Herman Mashaba | Time for government to grow up

Herman Mashaba.
Herman Mashaba.
Sharon Seretlo, Gallo Images

The only way out of the mess it finds itself in, is for the ANC to grow up and face hard realities and to jettison its fantasy of state control, writes Herman Mashaba.

The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic around the world has led to the death of close to half a million people, and an enormous amount of economic dislocation which may, in the long-term, prove be even more devastating.

Countries rich and poor have not been spared, as the virus knows no border. However, many countries have been able to cushion the blow for their citizens. This is because sound fiscal management have afforded them the space to provide direct support to business and individuals. This has been in the form of salary guarantees, bailouts to specific industries, stimulus packages and a range of other innovative measures.

The grim reality is that despite the commendable efforts of some of South Africa’s most successful and wealthiest individuals and families, ordinary citizens have been left to largely fend for themselves during the lockdown – now the longest in the world. 

This is because after 10-years of Jacob Zuma’s Presidency which was characterised by rampant corruption, ideological battles and general ineptitude the cupboards are quite literally bare. The days of having a budget surplus of the likes of 2007 and 2008, of being to raise our own funds and of having an investment grade rating, are long gone.

Instead we are staring down the proverbial economic barrel. 

What must never be forgotten is that every step of the way is that Zuma and his fellow travellers were aided and abetted by the ANC, including Cyril Ramaphosa, who from his comfortable perch in the Deputy-Presidency did nothing to stop the rot.

Therefore, it is now quite breath-taking for Ramaphosa to argue that the crisis brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic is the chance to reimagine the economy. Here is after all the same man who personally accumulated enormous wealth from the status quo, leading the party that has looted our country with impunity, now acting like he and his party are our economic saviours. 

The President is also a man who truly lacks the courage of his convictions – indeed it is often unclear what convictions he actually has. To argue now for the implementation of the NHI, expropriation without compensation, bailouts for failing SOE’s or launching a new airline would all be laughable it is were not serious. Added to this is no real strategy to fix Eskom, the lack of political will to reduce the size of the public service in our country. 

The fact is that the President and the ANC need to grow up, and grow up fast. We simply cannot afford more years of a governing party that is fighting the ideological economic battles of the 1970’s and 80’s. A party that is so infantile in its approach that it allows senior leaders to publicly posit fantasises of some sort of Marxist class suicide. Little knowing or understanding is demonstrated that if the middle class is destroyed, so too will the whole country be, with little or no chance at recovery.

It beggars belief that the President and other senior government leaders seem to be ignoring the warnings from their own national treasury. To be clear treasury warns of the following just this year: unemployment approaching 50%, an economic contraction of 16,1%, a R285 billion loss in tax revenue and debt approaching 66% of GDP, with 80% likely in the near term.

These figures mask the human misery that accompanies them. The millions of good, honest South Africans who have given the hope of finding the dignity of work, of the small business owner who has to let his or her staff go, or families unable to afford food or school fees. We are a nation in distress.

And yet, according to reports, the ANC is more scared of upsetting Cosatu by securing emergency IMF debt finance, than they are of helping South Africa recover. This proves yet again that Ramaphosa is only president in name. Weeks ago, he gave the impression that South Africa had secured external funding. What he did not mention is that he is yet to assuage the ideologues in his own party who believe such funding should be free of the entanglements of economic reform. 

There is only one way out of this mess, and that it is for the ANC to grow up and face hard realities.

It needs to jettison its fantasy of state control. It needs to unbundle, sell and privatise state owned enterprises. It needs to protect the property rights of locals and foreign investors alike. It needs to be ruthless in replacing platitudes with actions to stamp out corruption. It needs to downsize the public service. This is over and above the desperately needed reforms in education and policing amongst others. 

The current R75 billion package from the IMF is reportedly relatively free of conditions. The IMF would be well served to insist on the above commitments; not because it would interfere with South Africa’s sovereignty, but rather because it would force the ANC to finally grow up and face real world economic realities.

Of course, in the final analysis the best way to get South Africa back on track is for voters to finally say enough is enough. After all nothing would serve to force the ANC to face reality than assuming their rightful position in the opposition benches. 

-  Herman Mashaba is the founder of The People’s Dialogue and the former Mayor of Johannesburg.

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