Opinionista Michael Fridjhon 23 March 2017

Cadre deployment does little for the country’s future – or the wine industry

Just as the ANC cannot suddenly introduce meritocratic performance as an employment criterion anywhere that supporters have been rewarded with a job, the wine industry cannot suddenly abandon its accredited training systems and its community outreach projects, whether or not they are really producing palpable benefits.

Like everything else that has been left to cadre deployment, essential infrastructure has collapsed in a welter of ineptitude and corruption. Not all these failures are equal: as the roads get worse, the number of off-road vehicles on urban roads simply increases. As power availability and distribution deteriorates, businesses which require ample supplies of electricity simply shut down or generate the own requirements. However, when, through lack of foresight and planning, the state fails to provide water for urban dwellers, there’s no easy fix. If you think the current service delivery protests have the potential to turn scary, the great-granddaddy of them all lurks in the failure to deliver clean fresh water to the 15-million or so residents (12-million South African citizens and probably three-million foreigners) living in Gauteng and delivering more than a third of the country’s GDP.

Of course this is symptomatic of a greater malaise: the belief that past injustices can be used to justify present pillaging. There may be a sense of symmetry to this “logic” but it is both functionally indefensible (a shirt stolen from Edgars in Eastgate cannot be returned to Stuttafords in Sandton City) and not conducive to proper nation building. To feed more people, the cake must grow in size, so it’s not a good idea to attack the bakers.

Harvard Professor Ricardo Hausmann made this very clear at a recent CDE briefing when he highlighted the dangers of creating an internal enemy — white monopoly capital. This, he said, “is based on a fundamental lie and is super-counterproductive… But it is a scapegoat and a dangerous one because it puts the accent on the firms that exist when the problem of SA is the firms that do not yet exist that need to employ the nine-million people who don’t work.”

Blaming someone or something else to deflect attention from one’s own shortcomings is not a uniquely South African solution to political incompetence, though, as with many things, we’ve taken the sleights of hand of others and raised them to an art form. For Hitler the problem with the post-Great War German economy was the Jews, and the strategy of blaming them for his country’s ills turned out to be potent muti in his quest for power. Only afterwards (and the post-World War ll generation of Germans is still paying the price for this) did the lie seem obvious, but by then tens of millions of people were dead and the country lay in ruins.

The Cape wine industry has been wrestling (sort of) with the problem of transformation. However, since the wine business is intrinsically unprofitable (it’s estimated that around 50% of all producers are actually losing money), it doesn’t lend itself to the kind of BEE deals that worked so well with listed companies in the 1990s. With no easy way to change the complexion of the farming or production side, and plenty of pressure to look like it’s doing the right thing, the industry has come up with a host of proposals – all with suitably arcane BBBEEE “scorecard” acronyms. These include L&D (Learning and Development), LMS (Learner Management Systems), SEC (Socio-Economic Development) and ED (Enterprise Development) – terminology that would make its way easily to George Orwell’s Top 10 list.

There are numberless courses for cellar workers (“skills enhancement”) as well as a smattering of programmes for those who work in the vineyards. As one committed but pragmatic producer put it recently: “You will be surprised to see how many ‘certificates’ we ‘issue’ annually… From fire prevention to health and safety to forklift and tractor driving to how to prune young vines, Windows95, MS Word 97, etc etc.”

Rosa Kruger, one of the country’s foremost viticulturists, is less concerned about scorecards and more concerned with the systemic issues affecting wineland communities. Her arguments are to-the-point, simple and blunt, and relate primarily to the importance of introducing basic training for vineyard workers, and making it compulsory for farmers to send their workers to attend two such courses every year. “Empowerment starts with education. Social upliftment starts with education. I have lost too many vineyard workers to Tik, TB and violence, to not notice the absolute desperation. I think by education we can start the long and cumbersome process of upliftment.” If Kruger has her way, the obligation to send vineyard workers on these courses would become mandatory for producers seeking certification under the Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) guidelines.

Here is where the Orwellian world of not-very-useful acronyms misses the intersection with the real world. Like “cadre deployment” (which really means giving the largely under-skilled party faithful the money which should be invested in managing existing infrastructure and building new power stations, pipes and roads before the old ones collapse), many of the options chosen by the industry are scorecard-related. They sound good, they may even make those involved feel good, but they’re not doing much for the country’s future.

However, they share with cadre deployment the status they enjoy simply by being entrenched. Just as the ANC cannot suddenly introduce meritocratic performance as an employment criterion anywhere that supporters have been rewarded with a job, the wine industry cannot suddenly abandon its accredited training systems and its community outreach projects, whether or not they are really producing palpable benefits. However, there is also a difference: whatever the shortcomings of the industry’s formal efforts, the intention is to produce a higher skills and happiness quotient. The same obviously cannot be said about cadre deployment. DM

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