The migration has begun and support for those who stand in opposition to the Commander-in-Thief is growing by the day. But many will say that big business has waited too long to stand up, with the sequence of events in South Africa’s state capture saga playing out, reading like a fiction novel that could not have been scripted with greater intrigue and a more sinister plot.
“South Africa’s political turmoil has become an uncanny theatre of unbelievable proportions,” an international investor and friend was telling me last week, adding that “if this stuff was foreseen a decade ago, the maximum amount of capital and talent flight would have crippled the country by now”.
Fortunately, this stuff isn’t predicable and even if the extent of state capture and corruption was somehow magically forecast and put down on paper for business and industry leaders to read a decade ago, they would have laughed it off in disbelief as wild conjecture and scaremongering.
However, many a thoughtful tale of speculative economic meltdown due to poor governance and questionable state leadership has been written. Thought leaders such as Moletsi Mbeki, Clem Sunter and more recently, RW Johnson, have told the scary stories, as have many opinionistas scripted the dire warnings. “Ah, but you see,” the powerful business leadership might have said, “this is speculation which we will put down to sensationalism, conspiracy theories and guesswork. Someone will surely step in to halt the turmoil if it ever gets that bad.”
But who will stop the rot? Who will government take seriously? Certainly not the electorate, despite signs of change emerging in recent years, unless they become unruly like the riotous students. It is, after all, big business leadership that has the strongest cards to play in the area of government behaviour change.
So here we are in November 2016 and it’s all real. The fan has been hit. Our State-Owned Entities (SOEs), which control most of the intensive state capital project spending, have spiralled into deep trouble and debt through unnecessary borrowing, dubious accounting practices and wasteful expenditure amounting to hundreds of billions in questionable projects and corruption. The capture of our SOEs is no secret, with most of these under the control of Zuma’s connected henchmen for several years now.
Looking into state spending trends, one sees the rest of the world building two to three highways for the same price that Sanral pays to build one. Similarly, the rest of the world builds three to four coal-fired power stations for every one that Eskom builds. And let’s not get started on trains, airline funding deals and numerous other consultant arrangements that sink their teeth into investor bonds and Treasury’s coffers. Unfortunately it’s the poor that suffer the most, when less funding is available for social upliftment through improved education, health, security and other stuff that makes a nation prosper.
The tentacles of corruption and state coffer plundering has now reached unsustainable proportions, with many a senior governing authority implicated in significant wrongdoing somewhere along the way. While little is being done about it now, civil action entities and a future government intolerant of corruption will have a field day in tracking down the money and keeping our courts and jails filled with the transgressors.
The mistrust in South Africa’s government is high and the public no longer believes in the appointments made by their president. Sadly for Ms Busisiwe Mkhwebane, until she displays strong actions and a clear distaste for state abuse as the new Public Protector, she will unfortunately be labelled as a Zuma lackey. That’s unfortunately the way it is, just as NPA head Shaun Abrahams is perceived as a Zuma lackey. With his true colours now tattooed on his forehead, the pubic have worked out how to tell when he is lying. When his lips move.
The list of Zuma lackeys is long and many can recite them without applying much thought. They head up the ministries and state-owned entities within transport, energy, communication and information technology, among many others.
But the evidence of state capture has not only raised its head in recent months. It’s been around for years. The extremely high cost of construction has been around for long enough to spark the much needed outcry and investigation. Yet nothing has happened.
The fact that Eskom gets away with the excessive electricity tariff hikes for so long is a sin. It is a tragedy to know that only four or five entities take the time to participate and challenge Eskom’s Multi Year Price Determination (MYPD) for excessive electricity tariffs this year. And guess what? Big business, which could offer so much value, is largely missing in action at these important sessions.
Yes, we are enlightened and somewhat uplifted to see the stirrings and rumblings of big business speaking up and taking a stand against the mess. But we ask that they do not stop when Zuma appeases them. That they go beyond the boundaries of business-as-usual and get more involved in many other areas of nation building, corruption fighting and holding those who abuse their authority to account. To be consistent in their stance and have a heightened sense of moral courage. DM