Keep the cadres smiling

2010-01-12 00:00

THE new year has started with gloomy statistics about a R21 billion shortfall in revenue collection.

Moreover, President Jacob Zuma told the party faithful in Kimberley on Saturday that the government has not only failed to create the 500 000 jobs it said would materialise by December, but that they should expect even less job creation.

And while the worst of the recession “may” be over, the jobs situation is unlikely to hit the proverbial “high road”.

In October, Ipsos-Markinor said about 67% of the African National Congress support base was made up of unemployed people. In other words, two of every three ANC members don’t have a job. So who are the lucky one in every three who are employed: state officials and the new “tenderpreneurs”? And what does this mean for the country?

If Zuma is to deliver to the multitudes who voted him into office, he needs a state purse that is bulging. With such ammunition, the government can start all the expanded public works programmes and hire people with a low skills base.

This is important to restore the dignity of people that comes with earning your keep instead of being a perpetual recipient of state or donor largesse.

The R21 billion shortfall announced last week means the ability of the state to provide these kinds of short-term interventions is steadily being eroded.

Fewer public works programmes must result in more queues for state grants, whether by legitimate qualification or not. Already last year we had more than 12 million people who were recipients of one form of state grant or another.

This process, while relieving immediate dire needs, produces a dependency syndrome in the long term, where people just expect the government to provide without the people having to earn it.

And once given, it is virtually impossible to take back a benefit without replacing it with an equal, if not better, deal.

The automotive industry sold about 30% fewer cars last year than in 2008. This is already having an impact on employment in that industry sector. Job losses in mining and other key sectors have been equally bloody.

With the 2011 local government elections in mind, Zuma and the entire ANC leadership must be having sleepless nights. What are the achievable promises that must make up the manifesto for next year’s elections to ensure victory?

It cannot be more jobs, let alone durable, sustainable or quality ones, because Zuma has already said this is unlikely. It cannot be seriously expanded public works programmes as the revenue is drying up as fast.

The easy, and indeed only, promise is more social grants. So expect to hear Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan announce a hefty increase in social spending, while at the same time cautioning against the sustainability of the process.

Political survival of the ANC depends on 67% of its support base having something to smile about, and grants are really the only option possible.

This is the state of play until the recession is over, by which time we may well be giving grants to up to 15 million people. Weaning them off that addiction of free and easy money will be a Herculean task that neither Zuma, nor his successor will have to grapple with.

• Mathatha Tsedu, a former editor of City Press, is the head of Media24’s Journalism Academy.

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