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South Africa – so much promise, so many broken promis...

Defend Truth


South Africa – so much promise, so many broken promises

By Mike Abel
22 Nov 2020 1

Mike Abel is a leading marketing and advertising practitioner. He is Founder & Chief Executive of M&Saatchi Abel and M&C Saatchi Group of companies operating in SA. He is former CEO of M&C Saatchi Group, Australia and before that, co-led the Ogilvy South Africa Group as COO and Group Managing Director, Cape Town. Mike has been awarded Advertising Leader by the Financial Mail and Finweek and his company was named Best Agency in SA in 2015. His company is home to The Street Store, the open-source, pop-up clothing store for the homeless which has become a global movement. He is a speaker and writer.

South Africa could easily become a winning country, like we are in sport and banking, and were once in mining and many industries. It is easy to fix with the will, intent and the right people in the right places. But it is all being hidden in racist rhetoric, blame, victimisation and obfuscation.

I’m feeling very sad and frustrated for those marching for land in Sea Point because if I were to march, it would be to Luthuli House, Parliament and the Union Buildings.

Since 1994, we have been a democracy and our country’s economy was meant to be meaningfully unlocked and opened for all within the construct of a world-leading, non-racial Constitution which was meant to actively redress our past.

A full generation later, still under the ANC government, and while progress was certainly made, the necessity still exists to enhance the lives of many millions.

The early days of our democracy saw great progress being made under the Mandela and Mbeki presidencies. A far greater black middle class was developed with decent economic growth – and many more jobs created as we became respected citizens of the global economy, from having rightfully been pariahs under the tyranny of apartheid.

Sadly, our infrastructure wasn’t maintained sufficiently and we saw the significant cracks appearing at Eskom and the like around 2005/6.

This situation has deteriorated as we have seen hundreds of billions of rand stolen via these state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and have little to show for the flawed construction of Kusile, Medupi and the innumerable other “bailout plans”.

In 2008 we saw how Jacob Zuma, Julius Malema (then with the ANCYL) and their cohorts ousted Thabo Mbeki at Polokwane, which was a de facto coup, for other than significant AIDS mismanagement (which was not the issue at hand) Mbeki was dumped in favour of a man who had many open criminal cases against him.

Shortly thereafter Malema was thrown out of the ANC and started the EFF and was soon embroiled in tender scandals, tax evasion allegations and consistent racial attacks and would-be genocidal murmurings, which continue unchecked, together with violent attacks on parliamentary security, journalists, allegedly firing live ammunition at rallies and the VBS scandal. All tragically real and true.

Back to 2008: Over the next 10 years the order of the day from a government and municipal perspective was to simply rob the country blind, and the economic transformation agenda was put squarely on the back-burner.

Lethal pit toilets remain in schools, little enhancement was made to education and healthcare (quite the contrary) and we saw the ascendancy of an Indian foreign-national family, the Guptas, assume the “presidency” as they dismembered our economy in partnership with the most senior government officials – entirely for personal wealth creation.

During this decade, opposition parties raised no less than 10 votes of no confidence against Zuma, and through seven of the eight attempts to remove him, the ANC voted 100% in support of keeping him.

It was only at Nasrec that, finally, the ANC decided, by the thinnest margin, to replace Zuma with Cyril Ramaphosa – and since then many have frantically tried to remove the new president.

Zuma remains a key power broker in these attempts and despite overwhelming evidence of a shattered economy and more than R1-trillion missing, he still wields considerable power with his cohorts. How, is a complete mystery.

The secretary-general of the ANC is out on bail and despite a public announcement that all party officials under investigation have to step down, Ace Magashule has refused to do so.

We have a litany of examples of unbridled corruption – Estina Dairy, Optimum, Tegeta, sold fuel reserves, all the SOEs, Hlaudi Motsoeneng and the SABC, the wrong trains, wanted felons escaping our borders, PIC financing failed media houses, ministers flying to Dubai to meet the Gupta cabal, and so forth. The list is literally endless and there are our hollowed-out municipalities countrywide, to boot…

So, back to the march in Sea Point. The City of Cape Town put Tafelberg School up for sale in an open tender. Many parties bid for it and the highest bidder secured it. Then an important issue arose. Low-income housing. I fully support the need for low-income and accessible housing and perhaps the funds raised from selling the school could have helped create proximate low-income housing in open land in the city/District Six surrounds.

It is incredibly costly to knock down a school, not derive a selling price of well over R100-million and then build low-cost housing. You can build far more and cheaper housing on an empty, bigger plot where you can hopefully use some of the funds raised and create something bespoke.

This fact is not elitist or unsympathetic. The suggestion is simply a factual and practical one. Right now, given historic non-delivery, it’s too emotionally charged for calm and reason to prevail.

Always in politics you need to be able to effectively balance policy with practicality. A good example is how the DA policy of being non-racial and not seeing race as a policy results in a pure white leadership team.

We have had peace in South Africa for 26 years; we have fertile land, vast mineral resources, incredible innovation, know-how, brilliant minds, reliable labour (we manufacture complex products like cars for the world) and can achieve anything.

It fails hopelessly in transforming the leadership of the party in practical terms while doggedly pursuing a “non-racial” policy. We simply cannot redress the past by being colour blind. You have to see colour and address it constructively and deliberately in order to drive meaningful transformation.

Back to housing. How many houses could be built for the more than R30-billion our Auditor-General claims goes to fruitless and wasteful expenditure every single year?

How many houses could be built for the R10-billion that went to SAA this year alone… ignoring the tens of billions over the past decade on this bottomless pit under Malusi Gigaba, Lynne Brown and Dudu Myeni?

SAA, if we wanted a national carrier, could so easily have licensed its brand to a proven operator, incurred zero cost or risk and raked in royalties (pure income) on the licence agreement. A win-win. As I always say, own the opportunity, not the overhead…

So, here we are with marches, accusations and racial violence re-emerging as a result of not addressing the actual underlying issues.

If you look at a tiny strip of desert land, one-fifth the size of KZN alone, Israel has no arable land without hydroponics, little potable water without desalination and no mineral wealth – but with determination and ingenuity it has a sizable economy, high employment levels and a decent GDP. Every day the country faces an existential crisis (since inception) as it is surrounded by enemies. Yet Israel prevails and is today, second to Silicon Valley on tech.

We have had peace in South Africa for 26 years; we have fertile land, vast mineral resources, incredible innovation, know-how, brilliant minds, reliable labour (we manufacture complex products like cars for the world) and can achieve anything.

But the tragic victim mentality has to end if we want to fix our magnificent country.

The unions fight against privatising SOEs, yet that is the very thing that will provide job security and grow employment.

Every day emotional decisions override and cloud basic logic.

We need to grow far more of an inclusive economy, a sharing culture and create employment. The only way to do this is through economic growth.

This comes from domestic and foreign investment, which will not arrive without economic and social stability.

South Africa could easily become a winning country, like we are in sport and banking, and were once in mining and many industries.

To do this we must not only kill corruption, but we must make wise fiscal decisions. Bailing out SAA as it was done is irresponsible. We must slash our bloated and unsustainable state wage bill. We must incentivise growth and investment initiatives, cut red tape and allocate our money to housing, education and health. And rebuild our infrastructure and SOEs with experts, not cadres and cronies.

It is all possible to fix with the will, intent and the right people in the right places. It’s all being hidden in racist rhetoric, blame, victimisation and obfuscation.

Hold your political parties responsible for delivery. Become active citizens and refuse to accept no delivery and any corruption.

Reject populism as it’s a guaranteed formula for failure and anarchy – and actively drive transformation and inclusivity yourself in all your endeavours.

We can each make a massive difference if we take on the responsibility of fighting injustice, intolerance, bullshit, non-delivery and greed.

I’m tired of the political empty promises, the armchair activists and popinjays who suddenly appear at rallies with zero credibility or runs on the board. Together we will fix this country or together we will allow it to be broken further.

Big or small actions – it’s all in our hands. DM


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  • Great piece and succinctly exposes the reality in SA. We could be such a winning country – a place in the sun for all. With an inept, parasitic and corrupt government and movement, way past its sell by date, plus unions who are stuck in failed communist doctrines, and the masses who can’t connect the dots to understand who the real enemies are, its a pipe dream. Stealing money from the taxpayer is a SA national sport and justified as taking from WMC. This is what one is dealing with. However, we still liver in hope!

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