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Much has been said about the South African economy and its extremely poor growth prospects, primarily due to corruption. Way gone are the heady days of economic growth under Thabo Mbeki and the magnificent trajectory that Nelson Mandela put us on 26 years ago with our beautiful, non-racial democracy. For South Africa to get off its knees, it has to pivot. Right now. Here are five ‘pivots’ to get this magnificent but hugely troubled country back on track.
And yet, here we are, almost three decades later, post the 10 lost Zuma years, with many of his players occupying the same or similar positions, and we are wondering why the country is not moving forward, but intensely blaming our past for our current maladies. And of course, the hideous and painful legacy of apartheid will last in some shape and form for decades, but to blame it for our current level of unemployment and poor economic growth is to not face many of the harsh facts and realities at play. It is to not face the truth of where we currently find ourselves.
I despised apartheid and we all still have significant work ahead of us to create a far more equal, more inclusive, just and fairer society (I have written many, many articles on this offering accessible suggestions and solutions over the years), so please do not see any part of this piece as denying the harsh legacy of our past as a backdrop to where we are, but there has also been scant evidence of progress since 2008 in addressing this situation. In fact, quite the opposite.
We have seen the country become a feeding trough for politicians and their well-connected associates, which has seen our state-owned enterprises crippled, raped and denuded of money and talent, we have seen hospitals and schools left to go to ruin, with no concern for the plight of the poor, the elderly or our youth. We still have pit toilets for heaven’s sake, which literally rob children of their lives. We have recently seen bizarre Covid scooter “ambulances” launched with WW2 looking sidecar beds, and food parcels for the desperate not reaching their desired recipients, and the solution to all this, is the oldest trick in the world. Divide and rule. Play the race card to distract from failure.
South Africa will have NO future if this divisive, populist rhetoric, coming from the highest office in our land, does not stop. You cannot plunder more than R1-trillion out of the economy and dismantle our SOEs 20 years after apartheid and expect the economy not to stumble, investment not to retreat and employment not to implode.
As recently as a month ago, our auditor-general reported R40-billion of our tax money went to “fruitless and wasteful expenditure”. A euphemism for mostly theft. There is nothing new in what I have said above, and news channels like BBC and Sky have recently covered the deplorable state of our public hospitals with no mattresses or sheets on beds for the sick, and rats drinking blood on the floors. It’s the stuff of horror movies and a line in the sand where every right-thinking citizen should now say “enough is enough”.
Where is our R1,287,700,000,000 (that is over one thousand two hundred and eighty-seven billion rand) in collected tax revenue actually going? And more importantly, how do we ensure it’s optimally deployed. It is the proceeds of our hard work after all and not that of government…
So that is the rear-view mirror. The past. Something we can do nothing about other than learn from and not repeat the mistakes. And unlock new and fresh solutions to fix and build our society. To overcome our recent and tragic history of inequality and injustice. And to embrace our Constitution as a non-racial society.
Some may deliberately choose to see this as an attack on the president or our government. It is neither. It is a factual statement of truth. The first step in fixing a problem. What follows are my heartfelt suggestions and recommendations for trying to fix this magnificent but hugely troubled country.
So, what do I mean by “pivot”? It’s looking at what you currently have. All the skills, assets, resources and talent, and combine them into a totally fresh combination, model and output to achieve a far better result in the current market conditions, than applying the existing approach.
It’s also really important to note that business and individuals collectively make ALL the money for our country. And then the government chooses how to spend it. We need a partnership in this approach now, as it currently is simply not working on any level.
Pivot 1: Best of breed
The only way to grow our economy is through investment. The only way to achieve this is through providing a fertile environment for growth. We need an entirely new compact between our government and business. Both domestic and international. Between our government and other First World and developed countries. Not the flotsam and jetsam kleptocracies who currently rob and deny their own people of opportunity and the vast resource wealth of those countries. I had a long-time mentor and boss, the advertising legend, Bob Rightford, who had a simple saying: “First class business in a first-class way”. That must be our filter.
The president must assemble a dream team of our top CEOs, and we have many of them, who are true world-class players. Titans and captains of industry in banking, mining, insurance, telecoms, technology, agriculture, education, the marketing industry and more, who can help develop an urgent action plan to entice domestic and foreign investment and for business partnerships and collaborations to fix our ailing SOEs, to build infrastructure and to expand their companies in this market. Investment is THE ONLY WAY out of unemployment. Turning the country’s population into “pensioners” living off the state is a proven recipe for disaster.
Pivot 2: South Africa is open for business: Becoming the easiest place in the world to do business
This dream team of CEOs and business leaders must partner with our finance minister and head of SARS to create a highly impactful business case for investing in South Africa. It must radically cut red tape and provide huge and compelling short, medium and long-term incentives for investment.
We must engage the unions in a fresh partnership and build the case for job creation and employment off a new model. The old paradigm will only intensify unemployment and if indeed the various unions’ remit is to look after the welfare and jobs of their members, they need to buy into a workable plan that shows them how to sustainably create and build jobs. Strike action, stayaways and digging in your heels does not build an economy nor jobs. In fact, quite the reverse. South Africa is in direct competition with the rest of the continent and the world for business. We need to understand and internalise this.
Any residual goodwill towards our country has been totally eroded by our endemic levels of cronyism and related corruption. This must end now if one is to unlock a better and brighter future. I have no doubt, if taken on the journey in a collaborative way, that our trade unions would buy into a model of creating, enhancing and protecting jobs. That is their sole mandate after all.
So, what incredible investment arguments, business cases and packages can we create to unlock and attract investment? There are many we can think of quickly that will get both developed countries and leading blue-chip companies to reconsider us.
Pivot 3: Tackling corruption in partnership with South Africa’s lawyers, the NPA and the judiciary
The country urgently needs an iron fist to deal with corruption. We need to leapfrog our current position of an inability to deal with it in both intent and sheer volume, to be an international leader in having a zero-tolerance for crime and hopefully thereby partner with the international community for ideas, solutions and resources.
How many tens of billions can our Asset Forfeiture Unit in partnership with Interpol reclaim? It is our money and we must not allow the local and foreign fugitives to get away with this theft of our invaluable resources. The VBS arrests were a great start, but what is the next step and consequence of the Zondo Commission? When are we going to see meaningful arrests for the State Capture project, Estina Dairy, the illegal sale of our fuel reserves, Steinhoff and the other multibillion-rand scams that have been pulled off in the past decade.
Our government, through the NPA, should approach the judiciary and the SA Law Society to see what fresh and effective plans, processes and resources can be allocated in collaboration with local and international law firms to achieve effective convictions and whereby they are also rewarded through a commission structure/percentage of the ill-gotten means they get back for the country.
Pivot 4: De-urbanisation, subsistence farming and a whole new model for healthier living
The country was gripped by unemployment and poverty before Covid-19. This has dramatically intensified and we need highly innovative models to deal with this profound problem and tragedy. We are, fortunately, a country rich and abundant in arable and highly livable land. I have been a proponent for many years of implementing a proven and successful kibbutz-like model in South Africa to provide skills and training in developing subsistence farms where education and healthcare are hardwired into the overall model.
We can then create a grassroots model, unique to our situation, and help unemployed and poverty-stricken people leave overcrowded townships and develop new modern farm cities. Existing small country villages should be the start of these new projects.
More than 50% of the world’s money is held by less than 1% of the world’s population. We should approach the Gates Foundation and other global billionaires to help fund this Humanity Project.
We need to approach the world’s richest and most influential people and companies (and hopefully philanthropists) through the Presidency: The Buffets, Brins, Arnault, Pages, Zuckerbergs, Ellisons, Waltons, Bettancourts, Jobs, Bezos and the rest. Wealthy countries and corporations each fund/sponsor a village/kibbutz and hopefully even get them producing or manufacturing something for their sprawling empires and markets.
It is not about free handouts, but by giving a helping hand in using our proven labour force (we manufacture sophisticated cars for the world here already, and lots more), so on our weak currency we should be a very enticing manufacturing hub whilst also contributing to uplifting society and humanity. Remember that truism, “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime”.
Maybe the IMF could be the patron and sponsor of this project with global auditing firms volunteering the strict checks and balances required.
So, as you can see there are many, simple ideas that can truly work. If I can come up with this list, many people can add to it, offer their services and try to turn this ship around.
First and foremost we need our president, Cyril Ramaphosa, to buy into it and liberate the country to activate this plan. If he wants the ANC to win the next election resoundingly, it will be by allowing the talent that resides in our country to have the mandate to fix it, because the solutions will not be coming from government departments nor their employees.
As I said earlier, we, the people of South Africa and our businesses, make ALL the money for the country. The government just gets to spend it. The time has come for an intense partnership to now fix this place.
Pivot 5: Deeds, not words
The time for talking and empty promises is over. We now need action.
Mr President, are you up for this critical pivot? DM