South Africa’s leaders are given to invoking religion to explain or to justify themselves. As South Africans tend to see themselves as religious and God-fearing people, this is a frame of reference that is at once explanatory, inspiring and emotively resonant.

And there is great wisdom in scripture. No doubt in these stressful times, many have found succour in it.  Others will have found warnings. Consider these words from the Book of Ecclesiastes: 

What has been will be again,

what has been done will be done again;

there is nothing new under the sun.

Things endure and repeat themselves, the writer seems to be saying. There is a monotony to existence, and little to surprise.

South Africa has been in lockdown for some four months. At the beginning, a number of commentators suggested that this was the moment for reform, for President Ramaphosa to make his long-delayed move. Even if he could not win the ideological battle over reform, the state of crisis would create an unassailable pragmatic case for doing so.

It’s difficult to say this now.

Proposals made over the past few weeks for a post-pandemic recovery, along with the thrust of the supplementary budget, point to the sentiment articulated in Ecclesiastes. 

The proposal released by the African National Congress (ANC) – Reconstruction, Growth And Transformation: Building A New, Inclusive Economy – is largely a strategy to continue with the trajectory that existed before the pandemic hit.

The reach of the state is to be expanded. Indeed, as the president put it, it would be ‘state-led’. An infrastructure build would take centre-stage. State-owned enterprises would play a critical role (even the wretched and non-essential South African Airways is to be relaunched).

Black Economic Empowerment requirements are to continue. If anything, says the president, they will be ‘enhanced’. Racial policy prescriptions in respect of employment are to be ramped up in terms of amendments to the Employment Equity Act, which gives the Minister powers to set ‘numerical targets’. 

Long-standing narrative

None of this is new. It’s the long-standing narrative of the mighty developmental state, the delusion that mismanaged state firms can drive an economic miracle. It’s the assumption that government can mandate the composition of workforces or the tribute to be extracted. The implications of imposing ever more onerous burdens on the frayed remains of South Africa’s business community are worthy of scant consideration.

‘What has been will be again’, laments the writer of Ecclesiastes. 

Lamentable too were the findings of the National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey. It estimated that between 2.5 million and 3.6 million people (a probable figure is around 3 million) had lost their jobs between February and April. Another 1.5 million had lost their income. Indeed, a third of those who had earned an income in February were not doing so in April.

Businesses have been hard hit. Stats SA noted last month that close to nine in ten businesses had reported lower than normal turnover; 20% had suspended trading; 25% had laid off staff. Research on small businesses – that part of the economy that has in very abstract theory been a frontline priority for government as a job and wealth creator, and features as such in the ANC’s plans – shows a consonant level of distress. An April study by a consulting firm, McKinsey, found that more than half of small and medium-sized firms (with turnovers between R15m and R500m) were considering closing down at least part of their operations. In excess of 40% had reduced capacity, retrenched staff or would need to do so.

Pre-existing economic malaise

But understand this as the pandemic and the lockdown infecting a pre-existing economic malaise. It compounded, but did not create, the problem. And even in the face of this, the policy response is larger doses of the very policies that have at the most generous reading failed to spur growth, and, at a more realistic reading, have actively retarded it.

‘Nothing new under the sun.’ This applies to trajectory and (predictable) outcome. South Africa’s economic difficulties were well entrenched by a horrid history and a sequence of poor choices that have undermined the growth and development the country so desperately needs. 

If the stance of those in power is to make the same set of poor choices, the results will not be different, save that they will be replicated in an even more unforgiving and damaged environment. It does not require the wisdom of a Biblical sage to understand this.

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Image by Stefan K from Pixabay

13 COMMENTS

  1. My definition of Stupidity is; Doing the same things over and over again and hoping for a different outcome.

    • Actually, it is the definition of insanity.
      And let’s be honest, what is more insane than a government that keeps on insisting that 9% of the population is responsible for the woes and problems of the other 91%?
      Or that by taking a million rands from 1 person and giving it to a million poor people, will make them all wealthy?

  2. Elegantly put. The perfect case for sanity to prevail. Unfortunately, it will be dismissed as white liberal twaddle by the economic illiterates in charge.

  3. I think NDZ wants to get on with the agenda – as per the article under this title: “ Dlamini-Zuma wants urgent roll out of new Covid-19 district system to ‘correct’ inequalities”

  4. The UN Agenda 2030 is the controlling theme performed and instituted by the WHO which is funded by global elites. The ANC (African National Corruption / Criminals) is following orders from the UN and WHO. The lies and exaggerated Plandemic statistics to falsely confine us makes it very easy for this regime to continue its path of rape and plunder of the SA economy. The ANC is a Communist organization so keeping people poor and as uneducated as possible is part of its agenda.

  5. It is clear ,that the policy pursued by cANCer , is not to have a thriving encompassing economy , but a brutal communistic dictatorship , a minnime of that snake in the long grass , the PRC .
    Unless sane and even brave souls prevail we as a people are lost to perpetual slavery ,and as such need to stand against the tyranny of those who presume to be gods …..they need to be ousted before the dark continent is truly that

  6. The problem is the majority of our fellow citizens have not woken up after 26 years of lies and unfulfilled promises, something which will be the death of this country after around R1 trillion was stolen under Zuma and R1.2 trillion in productivity was lost in the last four months thanks to Ramaphosa. My favourite restaurant is going to shut down. I spoke to the owner three days ago- he had to pay R35.000 rent every month, pay staff wages and do business without doing business until he lost R700.000. The guy is not a BEE multi-billionaire like our president, who can afford to build, stock and staff 1000 McDonald’s restaurants and still live a lavish lifestyle without ever going broke. He’s a “currently disadvantaged” man who made the business a success in spite of the government, and is now staring bankruptcy in the face thanks to Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s irrational regulations. What do Ramaphosa and his commie co. think Eskom, SAA, Transnet and others can do to fix this problem once he and other business owners like him are driven to penury? Eskom can’t keep its own lights on. SAA can’t keep its aircraft in the air. Transnet can’t stop being looted. How are those idiots going to help the hospitality industry? They’re not. They can’t. The jobs bloodbath is going to get worse over the next two months. If unaddressed by proper economic policies, it will probably reach critical mass before the end of the year and start a chain reaction that will lead to the country’s economic collapse. There has to be something new under the South African sun, otherwise we’re doomed.

  7. All the above makes me think of the old adage : “”Society is in trouble when you , in order to produce , need the permission of those who produce nothing ” . As Maggie Thatcher also pointed out, “socialism is only sustainable as long as other people’s money lasts “. A large chunk of “other people’s money ” has gone down the drain during the last four months and the question now is , how long is it still going to last ?

    If I just take stock of my own position as a 72 year old person , doing my level best to still make a difference through meaningful contribution ( socially and in infrastructure ) in my surroundings , together with those that I personally know that lost a substantial portion of lifesavings , invested in business that was built over years with blood , sweat and tears , then I become very wary of the way forward .

  8. This is the story of Africa all over again. Corrupt to the core. Only lesson learnt is how to perfect looting.

  9. Those who devised this greatest hoax ever perpetrated upon mankind must surely be surprised at its success! The supine nose-bag wearing plebs who obediently cross the street to comply with “social distancing” are nauseating. The Mainstream Media’s relentless barrage of Covid (‘flue!) infections/deaths, designed to engender panic amongst a gullible public, studiously avoid mentioning that last year’s figures of Corona virus (‘flue!) and those before – were less than now! And don’t blame the African National Commies for using the WHO/UN ‘plandemic’ as a convenient smokescreen to hide 26 years of financial devastation due to corruption matched only by incompetence! Sadly the prognosis is poor thanks to the taxpayers’ enforced largesse of funding some 21,000,000 (and growing by 3,500 every 24 hours!) “Social Grant Recipients” ….. built in ANC votes!
    If someone has a plan to implode the logjam….press the button NOW!

  10. If you type in 1992 referendum SA, on google, it states that in 92 de klerk got a majority YES vote for his reform plan. Then “2 years later this was implemented and universal suffrage was introduced”
    Apart from Holy Scripture, no more true words have ever been written. I lol at all the comments that are written and can be read nowadays. Realy did not one of you foresee the situation of SA of today? You had the factual references of Belgium Congo and all the other african states from up north down to Rhodesia our border ally, showing you what happened when the rule changed hands. Yet the majority, and may I say the big number coming from the Western Cape, them who now preach dissension from those that they put in power, voted for the same system that then had already shown the world its true colors all the way through the african continent. Please when you kick over the milk bucket in your eagerness to please the so called down trodden and forsaken, do not then come and whine about the spilt milk. In 1992 I told my Dad that by agreaing to de klerk’s request and voting yes he will have part in the changing of SA into another simbabwe. I can only thank the LORD that he is not here to see what he helped to create with his vote. For those that still have their eyeblinds on, its time to wake up Zim is near.

    • I already foresaw this with the referendum that PW Botha held in 1984.
      And when he delivered too slowly for the taste of the NP, they booted him out in favour of FW de Klerk.
      That day when FW made his inauguration speech in Parliament, I told my spouse that we have just witnessed the end of the Republic as we know it.

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