the adult, mostly male-dominated society, which promotes and perpetuates elitism, collusion, the exploitation of women and children, and the making of economic decisions. Over the next few weeks, the issue of the government not honouring its free education promise will resurface once again. This is a pandemic that can be completely avoided, but poor planning and lack of political will continue to maintain the status quo. In my view, both the government and the youth are to blame for this crisis. The government is undeniably complacent about this matter and young people just lack the urgency to face the enemy of the day.
We have a ruinous public health system that has done more harm than good to the public over the past 26 years. The exorbitant cost of treatment for cancer in South Africa is way beyond the reach of most citizens, even with medical aid. Mental health does not even feature as a public health priority and, in rural communities, mental health is not supported at all. The only plan the government seems to have is the National Health Insurance (NHI), which is a concept that will not be implemented any time soon. That posture of the health department gives an impression that once the NHI is implemented all of the country’s health problems will be resolved, which is a fallacy and a disturbing reality.
Mismanagement, incompetence, corruption and looting are at the core of the problems facing the country’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Accountability has been blurred through a complex, unclear appointment process and, at times, undue political interference. Government bailouts have not helped the situation. Instead, they continue to put pressure on the country’s fiscus, pushing government debt into dangerous territory. The mismanagement has materially benefited politically connected elites. Many of the current governance failures are linked to state capture. The country scored 43% and is 73rd of 180 countries on the latest Transparency International Corruption Perception Index.
We know that the crisis facing the country’s SOEs cannot be turned around overnight. But citizens are increasingly frustrated by the absence of any bankable sign that the bleeding will ever end, and privatisation cannot be the solution. Many of the SOEs’ black economic empowerment credentials are rotten and astounding: they still procure largely from service providers that were the main suppliers during the apartheid era. This raises several questions: what is the real agenda of the government concerning SOEs? Is it a sign that a decision has been taken by the government to shut these SOEs down or to make them lose so much value that their handlers in the private sector will intervene in the name of privatisation and buy them for close to nothing? Any plan that puts the state aside when it comes to growing the economy will not work, because the private sector is driven by maximum profit.
South Africa is also the most unequal society in the world and there is no urgency to address that pandemic. According to a 2017 government audit, 72% of the country’s private farmland is owned by white people, who make up 9% of the population. A report from the World Inequality Database states that the top 1% of South African earners take home almost 20% of all income in the country. The wealthiest 1% own 67% of all the country’s wealth. Between 2011 and 2015, a white person earned R24 646 per month on average, more than three times the R6 899 of their black counterparts. At this rate, black people will never operate on the world stage, unless they own land and a bank to finance black infrastructure projects.
In 2019 there were revelations of alleged racism against black homeowners by First National Bank (FNB) that were reported by Special Assignment on SABC. Black homeowners featured on the programme claimed that they were charged extremely high interest rates for home loans compared to their white counterparts. Racism can affect you only to the extent that you are dependent on white people who continue to exploit black people. An economic boycott would be an extremely powerful movement, but it will not work because we are dealing with black people who do not have that type of commitment to one another, have no obligation to the collective, have no interest in the progress of their people and are intentionally egotistical and individualistic about their personal pursuits.
We need to do better. Let us go back to the original plan that was formulated to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030. The NDP is the blueprint for South Africa. It explains how the government can work with teachers’ unions to improve the quality of schooling, especially in townships and rural areas. Teachers must be given additional training and support. Improving the school system includes increasing the number of students achieving more than 50% in literacy and mathematics, increasing learner retention rates to 90% and bolstering teacher training.
What we need to do is build a country with a capable state that supports citizens to fulfil their dreams and freely express their talents. We must work together to advance development, resolve problems and raise the concerns of the voiceless and marginalised. We need to hold the government, business and all leaders in society accountable for their actions.
The NDP envisages a growing economy that is responsive to the demands of a fast-changing world, an economy that does not benefit only the few. Ramaphosa has to take urgent measures to repair investor confidence, including improving institutional stability, restoring the credibility of the criminal justice system and demonstrating that the state has the political will to turn the country’s finances around. More importantly, the black majority must be given a bigger stake in the economy. The transfer of ownership and control of the economy to black South Africans must be accelerated.
The NDP also criticises political appointments: “… in South Africa the current approach to appointments blurs the lines of accountability. The requirement for Cabinet to approve the appointment of heads of the department makes it unclear whether they are accountable to their minister, to the Cabinet or the ruling party.” The continuing retention and redeployment of senior executives who were involved in corrupted scandals indicates that there is still little commitment to reform institutions. This includes the reappointment of Thulas Nxesi to the cabinet as Minister of Employment and Labour, after covering up former president Jacob Zuma’s costly security upgrade to his Nkandla home, as well as the retention of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe, who is alleged to have bribed a journalist to squash a story on his alleged extramarital relationship.
It was a good move by Ramaphosa to make his new Cabinet sign performance agreements, but he was supposed to release those agreements to the public for accountability and transparency’s sake. I want to understand why Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan has not been fired by the president. Gordhan is a huge liability in his Cabinet and poses a huge threat to the fiscus, through his lack of urgency and political interference at Eskom, SAA and other SOEs. Mainstream media and political commentators at large have not called him out on the disaster he left in his wake, because that would be seen to be playing to Economic Freedom Fighters’ narrative.
It is imperative to implement the government-designed and -adopted document that is the NDP.
That document is full of rich information that can decisively change the current trajectory. If the ruling party fails to do so, it will be disrespecting black consciousness and black culture, by not doing anything other than spreading information and not taking decisive action. And if all government has is information, then it is no better than the church. The pastor is preaching and the ANC is preaching: the pastor does not have anything for the people — and neither does the party.
Sello Ivan Phahle is managing director of SIP MEDIA