Politics

The State of SA: going nowhere slowly

By Stephen Grootes 10 October 2011

We have spoken in the past about the “policy lock” at the heart of the ANC and the Alliance. About how the liberation movement – if that’s what it still is – is so broad at a policy basis, that nothing will ever change. And we’ve said, as well, that this is going to have dire consequences for our future. On Friday we saw a signpost on our road to hell. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

Transnet’s Bloemfontein depot decided it would interview applicants for 30 jobs. That’s right, 30. These are entry-level jobs, something almost anyone could do. They got 10,000 applicants. Ten thousand. What’s amazing is that they were actually expecting as much as 4,000. When they decided to close the gates, there was a stampede; people thought they had lost their chance just to apply for a job. So they pushed and pulled and tried to get in. Thankfully no one was hurt seriously, but 40 people needed treatment. Fewer things in our politics are as scary as this set of facts.

Thirty jobs. Ten thousand applicants.

We are talking about queues as long as those during the Depression in the US. We are talking about the sheer awfulness of the loss of hope that that must have led to the anger that led to the push that led to the stampede. And we see this not just in Bloemfontein but everywhere. If you drive through Norwood in Johannesburg, you will see a people milling around just off Louis Botha. The reason they hang around there is because there is a municipal rubbish dump, and there’s the chance of a quick R5 to help someone unload their car. In the south of Joburg, towards Kliprivier, there’s another dump. Same story.

We know that this is something the ANC is aware of. In the hours after the violence in the Joburg CBD around Luthuli House, ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe berated the ANC Youth League for not knowing that anything can happen in that part of town, because there are so many unemployed people there.

We also know this because President Jacob Zuma claimed that “jobs, jobs and jobs” was going to be this year’s priority during his State of the Nation speech. And what do we have to show for it? Nothing.

We keep being told that we’re going to generate five million jobs in ten years.

What utter rubbish.

The fact is we’re losing jobs at a fast rate. And yes, as Zuma said last week, part of this because of the chaos in the EU and the insane political brinkmanship in the US. But that’s not the main reason. The main reason is that our leaders, our politicians, have decided to follow discredited ideologies, rather than common sense.

The businesses that are making money in present day South Africa are the ones that have found a way to live with the current labour laws. One of the ways to do that is to hang on to the people you trust, and to not take on people you don’t. As a result, those with jobs earn more and more, and those without, continue to earn nothing. No jobs are created.

And privately-owned business is the only part of the society that can actually do it. This is something we all inherently know:

BUSINESS CREATES JOBS. NOT GOVERNMENT.

And yet, if you listen closely to Zuma, you will see that he inherently doesn’t believe this. Last week he was asked why government doesn’t concentrate on enterprises, on helping businesses create jobs. He just didn’t get it. Partly, I think, because he just doesn’t believe in the power of free enterprise.

Then he was also asked about the size of government, whether it wasn’t perhaps too big. He said he was quite happy with the size it was, “for us to deliver, we need this machinery”. He just doesn’t understand that one of the biggest headaches he has is when that “machinery” decides to go on strike. Hasn’t he learnt anything from the latest round of public sector strikes? It’s that very “machinery” which goes on strike that causes chaos every time someone wants a bit more money. The machinery is too large and too little of it is actually “delivering”.

Zuma and Co. continually say that South Africa is open for business, that they keep telling investors how attractive it is. Investors don’t believe him. And when they do come in, one word sums up what happens: Walmart.

So often it’s helpful to think of rebuilding South Africa after apartheid in the way the Europe and parts of Asia needed to be rebuilt after the Second World War. There were plenty of reasons that Japan and Germany rose so quickly. But one of them has to be the fact that they put the “enterprise” front and centre. They realised that that was the way to create wealth, to employ people. They made life as easy as they could for business, and then let capitalism take care of the rest.

Here, we are simply trying to tread water, and yet we are sinking ever so slowly. Our leaders owe so much political debt to Cosatu to even think of making life easier for business. Every ANC leader knows that he needs Cosatu to survive past the next conference.

This latest round of labour law amendments has now been at Nedlac for several months. And those are bad proposals (they included the Jimmy Manyi provincial quotas for employment equity clauses). When eventually they’re chucked out, we will have to start all over again. But it will be election season in the ANC, and thus no one will move. And the person who wins at Mangaung won’t be able to take on Cosatu either.

The one indicator that always leads to a revolution is a problem with the economy. Too few jobs, too little money, too little hope. That cocktail was part of the recipe for the French Revolution, and has been a part of many other bloodsheds since then. The same is beginning to happen here. This lack of jobs and thus lack of hope has been a crucial ingredient in Julius Malema’s rise to power. His enemy is the Left, Cosatu and the South African Communist Party. And yet it’s their ideology that is providing what he needs. If they would unshackle the economy, he, and his successors, would start to lose their power.

Cosatu general-secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has spoken several times about the “ring of fire” – about the hopelessness and powerlessness of these people who have nothing, and nothing to hope for. We agree with him. This is trouble. This lack of hope will lead to populism. It’s already led to the “nationalisation” debate, and it could turn even more destructive. And the reason for that is that Malema’s enemies are simply standing by and wringing their hands and taking on Walmart.

Thirty positions. Ten thousand applicants.

All they wanted was a job. Not decent work. A job. They know that “there is nothing more undignified that being unemployed”. Mantashe knows that, he said it. As ANC secretary-general, you would think he would be in a position to do something. Unfortunately, his other position (SACP chair) seems to prevent him somehow; and he’s not the only one. When the economy goes down, it will take the entire country with it. We will turn on each other. There will be no reason not to. Literally, the entire fabric of our nation is being put at risk, because our fearless, capitalist-less leaders believe government will provide. It will not. It cannot. DM



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