It’s time the government began correcting its own failures instead of expecting the rest of us to carry the cost.
By the time you read this, the ninth Rugby World Cup will have started and South Africa may already have played the old enemy, the All Blacks, in the Springboks’ opener.
This tournament, held in Japan (the first time it is not being hosted in one of rugby union’s traditional heartlands), is one of the most wide open, with five or six teams (including the Springboks) considered possible champions.
But the vast majority of South Africans will not be able to follow the progress of the Springboks through the tournament, because the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) failed to reach an agreement with Multichoice to broadcast the matches. A sub-licence to broadcast the tournament would have cost the SABC about R420 million, which, according to reports, it cannot afford. Apparently the public broadcaster could also not afford to purchase the radio rights to the tournament either.
This is unsurprising. The public broadcaster has for years been driven into the ground through mismanagement, corruption, and political interference. Making fun of Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the former SABC COO, has become something of a South African pastime, but it is terrifying that a man clearly as incompetent and delusional as Motsoeneng even achieved such a high position in such an important entity as the SABC. Given all this, nobody (except perhaps for President Cyril Ramaphosa) would be shocked that the SABC cannot afford to broadcast the tournament.
But one of the most bizarre features of this saga is the statement by the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), calling on Multichoice to give the rights to the tournament to the SABC free of charge.
The party’s statement said that ‘…in the spirit of nation-building, Multichoice should at the very least consider sharing games in which the Springboks are playing with the public broadcaster. This will go a long way in demonstrating goodwill to the people of South Africa and contributing to nation-building.
‘The 1995 Rugby World Cup played an important role in uniting South Africans at a critical time in our democracy. And, in that spirit, Multichoice should seriously consider further contributing to that important objective of our democracy. Multichoice should not only consider their bottom line, but the corporate social responsibility it has to the people of our country.’
The fact of the matter is that Multichoice has a responsibility only to its shareholders and to its customers. In addition, it pays tax and should not be expected to give a lucrative event like the Rugby World Cup to the SABC free. And the SABC is in a situation of its own making. It is because of years of maladministration and corruption that it cannot afford to pay for the rights, not because Multichoice is some sort of greedy capitalist ogre.
Years of government maladministration have increasingly meant that the private sector and ordinary South Africans are expected to pay for government failures.
During the Zuma years, the government became increasingly profligate, spending like a mad teenager who had just won the lottery, with no thought for the consequences. The civil service expanded rapidly without any increase in efficiency. At the same time, we saw the effective collapse of state-owned entities such as Eskom and South African Airways (SAA), also due to maladministration and corruption.
Now, ordinary South Africans are expected to pay for these failures. Taxes are increasing and the government is considering the policy of prescribed assets to plug funding holes. This policy will dictate to fund managers where to invest (at least some of) their clients’ money. Fund managers could, for example, be forced to invest in Eskom bonds. South Africa’s experience with prescribed assets shows that they give a far lower rate of return than equities. Ordinary South Africans who are diligently saving for their retirement will suffer under a policy of prescribed assets. If it is implemented, South African retirees will have a smaller pension pot when they retire or they will have to work longer.
And this is not the only place where ordinary South Africans have to pay for the failures of government. It is now embarking on the wrong-headed path of expropriation without compensation (EWC), whereby the government could take away people’s property without paying for it – stealing it in effect. The government claims that this policy is necessary because land reform has been slow since the end of apartheid. But this is only because the government itself has never taken land reform seriously. The various departments which have been responsible for it have been under-funded and under-staffed. The government now claims that the slow pace of land reform has made it necessary to implement a policy of theft. But, while much land has already been transferred on the open market (far more than the government is willing to admit), it is claimed that property relations have remained unchanged since the end of apartheid (which evidence contradicts) and this is why EWC must be implemented. EWC will deal a great blow to the economy as well as deprive people of their property.
Let us also not forget the question of National Health Insurance (NHI). The government also claims that this effective nationalisation of the private healthcare sector is necessary because only a small proportion of South Africans have access to quality healthcare. But the clinics the government itself runs are subpar and we hear horror stories every week of how poorly patients are treated in government medical facilities. Somehow the government believes that the effective nationalisation of the private medical sector will solve these problems.
The government needs to correct its own failures. The fact that some believe that the SABC should be bailed out by Multichoice shows how widely accepted the belief has become that ordinary South Africans or the private sector should clean up the mess made by the government.
In fact, what ordinary South Africans should do is demand that the government starts taking responsibility for its own failures. A good start would be reducing government spending, appointing people on merit rather than race or political affiliation, and allowing businesses to do what they do best – create jobs and wealth. But until that happens, it will be ordinary South Africans who continue to pay the price for a floundering government which has no idea how to solve the predicament we all find ourselves in.
And if you, dear reader, like me, gave up the bourgeois indulgence of DSTV, you can enjoy following the Springboks on your phone, at your local pub, or at the homes of your more indulgent friends. And let’s hope Siya Kolisi’s boys give us something to smile about on 2 November.
Marius Roodt is head of campaigns at the Institute of Race Relations.
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