South Africans must unite against farm attacks

Young farm manager Brendin Horner’s brutal torture and murder may come to mark a tipping point for South Africa. It could strengthen radical groupings on the left and right, further polarizing and racialising our society, risking a rural civil war of sorts. Or it could strengthen the centre, spurring South Africans from all communities to come together against this attack on our farming community and food security and more broadly against lawlessness.

The EFF has been quick to use this issue to incite violence. On Wednesday, Malema tweeted “Magwala a chechele morago! (Cowards move to the back) Fighters attack!” in response to Tuesday’s incident of violence outside the Senekal Magistrate’s Court where the two men accused of Horner’s murder appeared. EFF MP Nazier Paulsen posted a picture of a machine gun captioned “Get ready!” Racial hatred and division are the lifeblood of their political support.

This reckless, irresponsible opportunism must meet a united front against violence, criminality and racism. South Africa’s society is growing evermore fragile and volatile. Those in the centre need to stand together behind a powerful set of principles: the rule of law, equality before the law, non-violence, and nonracialism. Only with these principles and a plan to enforce them will we overcome the forces tearing our country apart.

There is absolutely no justification for farm attacks, no matter the race of victim or perpetrator. This brutality is a sickness and a crime against our humanity. These crimes cannot continue to be committed with impunity. It is only when people demand and see accountability that criminality and violence will decline. There is also no justification for the destruction of public property as we saw in Senekal this week, no matter the race of the perpetrator. All must be equal before the law, and the law must be able to run its course.

This moment calls for strong, uniting leadership. President Ramaphosa needs to break his silence and condemn farm attacks. He should unequivocally retract his infamous 2018 denial of farm murders. When EFF members attend the second hearing of Horner’s attackers next week as Malema has called on them to do, these “fighters” as he calls them will be looking for a fight with those whose anger and frustration is at boiling point. President Ramaphosa should call for peace to prevail and make it clear that violence will not be tolerated.

His government has a constitutional duty to promote tolerance and the protection of all citizens. He should replace Police Minister Bheki Cele who has failed to take decisive action and refused to classify farm attacks as priority crimes even though it is today four times more dangerous to be on a farm than in other areas of SA. Instead Cele has aggravated the situation, most recently this morning by attempting to blame farmers themselves for farm attacks.

Farm attacks must be classified as priority crimes, so that more resources, manpower and expertise can be dedicated to fighting them. Farming is already an incredibly high-risk vocation in South Africa, not just because farming is so heavily dependent on the weather, but also because of the threat of expropriation of farms. The constant fear felt by farmers and farmworkers is becoming unbearable. Make no mistake, this coordinated attack on our farming community is also an attack on our food security.

The DA has called for a debate of national importance in Parliament and a joint ministerial summit on rural safety. Government can no longer turn a blind eye to this escalating crisis. We need to see a massive increase in research and statistics on this issue. Crime intelligence and investigative capacity must be boosted in rural areas.

Fully outfitted, dedicated rural policing units must be reestablished. Farm patrols must be supported and court watching briefs must be allocated to closely track court investigations and court proceedings to ensure attackers end up behind bars.

More broadly, the DA will continue to drive the issue of land ownership and financial support for emerging farmers and we will continue to fight expropriation without compensation. These are two areas of policy failure putting immense pressure on South Africa’s farming community.

There is uncertainty about the motives behind farm attacks but there can be no uncertainty amongst law-abiding South Africans that enough is enough. Let us unite behind the rule of law, equality before the law, non-violence and nonracialism. The vast majority of South Africans are tolerant, peace-loving and law-abiding. We cannot let our society be sabotaged by the radical, violent few. We must stand together and demand accountability.

State must “get out the way” of economic recovery

It is now incontrovertible that lockdown greatly exacerbated the real disasters we face as a nation – poverty, unemployment, and inequality – hitting the most vulnerable hardest and causing far more suffering and loss of life than it prevented. Ramaphosa’s government is directly responsible and the very least they can do now is get out the way of South Africa’s economic recovery.

Two sets of socioeconomic data released this week confirmed what should have been obvious to all on 27 March 2020 when lockdown was implemented: that anything longer than a short, well-managed lockdown to buy time to implement more targeted interventions would wreak major destruction on a nation already in crisis.

StatsSA reported that 2 200 000 people lost their jobs in the second quarter of this year, with broad unemployment increasing from 39% to an unprecedented 42%, and youth unemployment (age 15-24 years) to almost 75%.

The NIDS-CRAM Survey Wave 2 gives valuable insight into the social effects of lockdown, which have been largely hidden from view, unlike the Covid death toll which is splashed on dashboards and reported on daily in the media.

  • Nearly 1 in 4 shack dwellers experienced hunger every week in July and August. Nationally, hunger rates are still substantially above pre-lockdown levels.
  • The 3 million jobs lost between February and April had not returned by June despite the partial easing of lockdown restrictions, suggesting these losses may be long-lasting.
  • From February to June, the most disadvantaged groups (poor, rural, women, unskilled, less educated) experienced the largest declines in employment and the slowest recoveries, with the percentage drop in employment 10 times higher for the poorest 50% of workers compared to the riches 25%.
  • 311 000 domestic workers lost their jobs.
  • 40% of school days will be lost for most children in 2020, with education inequality increasing.
  • ECD attendance levels were still down 75% relative to historical levels a month after programmes were allowed to reopen, mostly because ECD centres couldn’t afford to reopen.

This data vindicates the DA’s early call to end the lockdown, which was met with outrage at the time, when we argued that poverty kills by stunting bodies and lives, that lockdowns kill, that the poor and young would suffer most, and that growing inequality would dangerously destabilize society.

It is not good enough for government to claim these are “unintended consequences”. Many things have “shocked” Ramaphosa, but no self-respecting president can claim not to have foreseen the catastrophic socioeconomic consequences of shutting down an economy in recession and forcing people to stay inside their homes for weeks on end.

It is crucial that we as a nation recognise lockdown as a monumental blunder on the part of government. Because rule number 1 for recovering from lockdown is to not go back into lockdown if covid cases start to rise again. But also, because Ramaphosa’s government must be held to account for the devastation. South Africa needs a new government.

Anyone who believes that the same government that caused this devastation can lead a rapid economic recovery is living in fairyland. And indeed, Ramaphosa’s “Economic Recovery Action Plan” is the stuff of fairy tales.

The evidence suggests that these 3 million job losses and our economic depression may be long lasting. Lockdown has turned to slowdown. A recovery even just to pre-lockdown levels of employment requires bold pro-growth reforms to free up the private sector.

Instead, Ramaphosa’s plan is to double down on state-led “development”, a contradiction in terms for a state as hollowed out and incapable as ours. Dyed-in-the-wool communist, Trade and Industry Minister Ibrahim Patel, is to tell us what we may and may not import, fresh from telling us what shoes and shirts we may and may not wear. Investment-killing NHI is to forge ahead. BEE regulations are to be strengthened. Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi, recently fingered as having received payments from Mr Edwin Sodi in the asbestos audit scandal and champion of tighter employment equity regulations, is to chair the Economic Recovery Leadership Team. You can’t make this stuff up.

The only possible economic recovery for SA is one which is market-led. The individual choices and risk assessments of 58 million people must direct what gets produced and how much. Power to the people who care about their lives, not to the state that doesn’t. No government that cares about people’s lives would cut R10.5 billion from social programmes at a time like this to resuscitate bankrupt SAA. It is unforgivable that public transport for the rich is being subsidised while people are starving.

The government cannot even perform its own core roles to any acceptable level – witness stolen railway lines, crumbling infrastructure, broken health and school systems, bankrupt municipalities, and delayed social security payments. Nor can it run its own businesses – witness bankrupt Eskom, SAA, Denel, SABC, SAPO and Transnet. Yet it wants to direct the private sector, the only sector which still has capacity.

We need open, competitive energy and labour markets. We must decisively reject investment-killing policies such as NHI, EWC, BEE, prescribed assets, and Reserve Bank nationalisation. We must stop bailing out state-owned enterprises. We need high-level arrests of corruption suspects Jacob Zuma, Ace Magashule, Nomvula Mokonyane, Gwede Mantashe and the like, to stop corruption in its tracks and build immediate confidence in South Africa. Scapegoating through token arrests of small-fry suspects is not going to cut it.

Only if our corrupt, incapable state gets out the way of innovation and entrepreneurship in this country will jobs be created at the scale required, and will the financial reserves be generated to offer a strong safety net and trampoline to those pushed down by lockdown. What Ramaphosa envisages as a state-led recovery, will more likely be a state-blocked recovery. The DA’s headline advice for government’s economic recovery action plan is just four words long: Get out the way.

DA is the party of economic inclusion

September has been a defining month for the Democratic Alliance. I am extremely proud of the way the party conducted our virtual policy conference, and even more so of the resolutions we adopted.

We have now anchored ourselves to a set of extraordinarily powerful and enduring values and principles, including non-racialism, redress, compassion, and integrity. I cannot conceive of a more solid foundation on which to unite and build our party and our country, a higher standard against which to measure ourselves in government and in opposition, nor a more reliable loadstar for policymaking.

Non-racialism means non-discrimination on the basis of race. Inherent in this principle is the imperative to compensate past racial discrimination.

In line with this commitment to non-racialism we adopted an economic redress policy that targets disadvantage, rather than race. Importantly, it prioritises those who still suffer – and suffer most – the consequences of past discrimination and exclusion: the over 30 million South Africans living below the poverty line, excluded from the economy. In so doing, the DA committed to the economic inclusion of all who live in South Africa.

This is not to deny that past discrimination and exclusion were race-based. On the contrary, the DA is not a political home for anyone who denies that Apartheid and colonialism disadvantaged people on the basis of race, and that this disadvantage must be systematically dismantled. Nor is it to deny the existence of racism and racialism, which grew from the false belief in a scientific basis for race. Rather, it is to hold that it is preferable to compensate past exclusion by directly addressing the factors which perpetuate that exclusion than by racial discrimination in the other direction.

Not only is this the better route to a fairer society, it also puts clear blue water between the DA and the ANC, offering an approach to tackling racialised inequality that avoids the serious shortcomings of the ANC’s race-based redress policies, BEE and employment equity (EE).

It avoids the need to resort to racial classification, for which there exists neither scientific nor constitutional basis. It enriches the poor, which is in everyone’s best interest, while race-based redress enables the enrichment and re-enrichment of a connected elite, at the expense of the rest of society, who get less value from public spending, due to inflated tenders and non-merit-based appointments in the public service. And it aligns with the globally accepted approach to measuring and incentivising companies’ social contribution, the UN’s social development goals, and so will attract rather than deter investment as BEE and EE do. This is crucial, given SA’s unprecedented economic crisis.

This week, StatsSA confirmed that economic activity dropped by 51% in the second quarter of 2020. This massive fall follows three previous consecutive quarters of economic contraction. Ramaphosa’s lockdown has now turned a recession into a deep depression that will condemn millions more to dire poverty unless we embrace wide-ranging pro-growth reforms, one of which is to reject the ANC’s investment-killing, race-based redress policies.

Voters who are serious about tackling poverty and racialised inequality now have a clear choice: they can choose the DA, a law-abiding, non-racial party committed to a social market economy and a capable state, with a track record of delivery and a plan to tackle economic exclusion. Or they can choose the ANC, a corrupt, racial nationalist party committed to state control of the economy and cadre deployment, with a track record of economic destruction and a programme of wealth extraction for the elite.

This is the clear blue water South Africa needs if we are to build a better future for all who live here.

South Africa is a sinking Titanic amid ANC corruption

In the National Assembly yesterday during Questions to the President, President Ramaphosa insisted that South Africa is not a “sinking Titanic”, but a turning one. Here’s why he is wrong.

No matter what President Ramaphosa does or says, South Africa will remain a “sinking Titanic” while the ANC remains in national government.

The ANC is largely a patronage network and corruption is the glue that holds it together. Without corruption, the ANC will unravel. Therefore, either South Africa sinks or the ANC does. Ramaphosa confirmed recently: “I would rather be seen as a weak president than… split the ANC.”

Therefore we should not be surprised when, in the same week that he pens a 7-page letter to his party decrying corruption Zandile Gumede, former mayor of eThekwini out on bail for her part in the R400 million Durban solid waste scam, was sworn in as a member of the KZN provincial legislature. In response to the public outcry and pressure from the DA in the house yesterday, she has today been suspended on full pay, meaning she retains her R1.1 million salary. Just this week, it emerged that R158 million was spent on the salaries of suspended public servants in the six months from October 2019 to March 2020.

We should not be surprised that the party this week appointed its Secretary General Ace Magashule – corruption kingpin in the covid looting, Estina dairy and other scandals – to identify corrupt leaders within the ANC. And this job should be easy since he himself brazenly remarked this month: “Tell me of one leader of the ANC who has not done business with government”.

The ANC cannot act on corruption because almost everyone who is anyone in the ANC is implicated. Everyone has dirt on everyone else. Take one card away and the whole house of cards collapses.

Hence, Ramaphosa cannot act on his commitment yesterday to implement independent lifestyle audits for members of his executive and top government officials. Just as he did not act on that same commitment when he pledged it in his 2018 State of the Nation Address, saying they would be done by October 2018.

In sharp contrast, Western Cape Premier Alan Winde committed to lifestyle audits for his cabinet and their spouses at the beginning and end of the five-year term. The beginning-of-term audits have been completed – conducted by an independent contractor appointed through an open tender process – and show that his cabinet members live a lifestyle in line with their income and that there are no conflicts of interest.

Like it or not, BEE is the mechanism that enables ANC corruption. Ramaphosa himself is a prime BEE beneficiary, so it was unsurprising that he restated his commitment to BEE in the house yesterday. BEE may be legal, but it is not moral. It is simply an instrument to enrich a small connected elite at the expense of the poor majority, under the guise of “transformation”. It enables the glue of corruption that holds the ANC together.

But let us imagine the ANC somehow held together even as most of its leaders were sent to jail. Even in this unlikely event, the Titanic would keep sinking. Because the party is committed to a “state-led economic recovery”, which is frankly a contradiction in terms. The experience of Venezuela, Zimbabwe, North Korea and The Soviet Union show that centralized control sinks economies.

The ANC is South Africa’s ZANU-PF. It will sink South Africa as surely as ZANU-PF has sunk Zimbabwe.

We do not need the DA to get over 50% of the vote to save the Titanic. Rather, we need to bring the ANC below 50%, and then lead a coalition that shares our commitment to the rule of law and accountable government.

President Ramaphosa must put South Africa first, and end the lockdown

The State of Disaster – already extended – comes to an end in less than 24 hours, and there is no clarity at all on what happens next. This is unacceptable. The stranglehold this places on our country goes way beyond the immediate damaging effects of the regulations enforced under the State of Disaster, because it is the uncertainty that inflicts the most damage. Millions of livelihoods are in peril as thousands of businesses cannot plan for the immediate future, and every day more and more of them are taking the heart-breaking decision to close their doors.

Where is President Ramaphosa in all of this? How can it be that a country’s leader goes missing in the midst of its biggest crisis? We know he’s around, because he can find the time to make Women’s Day addresses or pen platitude-filled newsletters about a fantasy future, which we know will never happen under his government. But as far as making critical and urgent decisions right now to save our economy, which is fast collapsing thanks to a self-inflicted lockdown crisis, he is nowhere to be seen.

South Africa’s daily Covid-19 infection rate is declining, taking pressure off our public health system. At the same time, our recovery rate has increased significantly. While this is no reason to drop our guard, it is reason enough for President Ramaphosa to grow a spine and end the lockdown immediately and entirely.

There can be no more talk of levels that don’t serve any purpose whatsoever other than to obliterate what’s left of the economy and jobs. There can be no more bowing to narrow interest groups or the agendas of ANC factions. The lockdown must be ended right away, and along with this the irrational bans on alcohol and cigarettes as well as the curfew and travel restrictions must be lifted. And there can certainly be no consideration to extend the State of Disaster.

This is not the view of the DA or business or any specific interest group. It is the widely held view of the vast majority of our society, including government’s own political allies and its own scientific advisors. Just this week, both Cosatu and Nedlac urged the President to end a lockdown that cannot be justified. The scientists on the Ministerial Advisory Committee have long said that the lockdown should be lifted. We welcome this support for a view the DA has held ever since the initial three weeks of lockdown came to an end, and we urge the President to listen to these voices.

The virus will still be around a year, or even two, from now. We cannot remain trapped by indecision and ego until then. We must be smart when it comes to reducing the risk of transmission through masks, hygiene, distancing and ongoing testing, but we have to get out there now and rebuild our shattered economy.

Every day that the president dithers, our country is one step closer to economic ruin. Already we have lost more revenue thanks to the inexplicable ban on alcohol and tobacco than we borrowed, amid great fanfare, from the IMF. What is the point of that then? Our economy is estimated to have lost over a trillion Rand already due to this extended lockdown, and any positive outcome that might have followed the president’s much vaunted investment plans has certainly fizzled away as his government committed economic hara-kiri.

The truth is, this extended lockdown could never be justified, and President Ramaphosa knows this. But he and the ANC have painted themselves into a corner, because ending it now – without any significant increases in the country’s healthcare capacity, without any significant advances in our testing strategy and without any sign that we have contained the virus – would be an admission that it was all for nothing. And so it seems he would rather crush the economy and ruin the lives of millions than say “we got it wrong” and bring it to an end.

South Africa needs him to do the right thing for once: Act like a president, find some courage, face down the factions in his own party and end the lockdown immediately. Our economy was already in crisis before the virus arrived. Now national insolvency is all but guaranteed, while our economy lies in ruins and millions of people will suffer unnecessarily for years to come. Enough is enough. Let’s get back to work and start rebuilding.

The ANC’s Covid looting has to be the final straw

What do Bilal Erdoğan, Isabel dos Santos and María Gabriela Chávez have in common? Well, two things. One is that they are all incredibly wealthy, and the other is that they are all children of current or former presidents (of Turkey, Angola and Venezuela). And these two things are very much connected.

It’s a pretty accurate rule of thumb: where the children, wives and husbands of world leaders do exceptionally well in business it generally doesn’t take much scratching to unearth a rot of corruption. Our very own Duduzane Zuma did not amass his fortune at that tender age thanks to his extraordinary business acumen.

In countries where government corruption is endemic, the ruling elites loot because they can. Years of deliberate dismantling of investigation and prosecution bodies – and in some cases the judiciary – make it possible for them to get away with it.

But they also loot because many of them don’t actually believe it’s all that wrong. Among these ruling elite there is often a genuinely-held view that access to wealth through the state is one of the spoils of war. If you’ve clawed your way onto an upper rung of the ruling ladder, you’re somehow entitled to the perks of the position.

These are predator governments. They prey directly on the people they’re meant to serve, because the money they hoard carries a substantial opportunity cost for communities who depend on government services and social assistance for their survival. Very often this cost is the lives of the nation’s poorest citizens. Corruption is not, as former President Zuma once tried to argue, a “victimless crime”.

It’s easy to spot such predator governments, because after a short while in power all shame evaporates and all pretence is abandoned. The idea of being caught out and exposed is no longer a deterrent, and the only handbrake on the looting is whatever remains of the country’s rule of law.

This is when we see politicians unashamedly living it up far beyond the means of their supposed income. It’s when we see factional battles waged for access to these riches, which often include political assassinations. And it’s when we see a relentless feeding frenzy for the Holy Grail: government tenders and contracts.

Sound familiar? Unless you’ve been living under a rock for a couple of decades, you will clearly recognise the ANC government in all of this. Across all three spheres of government it has become synonymous with corruption, tender fraud and BEE-enabled price-gouging on a massive scale.

The big stories easily spring to mind: the Arms Deal, State Capture, Nkandla, Bosasa. But it’s the thousands of little stories of procurement looting – euphemistically called “tenderpreneurship” – across every ANC-run province and municipality that has really bled our country dry. If there’s a scam out there, the ANC has either invented it or perfected it.

And now, in a new low, the ANC has added pandemic looting to its corruption resume. In recent weeks we learnt how emergency PPE procurement became a free-for-all for the families of high-ranking ANC members. Because that’s how it’s done, with one degree of separation. It’s always a husband, wife, son or daughter who scores the windfall. And thanks to the “emergency” nature of this government spending there was no requirement for competitive pricing, which cadres duly exploited with massively inflated prices.

The cost of this looting couldn’t be higher. Inflated prices means less PPE and other equipment, and so hospitals are constantly running out, forcing healthcare workers to wash and re-use disposable equipment and even fashion their own protective gear from everyday items like rubbish bags. Sub-standard equipment supplied by get-rich-quick cadres with no history in this kind of work also poses a life-threatening danger to healthcare workers.

This looting involves hundreds of people and scores of brand new companies established only months ago to get in on the action. But predictably it is the names of close family members of top ANC politicians that always float to the top of the cesspool, many of whom are already embroiled in earlier corruption sagas.

The two sons of Ace Magashule, who were also central characters in the Gupta looting of the Free State, have suddenly become PPE suppliers. The daughter of Nomvula Mokonyane, who also benefitted from her mother’s many Bosasa bribes, is now also a PPE supplier. Even the son of President Ramaphosa, who famously ended up on the Bosasa payroll the moment his father became president, has landed himself some business modifying Gauteng taxis to make them Covid compliant.

It is brazen and shameless, and evidently a large portion of the ANC think there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. Ramaphosa faced massive pushback in the NEC when he suggested they relook the rules around families of politicians doing business with the state, and there was no shortage of ANC defenders for Magashule’s sons and Mokonyane’s daughter.

When then ANC spokesperson, Smuts Ngonyama, said back in 2004, “I did not join the struggle to be poor,” he was speaking for the party.

The latest attempt by the president to placate an increasingly outraged public – yet another toothless “inter-ministerial committee” to investigate its own Covid corruption – must be seen for what it is: window dressing.

No previous inter-ministerial committee has ever found its own ANC cadres guilty of anything. Not when it was investigating Nkandla. Not when it was investigating the Gupta landing at Waterkloof. And this will be no different. It simply creates the illusion of action. History has taught us that the looting of the state will continue, and it will go unpunished.

But while this endless corruption by the ANC and their network of cronies feels like it has infected our entire country, there is in fact a part of South Africa that has been bucking this trend with remarkable results. The DA government in the Western Cape has long prided itself on achieving clean audits from the Auditor General, but it’s not always that easy to show the direct link between clean governance and better service delivery.

The Covid crisis, however, has shone a spotlight on this. While other provinces turned emergency procurement into a feeding frenzy for connected cadres, the Western Cape government published all the recipients of its Covid procurement tenders on a public portal, because it has nothing to hide.

While other provinces now have to scramble to explain the actions of wealthy tenderpreneurs who occasionally moonlight as government officials, the Western Cape government conducted lifestyle audits of its cabinet members, all of whom passed the test.

And while all other provinces now have a dire shortage of hospital beds, a critical lack of PPE, and hospital patients fighting each other over precious oxygen supply, the Western Cape reached its peak with room to spare in its hospitals, which included four fully equipped field hospitals.

The difference between the Western Cape’s Covid response and the rest of the country is the cost of corruption. It is costing the lives of South African citizens, and we have to end it. There is no working around corruption if we want to save our country. It has to be cut out entirely.

We need to stop justifying it. There is never a legitimate level of tenderpreneurship. There is no such thing as “earned reward for the struggle”. Public service should be its own reward, and if the salary is not enough then it probably isn’t the right line of work.

We need to stop ignoring it. Just because it is relentless and exhausting doesn’t mean we can ever stop fighting it. If our country is worth fighting for, then we have to draw the line in the sand – even if it means drawing the same line every day.

And we need to stop accepting that corruption is part and parcel of our country’s future. It may be baked into the DNA of the ANC, but it doesn’t have to become baked into the DNA of South Africa. If the Western Cape’s Covid response has taught us one thing, it is that clean, transparent government is entirely possible. You just need to vote for it.

Why has our president been reduced to

The following speech was delivered by the DA Leader, John Steenhuisen MP, during his address to the nation regarding the ongoing leadership crisis in SA. 

Watch the full speech here:

Fellow citizens,

On Saturday we reached the hundred-day mark since our country went into lockdown. This is a long time, and I’m sure for many of you it feels even longer.

But the truth is we are still in the early days of dealing with this virus. Even with the world’s best scientists working day and night to develop a treatment or vaccine, it could be another 18 to 24 months before this becomes available.

We have to learn to live with the virus, as safely as we can.

Whether we like it or not, we’re in for the long haul, and this long haul cannot be life under lockdown. If people are to survive, our country needs to function. Every part of it.

We simply don’t have the reserves and surpluses that many other countries do. Each little compromise to our economy will put thousands more out of work and in danger of extreme poverty and hunger.

All our efforts now must go towards being economically active and productive once more, while doing all we can to avoid becoming infected.

And I don’t mean that our economy should function as it did before Covid. We need to do far better than that. Because even before Covid, the writing was on the wall and millions had no hope of finding work.

We can’t go back there. That’s not the benchmark. If we’re talking about a “new normal”, let our new normal be one of raised expectations and of goals worth pursuing.

Let our new normal be a brand new paradigm for our country.

Let’s use this opportunity to flip the script and walk away from the failed project of centralised state power, and instead give more power to the people of South Africa.

Let our new normal incorporate all the long-overdue reforms to our economy that the president and finance minister have been talking about, but can never seem to implement.

This is our opportunity, so let’s do it right.

We have already adjusted to so many new things in our lives these past three months, we should have no problem getting used to a few more changes – a South Africa without an SAA, or one in which Eskom doesn’t hold a stifling monopoly.

We’ll easily adapt to a new normal of flexible labour laws, and a trimmed-down public sector.

Let our new normal include a state that is actually able to deliver because it is staffed by the best, and not by political appointments.

If we’re using this opportunity to recalibrate and reset the clock, let us do it properly.

But all of this will require real leadership. And that is something we have not seen from our president since that first announcement of a lockdown a hundred days ago.

We have seen a lot of muscle flexing from ministers around meaningless regulations.

We have seen plenty of force and brutality used against our citizens.

We have seen inexplicable decisions that have caused untold harm to our economy with no measurable impact on the virus.

We have seen ministers repeatedly slapped down by our courts for abusing their power during this crisis.

But we are yet to see leadership from the one man who matters.

Throughout all of this – as the rogue ministers of the National Command Council compounded our problems with petty regulations, as our hospitals filled up and our economy imploded – President Ramaphosa has been little more than a spectator.

We needed someone to step up and take charge, but what we got was a president obsessed with dialogues, reaching out and building consensus.

And this has been the story of his presidency to date: a lot of talk and a lot of promises, but very little action or leadership.

Going into this crisis he had all the public support he needed if he truly wanted to be bold, but he squandered it.

Martin Luther King once said, “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus.”

We desperately needed the latter, but we got the former.

And that’s not what you want when your country is facing a devastating double-blow of healthcare and economic crisis.

But thanks to this dithering, we now have a third crisis to contend with – a political crisis. Because while our president has been watching it all unfold from the sidelines, others have been very busy. Most notably, COGTA Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Since the declaration of the State of Disaster, the unchecked power handed to the COGTA minister has made her our de-facto president. And she has wasted no time digging herself in.

We’ve already seen multiple commitments made by the president on live TV undone a couple of days later by Dlamini-Zuma. Her stubborn refusal to reverse the cigarette ban is her way of letting the president know exactly who is in charge.

And consider that she has the power to extend this State of Disaster indefinitely.

But even that is not enough. This week a top-secret document was leaked to the DA in which the COGTA department put forward several extremely concerning ideas on how they think our country should function.

At the heart of this document is a proposal to extend government’s centralised Command Council system well beyond the Covid19 crisis, and to include provincial command councils.

Simply put, it is a bold play to try and centralise provincial and local government power in the hands of a few.

To call this unconstitutional is an understatement. It is tantamount to a coup, as it attempts to put unelected national politicians in charge of provincial and local government functions, against the wishes of those who voted for these governments.

This is the RET faction of the ANC showing its hand against the Ramaphosa faction. And they feel comfortable doing so because they recognise weak leadership.

They are using the Covid crisis as cover to pull the rug of government from under the president’s feet, and he seems incapable of stopping it.

And all the while our country’s economy and healthcare are imploding as we head towards the really big Covid numbers.

When infections in the Western Cape were rising faster than anywhere else in the country, there was much talk of sending in the big guns, and even of threatening the province with a return to hard lockdown.

But now that provinces like the Eastern Cape and Gauteng are collapsing, national government is strangely silent.

What happened over the past months in the Western Cape has been extremely traumatic and challenging, and the province is not out of the woods yet by a long shot.

But the numbers show that the interventions there appear to be working. Infections are slowly levelling off, and hospitals – while full – have not yet been overrun as we have seen in other parts of the world.

This is no doubt thanks to the preparation of the provincial government. We know what they did to “raise the line” in terms of hospital capacity because they constantly showed us.

We saw new field hospitals at the CTICC, Khayelitsha, Brackengate and various other locations. We saw the increase in intensive care and high care beds. We saw oxygen and ventilator availability.

We knew, at all times, where and whom they were testing in order to try and contain local transmission.

In other words, we saw what this provincial government had been doing since the day they became aware of the looming crisis.

But elsewhere we have seen almost nothing. No one knows how the past fourteen weeks of lockdown were spent readying Eastern Cape hospitals for the imminent wave of Covid cases.

No one knows how many extra beds Gauteng has prepared. We haven’t seen their field hospitals. We haven’t seen their ventilators and their oxygen tanks.

And we’ve seen even less from places like KZN, Limpopo and Mpumalanga.

What we have seen from these provinces is patients fighting each other for oxygen, and entire hospitals being closed down.

Can you imagine how distressing all of this must be for those in high-risk categories?

And why are we in this position in July when we should have been preparing since March?

The purpose of the lockdown was to try and hold the virus outside for just a little longer so that we could get these things in order.

South Africans were asked to sacrifice all they had for this sole purpose. What can you possibly say to people who lost everything in the lockdown if it turns out they did it for nothing?

What do you say to vulnerable people – the elderly or those with co-morbidities – in places where the system clearly cannot cope?

But even more importantly, what will our president do about it?

President Ramaphosa, if you’re in charge, and not Minister Dlamini-Zuma, then you need to stop being a spectator to all of this and step up to the plate.

Your country needs you to do better.

Don’t be too proud to ask for help and advice from those who have already been through it.

The experience of the Western Cape provincial leadership these past few months should be of immense value to the rest of the country right now. Given what we’re seeing with the numbers there, surely these are strategies we should be replicating.

Speak openly and clearly about your plan. People need to know what’s in store for them, and they need to plan accordingly.

Businesses can’t possibly operate under chaotic regulations and with the threat of re-entering lockdown hanging over their heads.

When it comes to spending money to build prevention and treatment capacity, nothing is too much. Money should not be the problem here.

Held up against the vast amounts that have been wasted on bailing out failed SOEs like SAA – and now also bailing out the failed e-toll programme – the cost of raising the healthcare line and ramping up our testing programme is not that high.

Cut those other things and spend where it matters.

We also need to make far better use of the expertise that exists in the private sector.

Government is not in this fight alone. There are many experts out there who are able and willing to help get our testing and prevention efforts back on track. You need to reach out to them.

But above all, you must be rational when dealing with this crisis. Don’t allow your party’s factional battles, ideology or egos to get in the way of common sense.

We know, given the perilous state of our healthcare, that we cannot rely on treatment to safeguard us from this virus, and so we need to really up our prevention game.

We also know far more about the airborne spread of the virus than we did three months ago, and we have to advise citizens correctly.

One of your most important jobs, Mr President, is to tell people how to best protect themselves.

It is crucial that people always remember the three most important things that affect their chances of becoming infected: their distance from an infected person; the dose of the virus they get which depends on the time spent near this person; and the degree to which the virus is dispersed in the air.

Whatever we allow in terms of gatherings or socialising has to take these three D’s into account: distance, dose and dispersal.

In other words, always maintain distance, try not to stay close to people any longer than you have to, and try to keep the air moving by either being outdoors or by having the windows open.

We know that gatherings of people are super-spreaders, and we know that this is far worse when it happens indoors. So let’s take our small gatherings and our socialising outdoors wherever possible.

This means lifting the remaining irrational bans on beaches, parks and other outdoor places.

Let us always wear our masks when necessary and wash our hands frequently.

And let us encourage those at high risk to remain in voluntary isolation until it is safe. This includes respecting the safety of employees with co-morbidities as we all return to work.

These are the things we all can and must do to ensure our own personal safety.

What you need to do, Mr President, is take charge.

Use your position and the support you still have to fight for the safety of our citizens. Always put them first.

If the choice is between e-tolls and hospital beds, choose the beds.

If the choice is between SAA and a comprehensive testing strategy, choose testing.

And if the choice is between your party and your country, always choose your country.

That is the duty of the president. And right now our country needs a president and not just another spectator.

Stabilizing our debt: the hippo in the room

The Covid-19 pandemic and the government’s mishandling of it has brought our growing debt problem to a head. How we approach it now will determine what life in South Africa will be like for generations to come. Either more and more people slip into grinding poverty, or more and more people get onto the ladder of opportunity. This is a pivotal moment in our history.

In his emergency budget speech, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni faced up to this problem: “Our Herculean task is to close the mouth of the Hippopotamus! It is eating our children’s inheritance. We need to stop it now!”

Unfortunately, he did not and could not present a credible plan to put South Africa on a path to debt sustainability and growing prosperity. Credit rating agencies are therefore more likely to move South Africa further into junk status than back towards investment grade.

We were already caught in a low-growth, high-debt vicious cycle before the government implemented the blunt instrument indefinite economic shutdown. Having dropped from 49% of GDP in 1994 to 22% by 2008, our debt was set to breach 70% in the next three years. This terrible starting point was reflected in the unemployment figures released this week which reveal 334 000 job losses in the first quarter of 2020, before the pandemic hit.

But now the cycle is that much more vicious. Collapsing tax revenues and increased spending needs have doubled the expected budget deficit (the amount by which our spending exceeds our revenue) for this year, from 7% to 15% of GDP. The result is that debt is expected to be R4 trillion, 82% of GDP, by the end of this fiscal year.

In 2020, 21c of every tax rand goes to paying back the interest on our loans. This is more than we spend on social grants, health, or policing. This number will soon surpass even what we spend on education. The hippo is indeed eating our children’s future.

The minister set out two scenarios, passive and active. On the passive path, we stay on our current trajectory with debt-to-GDP rising to 140% by 2028. This all but guarantees a sovereign debt crisis, meaning we are unable to raise any more debt. At that point, South Africa is either a failed state like Zimbabwe and Venezuela, or the IMF steps in and takes over decision-making. Either way, there’s a lot of unnecessary suffering involved.

On the active path, debt will stabilize at 87% in three years’ time and then slowly decline. This requires us to implement economic reforms that enable growth. (I have listed some of these at the end of this newsletter.) No matter how the government chooses to spin it, South Africa’s runaway debt is a direct consequence of bad policy choices. It can only be remedied by changing direction on these.

Genuine commitment and active steps to implement growth-enabling economic reform will increase our ability to pay back debt while also bringing down the cost of that debt, because lenders charge less the more confident they are that it will be repaid. Sustained economic growth is the only pathway out of poverty and towards broad prosperity in a more equal society.

Mboweni himself strongly supports economic reform. Indeed, he published a paper last year setting out these reforms in detail. His calls for reform are widely supported, including by Reserve Bank governor Lesetja Kanyago, the Democratic Alliance and other opposition parties, business organisations such as Business Unity South Africa and Business Leadership South Africa, economists, international lending institutions, and the major credit rating agencies.

Yet despite this vast weight of support, South Africa remains on the passive path to debt crisis. The few promises Mboweni did make – zero-based budgeting, restructuring Eskom – have a high risk of failing on implementation or delay.

The hippo-sized stumbling block is Mboweni’s own party. The ANC remains committed to the failed socialist ideology of state-led “development” that got us into this debt-trap in the first place. In the face of dwindling popular support, the party has been forced to appease vested interests in the ANC alliance – public sector unions and politically connected business cronies – to ensure its survival.

The public sector wage bill consumes 58c of every tax rand and this number will rise to 61c if unions have their way.

Realistically, either reformists unite to build pressure for political change, or we live the horror story that unfolds on the current dangerous and unsustainable debt trajectory.

The DA is committed to building a country that works for everyone. Financial management is measurably better where we already govern. This week, the auditor general reported that 27 out of the 30 municipalities in DA-run Western Cape achieved clean or unqualified audits. In Gauteng, the only municipality that achieved a clean audit was DA-run Midvaal.

In the end, voters need to start being realistic about what does and doesn’t work.

The DA proposes the following focus areas for economic reform:

  1. Stem the immediate bleeding by ending the lockdown and replacing it with a standard set of evidence-based safety rules and guidelines, where each regulation is directly linked to reducing the spread of covid-19. A standard set of high-impact safety rules will improve compliance and enforcement and raise economic activity. This will protect lives and livelihoods.
  2. Cut the public sector wage bill over the medium term and grow public sector productivity by: freezing wages for non-frontline workers for a three-year period; reducing head-office management staff by one third; introducing performance management systems across all sectors; appointing and promoting on performance rather than race, gender or other criteria. The money spent on salaries is crowding out productive investment in public infrastructure.
  3. Sell or shut down state-owned enterprises that are not able to survive without bailouts,and redirect the funds to service delivery and social welfare. South Africa cannot afford vanity projects such as SAA or a new nuclear build.
  4. Make electricity cheaper and more reliable for households and businesses by ending Eskom’s monopoly and opening the electricity market to competition. Municipalities must be able to buy directly from producers.
  5. Make it easier to get and create jobs by freeing up the SMME labour market. Small businesses should be exempt from the more stringent labour legislation including from agreements reached by bargaining councils.
  6. Reject investment-killing policies of EWC, NHI, prescribed assets and SARB nationalisation. Each of these policies may be well-intended, but the real-world result is to scare off investment, capital, and scarce skills.
  7. Abandon BEE system and target redress policies at disadvantage rather than race. The DA’s position paper on redress sets out the policies South Africa should pursue to remove the underlying inequalities that still exist because of past dispossession and discrimination. Abandoning BEE will make state spending vastly more efficient, which is strongly in the interest of the poor.
  8. Auction digital spectrum to bring down data costs for individuals and businesses.
  9. Reform visa regulations to enable more scarce skills to enter South Africa.
  10. Tackle corruption in the private and public sectors by establishing an independent, well-resourced corruption-busting body – effectively reestablishing the Scorpions.

Lockdown’s lesson for South Africa: Power to the people.

“Everything is more complicated than you think.” So says philosopher Kwame Appiah of the real-world consequences of well-intended “solutions”. This quickly becomes apparent when the “solution” is to criminalise the earning of a living.

The crucial lesson that lockdown holds for South Africa’s economic recovery is that we will not achieve an optimal outcome – maximizing social wellbeing or minimizing human suffering – while decision-making control is so concentrated in the hands of a small group of individuals.

Even assuming those ANC politicians in the National Coronavirus Command Council genuinely have the best of intentions and possess superior intellect and knowledge, it is still inherently impossible for them to take decisions on behalf of 60 million South Africans such that the optimal result is achieved.

Central to this conclusion is the inescapable reality that policy-making is about trade-offs rather than solutions. This is premised on three facts:

  1. Society is a complex web of interconnectedness. Making a change in one area to achieve immediate, visible results sets up a knock-on effect with consequences for the whole system, some unseen, unintended, longer term, and negative.
  2. Resources are limited. Targeting public resources at one group or programme means depriving another group or foregoing the opportunity to implement some other programme. The more limited the resources, the more painful the trade-offs. In South Africa’s case, our resources are extremely limited, since our nation was already in a precarious position even before Covid-19 arrived, with our economy in recession, growing poverty and unemployment, entrenched inequality and an incapable state.
  3. Society faces multiple, often competing, risks. Achieving an optimal outcome requires striking the right balance between them. Speed limits, for example, seek to strike an optimal balance between mobility and safety. The more accurately the risks can be assessed, the more likely it is that the right balance will be struck.

Covid is a deadly disease to many people, the true risk of which we are still only beginning to understand. There is so much we don’t yet know, but what we are all acutely aware of, is that it is an immediate and visible risk to society. So it is tempting to view support for South Africa’s extended lockdown as noble, and to view calls for people to be allowed to work as “callous”.

It is easier and more emotionally satisfying to focus on the problem under one’s nose and wish to solve it. Our tendency to do so is aggravated by the inherent bias in the media, since journalists can more readily report on immediate, visible problems.

More challenging is to identify and quantify the full set of consequences that ensues when one aspect of a complex, interconnected system is modified.

And yet this is what we must strive to do if our goal is to achieve an optimal outcome in the real world, where everything is indeed more complicated than we think.

Every life shortened or destroyed by covid is a human tragedy. But so is every life shortened or destroyed by extended lockdown, be it from malnutrition, suicide, police brutality, another disease the response to which was compromised as a result of lockdown, or grinding poverty. Poverty kills.

As Thomas Sowell notes: “Doing good on some problem right under one’s nose is not enough in a world of constrained options and systemic interactions, where the overlooked costs of immediate benevolence take their toll elsewhere.”

This sentiment is echoed by the economist Henry Hazlitt in his classic book Economics in One Lesson: “The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy, it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group, but for all groups.”

Realistically, there is no “solution” to covid that does not involve the destruction of lives. The reality is that extended lockdown is not a “solution”; it is a trade-off, and a highly complex one at that.

The best we can do is face reality head on and rise to the challenge of striking the right balance between the myriad risks we face, by considering immediate and longer-term costs, seen and unseen, so as to minimise overall human suffering.

No single individual or group of individuals can possibly do this on behalf of 60 million people, since the risk and incentives landscape for each individual, family, organisation, group and community will be different.

No matter how much more knowledge those on the NCCC may have, it will still not be anywhere near as much as the aggregated knowledge of 60 million people, all acutely aware of the details of their own circumstances.

No matter how well intended are the ANC politicians on the NCCC, the fact is that they are isolated from the real consequences of their decision-making. Those who suffer the real consequences of decisions are more likely to make optimal decisions, and will more quickly correct bad decisions.

Some individuals or families may decide that locking down is in their best interest. Others may reckon the risk to their wellbeing of foregoing an income is greater than the risk covid poses to them. Some schools may be ready to open. Others not.

If decision-making is decentralised so that individuals, families, groups and communities are empowered to act in their own best interest, the aggregated knowledge and incentives that will be brought to bear make an optimal outcome far more likely.

Of course, even with power less centralized, the state still has a crucial role.

With greater access to specialist knowledge – from epidemiologists and economists – the state should be providing people with as much information as possible to inform their decision-making. Instead, the state has been secretive, going so far as to force its advisors to sign non-disclosure agreements.

It is also up to the state to provide a fair and reasonable framework of rules within which decentralised decision-making should operate, because our individual decisions impact other people. So things like mask-wearing and sanitising in public areas cannot be left to individual choice.

It is up to the state to deliver the public goods that create an enabling environment. Public hospitals, testing capacity, water and sanitation, and law enforcement, for example. Some public goods are better suited to provision at a local or provincial level.

Sometimes it is appropriate for decision-making to happen centrally. A coordinated national lockdown of limited duration made sense in March, as a precautionary move. It bought South Africa time to learn more about the nature and scale of the risk, to educate people about it, and to put in place cheaper, more targeted interventions such as building healthcare and testing capacity, universal mask-wearing, and other safety protocols.

Unfortunately, the state did not use this time effectively. South Africa has a largely incapable state, as President Ramaphosa has acknowledged. Effective testing and tracing before the virus had spread widely would have enabled us to keep control of it.

Instead of devolving control as soon as possible, our state has sought to retain maximum control at the centre, with disastrous unintended results, many of which will only reveal themselves in the years to come as the consequences of increased poverty and unemployment unfold.

To summarize. It is not enough that a policy is well-intended. Ultimately, it is the net result that matters. Reality is not optional. The real consequences of policy decisions are borne by ordinary people, not by political elites. So ordinary people have stronger incentives to make good decisions and to quickly correct bad decisions. Their aggregated knowledge of the real risks involved is far greater than the total knowledge of those on the NCCC.

Going forward, a covid response that empowers people within a reasonable set of safety rules will achieve a better outcome than will one that is managed centrally by a small group of people who themselves are protected from the real consequences of irrational or arbitrary decisions.

These same considerations hold true for South Africa’s economic recovery. When individuals, families and communities are empowered, infinitely more creativity, incentives and knowledge can be harnessed.

This is why the DA’s rallying call is: power to the people.

South Africa’s inflexible labour legislation seeks to protect the employed, but the unintended consequence of deterring job creation and excluding new entrants far outweigh the benefits. The empirical evidence is our high and growing unemployment skewed to younger ages.

State-owned entities with their large and relatively well paid staff complements were well-intended. Their unintended consequence has been to stifle private creativity and competition. The empirical evidence is seen in compromised products (unreliable, dirty electricity, for example) at high prices.

Policies such as expropriation without compensation, NHI, prescribed assets and nationalisation of the Reserve Bank may be well intended. They seek to “solve” problems. But all will have unintended consequences, such as deterring investment, that will ultimately be net damaging to the poor, the very people they ostensibly seek to benefit.

These and other such statist “solutions” backed South Africa into a corner of rising poverty, unemployment and debt, with no fiscal room to manoeuver as we went into this pandemic.

A leaked strategy document suggests the ANC is doubling down on this approach in the hope of achieving a rapid economic recovery.

Governments can be forgiven for well-meaning “solutions”, if they adapt their approach once the empirical evidence shows them to be net painful to society. But when a government persists with an approach that does net harm, it is time to change the government.

The DA’s approach to South Africa’s economic recovery is founded on the notion that reality is not optional. That results matter. And that the best results will come when power moves closer to the people. We will publish our economic recovery plan on Monday 22 June. It will show us to be SA’s true liberation movement.