South Africa’s Black Hole: ANC Ethics; Zuma’s Mafia; and the Cognitive Abyss

2015-02-06 07:21

If there had to be such a thing as a formal, universally recognized qualification on running businesses, public utilities and organs of state, I am confident that the ANC’s modus operandi would be prescribed study reading.

This would be for two reasons –

1. Such a study would re- confirm business principles that have, over the years, become articles of faith.

The first of these is - hire smart people.

And if you can afford it, hire the best.

2. The study would in addition no doubt reinforce a suite of well documented business values in support of

o Providing good service;

o Serving one’s stakeholders (be they shareholders, customers, voters or ordinary citizens); and

o The importance of operational efficiency and getting the best out of people; essentially, understanding the value of money.

An incidental bye product to the pursuit of such values would no doubt be good economic growth and increased employment levels.

So then – I can see you already, shaking your head and asking incredulously - WHY on earth study the ANC’s template?

But the answer is dead simple.

It breaks every smart principle there is, and is driven and articulated by notions devoid of economic or administrative logic and reason. Thus negative outcomes emerge within timeframes that make it easy to identify cause and effect. That is how smart people learn.

It provides classic case study material that demonstrates how outdated values, primitive greed and ignoring both the sovereignty of the individual and personal merit result in socio economic ignominy. The notions of symbiotic benefit and the greater good are absent in the existing political elite and pretty much everything the contemporary ANC stands for has long been discredited in intelligent societies worldwide.

In other words, its template serves as a blueprint of what not to do. Any student would find value in that.

But lest this sounds like sour grapes or gratuitous government bashing, let’s study some recent news reports. I offer three random examples taken from the print media and online news and present them – in business school style - as case studies.

Case Study 1 – Fostering Small Business Growth and a Spirit of Competition

In relation to attacks on foreigners, Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu went on record as saying “Foreign business owners in SA’s townships cannot expect to coexist peacefully with local business owners unless they share trade secrets.”

She was responding to a question asking how government plans to tackle future looting and violence against foreign business owners, prompting one commentator to quip that her response is akin to a playground threat like: “Give me your lunch money or I’ll hit you.”

He refrained from pointing out that they would no longer be secrets.

That Lindiwe Zulu is entrusted with the Small Business Portfolio certainly demonstrates that government puts little store in having smart people in charge and has no respect for merit and hard work. On the contrary, in any intelligent socio economic environment she could be considered as inciting violence and xenophobia.

Case Study 2 – Promoting Efficient Infrastructure, Public Sector Management and Economic Growth

The public electricity utility – historically known as ESKOM, but more recently dubbed by cynics and consumers alike as “Ek’s Dom” (I am stupid) – has a sad track record. By now almost clichéd, it is still worth noting that the causes of our problems are that it has mismanaged its maintenance functions and Capital Expenditure outlays to a point where the nation’s power generating capacity is on its knees.

The result has been “load shedding” (scheduled power outages) of increasing frequency, with profound damage done to industry, commerce and all manner of economic activity. Consumers too pay the price in many ways - from spoilt foodstuffs to damaged television equipment and appliances.

And there is no prospect of short term improvement.

In fact, Eskom recently briefed the cabinet on the risk of a nationwide blackout – which is what happens when the grid fails completely and everything shuts down indefinitely. This happens when load-shedding is no longer enough to protect the grid from collapse, and can only be restarted from the injection of power from a huge outside electricity source. The amount of electricity necessary to “re-start” the grid is not available from any of our neighbours and would therefore constitute a national catastrophe.

The obvious implication is that heavy load-shedding will become a way of life for the foreseeable future. So, apart from doing a better job of maintenance and building more power stations, what else is to be done?

Let’s start with a recent development that signaled some hope.

In February 2013, a task team representing departments of Energy, Public Enterprises the Treasury and Eskom was established to examine ways to better manage energy, reduce Eskom’s monopoly role and find ways to resolve the energy crisis by including private enterprise and alternative energy sources.

Thus, the Independent System and Market Operator Bill (ISMO) was mooted and indications were that it would pass into law.

That was until the ANC decided recently to abandon the bill, preferring to leave Eskom exclusively responsible for the nation’s power. In other words, it has placed the continued incompetence of Eskom – run largely by ANC cadres and government sponsored appointees - above the interests of the nation at large, keeping Eskom’s monopoly and retaining control of the parastatal. That is more important to the ANC than solving energy crisis and promoting economic growth.

To comment seems superfluous - nonetheless it seems worth noting that its three most senior executives were awarded millions of rands in bonuses in the past financial year.

Case Study 3 – Presidential Manipulation of Justice – Mafia Style

Perhaps the most ironic – and amusing, if you have the appropriate sense of humour - cliché of our time is Zuma banging on about corruption. Declaring war on those with the temerity to stuff their pockets with public proceeds is common practice for him; not one for irony, he contends that it must at all costs be stamped out!

But more sinister by far is the ring of steel around this Mafia don – and the lengths to which he will go to stay out of jail.

Anwa Dramat – head of the Hawks crime busting unit - would certainly seem to have been one to take his job seriously and was evidently shafted for calling for files that some speculated were incriminating of people at the “highest level” and included information on Nkandla. He was also associated with an inquiry into the shady suspended police intelligence boss Richard Mdluli – who seems to have enjoyed favour from the commanding heights of government.

Quoting from a recent DA newsletter: “the evidence suggests that Dramat is being purged because he refused to ignore “the scourge of corruption” (as Zuma seemed to demand). However, Dramat’s error was that his investigations brought him a little too close to Zuma Inc – the President, his family and their patronage network.

It is probably no surprise that Dramat “fears for his life” – as was reported in the most recent M&G - if he is cleared from the pending inquiry and were to go back to his job,

Conclusions

It is indeed difficult to see one’s way through the morass of shocking ethics, patronage and low intelligence politics. Where is the light at the end of the tunnel?

Again – as in previous articles I have contributed – I can see scope for civil resistance in a number of areas which, with sufficient critical mass and the support of growing numbers of intelligent people should yield results. A turning point must be reached at which those who support the existing regime give up on it because it is so palpably bad, amoral and incompetent.

That can only happen when

• ordinary people see others better off than they who have already shed loyalty to “the party” and benefitted from their decision. These numbers are growing and will hopefully swell rapidly.

Municipal elections in 2016 are critical to this trend.

• fresh insights have been conveyed through informal or alternative education. Countering shocking public education – aided and abetted by toxic trade unions – is a challenge for not only the political opposition but small businesses and people of liberal persuasion.

It is important to make people smarter by other, more creative means.

• the business activities of private people and small entrepreneurs become more accessible to those unemployed or currently ensnared in the trade union environment.

The growing number of small operators who eschew growth and “big company” ambitions is critical to economic prosperity and individual freedom and the world economy too is devolving into small companies over which governments, trade unions and bureaucracies at large have little or no control.

It is indeed conceivable that trade unions will ultimately wither and become marginal to economies in general since by their very nature they are coercive and prescriptive. Business rejects coercion, preferring to withdraw its efforts thereby causing economies to fail and jobs to be lost. It responds only to incentives.

• people live tax efficiently. It is important to let government have as little as possible.

One cannot escape fuel levies; VAT or income tax, but there are ways to starve the exchequer of carelessly paid taxes.

The de-monetization of transactions, for example can shield one from state theft through the swapping, exchanging or trading of goods with others. Trade exchanges prevent government from getting a share.

We need to remember that once government runs out of bucks - as is happening already - it will have a problem (already there are three times more grant recipients than tax payers!), and if it can squeeze us for no more, the voters will come after it. For they will want their social grants, food parcels and yellow t-shirts at election time; and when it can no longer provide, they will turn on it.

At that point - who can tell?

Democracy might take root.

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