LETTER FROM THE DM168 EDITOR
South Africa’s leaders must start balancing their books of good and evil
It’s time for the architects of State Capture and all who sponged off it to pay back the money and for us voters to stop putting people who can’t balance income and expenses in charge of South Africa.
Dear DM168 reader,
Accounting was not my thing in high school. I disposed of it as soon as I could choose subjects in Standard 8 (Grade 10 for the Gen Zers and Zoomers). I chose History, Physical Science and Biology instead. I guess I chose the sciences because, somewhere in my teenage fantasy fuelled by Spock and Captain Kirk, I dreamt of one day asking a Scotty to beam me up out of here.
My love of diving with my dad in the Indian Ocean and climbing down the kelp at Cape Point to catch kreef and perlemoen led me to believe I could one day be a marine biologist. I was an idiot.
History has been a great help in my academic journey in the liberal arts and career as a journalist, but I have honestly never had much use for physics and natural science. Apart from vaguely kind of getting what engineers, biologists and scientists are talking about, and indulging my teenage self’s intergalactic travel aspirations, not once have I needed to glance at the periodic table or understand the Doppler effect, Newton’s laws of motion, Einstein’s theory of relativity or the reproductive cycles of fish, worms, locusts and frogs.
But, boy oh boy, have I needed accounting. I’ve needed it to understand how to do annual budgets and financial statements for auditors, in various management roles I have had. For journalism, I have needed it to read company annual reports and trawl the numbers graveyard, where the corruption bodies are buried. In my personal life, I have needed it to budget, run our family’s income and expenses, do tax returns and plan my retirement. (I’ve counted the rands and cents; it’s not going to happen until I die. 😂)
All of this musing about the urgent necessity for not just me but all of us to fall in love with spreadsheets, budget forecasting, abacuses and calculators was triggered by two stories in the news over the past week. Both have to do with budgets – one local, the other national.
The first is the story of the city where I live, Pretoria, where the jacarandas have refused to bloom. They’re on strike in solidarity with residents who are trapped in the running battle between the DA mayor, Cilliers Brink, who leads a coalition government in the City of Tshwane metro, and the municipal workers who are demanding that the City abides by the South African Local Government Bargaining Council ruling that it must pay workers a 5.4% increase, the last phase of a three-year wage agreement.
The bargaining council handed down an arbitration award on 10 September in favour of the workers, but Cilliers is appealing against the ruling, arguing that the City cannot afford to pay its creditors Eskom and Rand Water, never mind the agreed increase.
The City cannot afford to pay its debts as well as meet an agreement to pay its workers. And here is my confusion. Tshwane, like many metros and local governments around the country, does not have enough revenue to pay its bills for electricity and water, to maintain infrastructure and for workers’ increases. Clearly, the revenue model of income through rates, electricity and water charges is flawed if Treasury is allowing underfunded budgets year after year.
The standoff between the City and the South African Municipal Workers’ Union has been damaging to all who live in Tshwane, but mostly the poor who depend on public transport. As reported by Nonkululeko Njilo, the City had to recall bus services after incidents of intimidation and stones being pelted at buses. Thugs also torched three city trucks, one bakkie and two waste-removal trucks. Can someone give a thug a calculator, please, so they can calculate the cost versus reward of destruction?
The national cash crunch that our business writer Ray Mahlaka has been writing about is even more daunting. Our country is spending more than it earns. We’re in huge debt, but our economy is on a go-slow and tax revenue is declining.
How will the government continue to afford to pay for social grants, which are a lifeline for the poor? What about health services? State funds are not infinite – even if the President’s Ankole cows fly to the moon and there is no looting or corruption.
If the economy continues to shrink and fewer people earn a taxable salary, there will be less tax to pay for essential state services. Which makes the looting and wastage that have led us to this point even more sickening. The architects of State Capture and all who sponged off it have brought us here. It’s time for them to pay back the money and for us voters to stop putting people who can’t balance income and expenses in charge of South Africa.
Now that I’ve got that off my chest, here are my top five favourite reads from this week’s paper that I strongly suggest you do not miss:
1) Blood, spies and Bulgarians
For those of you who, like me, can’t stop watching crime thrillers, our global crime cartel sleuth, Caryn Dolley, has a cracker of a story. Let me give you a hint. Remember Vladimir Putin’s friend Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner supremo who marched his mercenaries to Moscow only for him and his lieutenants to mysteriously plunge from the sky in a plane crash? In her follow-up to today’s online story, Caryn has found Prigozhin’s name cropping up in accusations linked to a Bulgarian oligarch and Krasimir Kamenov, who was murdered with his wife Gergana and two of their employees in the upmarket Cape Town suburb of Constantia.
2) Balancing the Budget
Our business writer Ray Mahlaka met Treasury’s new director-general, Duncan Pieterse, at his first speaking engagement with editors – and the writing is on the wall for South Africa in terms of a larger-than-expected budget deficit this year. In short, there is not enough tax revenue to meet the Budget. Ray interviewed economists and market-watchers, who offer tips to Treasury on how to stabilise public finances.
3) Sisters and brothers doing it for themselves
Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox sang it for us women standing on our own two feet, and now our associate editor, Marianne Thamm, joins the chorus. She tells us how South African men and women from all walks of life and all over the country are giving up depending on politicians for promises and handouts, and getting out there to make a difference to their lives and those of others.
4) Rocking the rugger buggers
Our sports editor, Craig Ray, is in France for Rugby World Cup 2023 and he’s not just scoffing baguettes and Brie. This week, he brings you his unique insights into our Bok squad’s remarkable morale and mindset – and he throws in his take on the innovations that coaches Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber have brought to their game. He’s all for it, and he makes a good point.
5) The promise of an awesome theatrical experience
Arts writer Keith Bain went behind the scenes to hang out with the cast of The Promise, director Sylvaine Strike’s adaptation of the 2021 Booker Prize-winning novel. The script has been adapted by the book’s author, Damon Galgut, who has collaborated closely with Strike to tease out new dimensions for his story about the decline of “a typical bunch of white South Africans” who hail from a small farm outside Pretoria. The play is currently running in Cape Town and will be coming to Joburg next month. Enjoy!
That’s it for now, folks. As always, send any suggestions, thoughts or comments to me at [email protected]
Yours in defence of truth,
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.