We know exactly how the ANC’s disastrous policies have wrecked our country. But we dare not say so. We know exactly the right policies to make South Africa prosperous, reduce unemployment, and lift people out of poverty. But we feel too cowed to announce them. So we divert our eyes and mumble woke platitudes while the ANC wages war against the poor and lays waste to the country. SONA 2024 and reactions to it confirmed this.
The behaviour of the opposition parties was in a sense more depressing than the ruinous nonsense from Ramaphosa. None of them condemned outright the ANC’s policies (rather than condemning the ANC’s corruption, incompetence and lying). None of them offered the radical, simple policies that could rescue South Africa.
“We are inspired by democracy’s children”, said President Cyril Ramaphosa in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Thursday. (I’m afraid I haven’t the stomach to listen to him but did read the full speech from the government website.) He went on to name a “democracy child”. This was Tintswalo, born in 1994. Ramaphosa claims she has been delivered from penury to prosperity by the gracious ANC. I have a more vivid image of a democracy child. It is of a poor little girl who died at the age of four, in a pit latrine, at a school in the Eastern Cape in March 2023 – 29 years into democracy.
Ramaphosa, a professional liar, then proceeded to tell one of his most shameful lies: “One of the worst injustices of apartheid was the manner in which education was used as a tool to perpetuate inequality. Over the last 30 years, we have sought to use education as a tool to create equality.” On the contrary, the ANC has gone out of its way to implement massive inequality in education. It has deliberately wrecked the education of the great mass of ordinary black South Africans while sending its own children to highly elitist, very expensive fully private or partially private schools. The ANC wants to make sure that its own children never have anything to do with ordinary, working-class children. Most South African children have appallingly low levels of literacy, and maths and science, thanks entirely to deliberate ANC policy.
The Mafia-like teaching union, SADTU, has captured the ANC, which relies on it for political support. The ANC allowed SADTU to be the effective manager of education in most provinces. SADTU cares nothing about the children it pretends to teach and everything about the employment conditions of its teachers, many unqualified, many incompetent, most lazy, and most more concerned about attending union meetings and protests rather than spending time in the classroom. (There are, of course, shining exceptions.) Ramaphosa and his ministers, and senior SADTU teachers would be horrified at sending their own children to the schools they administer. No, no, no, they want St Johns, St Stithians, St Marys, Bishops, Herschel, or Roedean.
Ramaphosa’s SONA surprised no one. It was as sickeningly dishonest as everyone had expected. It was essentially a campaign speech as everyone had expected, although maybe it was slightly unusual that he dwelt more on the ANC’s 30 years of rule than his own five years of rule. In April 1994, when the ANC came to power, it could hardly have had more favourable conditions for building a prosperous society and a growing economy. South Africa had by far the most advanced economy in Africa, with a solid industrial basis. The infrastructure the ANC inherited from the apartheid regime was good. T
he railways ran quite well, delivering black commuters cheaply and reliably to work. Eskom provided the world’s cheapest electricity to the whole country, although unevenly. Residential electrical demand is about 18% of total demand, and in the 1980s white people used a disproportionate fraction of total residential electricity. But in the early 1990s, Eskom was rapidly electrifying black residential areas. In 1994, it would have been an easy matter for the ANC to continue this trend and provide plentiful, reliable, cheap electricity for the economy and all the people. Instead the ANC wrecked Eskom with BEE, cadre deployment. employment equity, looting, incompetence and corruption.
In 1994, thanks largely to Nelson Mandela, the whole world was in love with South Africa and eager to invest in her and trade with her. Sanctions had been lifted long before. The new South Africa should have boomed and blossomed. It didn’t. It declined relative to other comparable emerging countries. We now have over 42% unemployment (including those who have given up looking for work). This is the major result of 30 years of ANC rule. We know why unemployment has risen so high and we know how to remedy it, but very few of us dare say so.4
I was struck by the rather feeble response to SONA by the opposition parties and the media. None of them got to the heart of the ANC’s disastrous policies. Some, I fear, agreed with them. None proposed the radical policies needed to undo the ANC’s carnage. Let me start with the major problem, unemployment. Our catastrophic unemployment is not accidental; it is caused by deliberate ANC policy. The ANC has deliberately shut poor people out of the formal economy. It has deliberately passed ferocious labour laws that make it too expensive and dangerous for all but richest employers to employ anyone. Its minimum wage destroys more jobs. The higher the minimum wages, the higher the unemployment and the less likely it is for any small business to start up.
The ANC doesn’t care; it hates small business, which could compete against big business, which bows in a cowardly fashion before ANC ideology. The ANC has passed laws giving mandatory powers to bargaining councils. In each economic sector, big powerful corporations and big powerful trade unions meet and decide employment conditions for the whole sector. They then order – order, mind you, not request – the Minister of Labour to impose these conditions on small businesses and workers outside the bargaining councils. Many of the small businesses cannot afford these conditions. They shut down their businesses or go bust trying to meet them. Budding small businesses give up. All this is on top of the miles and miles of red tape that makes it very difficult, very expensive and very time-consuming for any small business to get off the ground. Unemployment grows.
The remedy is simple. Remove all mandatory powers from bargaining councils. Allow all businesses outside them to set their own employment conditions for themselves. Scrap all the restrictive labour laws. Allow all adults to work for all other adults for any employment conditions acceptable to each. Keep factory acts and engineering codes dealing with safety. (Employees have perfect understanding of what is best for them as far as salaries and working hours are concerned but do not have sufficient understanding of the dangers of pressure vessels, toxic materials, inflammables and machinery.) Get rid of as much red tape as possible and follow the example of countries where you can start up a small business easily and quickly. And be prepared to hear and resist the howls of fury from rich, vested interests, and from socialist academics in all of our universities and in most of our HR departments.
These privileged people will shout that you are taking away the “hard-earned rights” of the workers. Pardon? The hard-earned rights of 42% of our working age people to be unemployed? The hard-earned rights of 27% of our children to suffer permanent brain damage from lack of good food? The hard-earned rights of union fat cats to lord it over unemployed workers? You will also hear bogus cries of sorrow from well-heeled whites in the suburbs. Once, on a radio show discussing the minimum wage, I heard a rather posh-sounding white woman declare, “How can anyone survive on R3 500 a month!” I wish I could have asked her, “Why don’t you trying surviving, for just one year, on R0 a month – like so many poor black people. Go on, madam, do it! Try surviving by selling tomatoes and bananas at the side of the road. Try prostitution, which so many poor black women are forced to turn to.”
Restrictive labour laws
I can guarantee you that if you got rid of the restrictive labour laws and the minimum wages, employment would soar and our economy would prosper. It has worked in every single country that has tried it. China is the obvious example. In 1980, the great Deng Xiaoping, a hero of the 20th Century, took over the impoverished wasteland of Communist China. He had visited the USA in 1979 and been most impressed, and had seen clearly that the best way for China to advance was to trade with the USA. What he did to promote farming and industry in China is most instructive: he did nothing. He left them alone.
The all-powerful Communist Party retreated into state enterprises and allowed a huge private sector to develop as it pleased, free of labour laws and all other government restrictions. It was the most massive, the most free-wheeling capitalism the world had ever seen – and the most successful, spectacularly successful. Initially little companies paid tiny salaries in harsh working conditions, salaries that would not be allowed in South Africa. But manufacturing developed quickly, taking over many of the world’s markets, as you can see in any hardware shop – in almost any shop – in South Africa. The workers learnt their skills on the job, they became more valuable, the quality of goods rose, salaries rose, and hundreds of millions of people were lifted out of mass poverty in a remarkably short time. The present woes of the Chinese economy, such as they are, are caused entirely by bad government planning and management, such as over Covid-19 and the housing sector. But the private sector in China shows the way for us. So does it in various other east Asian countries.
We also need to get rid of BEE, affirmative action, cadre deployment, employment equity, and all other forms of racial preferment. Don’t reform them; get rid of them. All they do is impoverish most black people while making a tiny elite very rich. BEE means that government departments are not allowed to buy the best goods and service at the lowest prices but are forced to buy shoddy goods and services at high prices from BEE contractors. Affirmative action and cadre deployment means that qualified, experienced, capable, white staff were replaced with unqualified, inexperienced, incapable black staff with political connections. The result has been the ruin of Eskom, Transnet, Prasa and other SOEs.
Nobody believes in affirmative action or employment equity for the services they themselves receive. The ANC knows perfectly well that affirmative action and employment equity have wrecked the state schools. Neither President Ramaphosa nor Dr Naledi Pandor nor any other privileged person in the ANC (or the EFF) would dream of sending their children to a school where 93% of the teachers were black (meeting the employment equity target). Yet I don’t know of one single political party in South Africa that has asked to get rid of all racial preferment. I think the DA at one stage was in favour of BEE! I don’t know what its policy is now.
Ramaphosa spoke cynical nonsense about Covid-19, where his government’s ferocious lock-down killed more people, especially poor black children, than the virus could have. (Mind you, governments around the world behaved badly over Covid, China the worst of all.) On energy, he simply repeated the ruinous green nonsense that is crippling electricity supply in most Western countries. Renewables are very good for off-grid applications but useless for grid electricity, as has been shown around the world. The Northern Cape does have among the world’s best solar conditions, but the huge costs of building new transmission lines to bring expensive, intermittent solar power to centres of demand are just not cost effective (which means, I suppose, that the ANC will force the taxpayers to subsidise them so that private solar companies can make big profits).
“Green hydrogen” is expensive, dangerous, cumbersome and unnecessary. Electric cars are very expensive, use dangerous toxic materials, are prone to bursting into flames, and are suitable only for niche markets, such as inner city driving. For South Africa’s wide-open spaces, they are hopeless. Not one opposition party seemed to disagree with him on this nonsense.
South Africa’s foreign policy under the ANC has been characterised by callous disregard for the suffering of black Africans. Ramaphosa declared, “we have taken up the Palestinian cause to prevent further deaths and destruction in Gaza.” This was a reference to South Africa’s attempt in the ICJ to classify Israel’s violent response to the rape, slaughter and mutilation of 1,200 Israeli civilians by Hamas terrorists as “genocide”. He said nothing about taking up the cause of much worse African suffering right here in our own continent. He said nothing about the actual genocide of black Africans in Sudan nor anything about his smiling reception in Pretoria last month of the genocidal warlord, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo who is now waging a bloody civil war and ripping Sudan apart in order to overthrow the Sudanese government. Dagalo seems to want to complete the genocide of black Africans in the Darfur region started by Omar al-Bashir, whom the ANC hosted in 2015. The DA has disagreed with the ANC on Israel and the Patriotic Alliance, to my surprise, supports Israel completely. Otherwise, the other political parties seemed to go along with the ANC’s immoral foreign policies.
In short, SONA 2024 was the arrogant, destructive, dishonest nonsense that everybody expected from an ANC that has spent 30 years ruining the country while enriching itself. Ramaphosa might be the ANC’s most sickening leader but he is really doing nothing other than continuing its wretched policies. What is more disturbing is that there is no opposition party that will spell out exactly why ANC policies are so destructive and will spell out exactly the policies needed to rescue the beloved country. I shall vote for an opposition party this year, and expect an improvement if it comes to power (almost certainly in a coalition), but my enthusiasm for it will be tempered.
The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR
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Image: Flickr, GCIS