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25 February 2017

Cry the Beloved Country

Tag(s): Foreign Affairs, Politics & Economics
My wife and I have just returned from an exhilarating holiday in South Africa. Normally our trips to the Southern Hemisphere are to Chile but we were there in November so for a change took a tour of South Africa visiting Johannesburg, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town as well as several game reserves and wineries and other tourist attractions. But my blogs are not intended as travelogues and while our purpose was entirely leisure we could not ignore what is happening there. It was an interesting time to visit as during our trip the nation mourned the sad death at the age of 45 of rugby legend Joost van der Westhuizen following a six-year battle with motor neurone disease. By contrast the nation could only laugh at the so-called State of the Nation speech by its president Jacob Zuma. Here’s what one commentator had to say in the oldest established newspaper in the country.[i]

“With bated breath the president’s state of the nation address was awaited. Yet one’s sad premonition that the ‘same old, same old’ hesitant parody of platitudes and lame excuses would again be dished up and read in the president’s disinterested monotone again regrettably proved to be a reality.

The tragic mayhem our parliament erupted into is a sad parody of the present state of our democracy showcased to the world at large: cable ties, fisticuffs, obscene shouting and forced ejection of members. What next?

Once again one despairs at the ANC’s shared responsibility form of governance which permeates all it does, including the presidential report which simply glossed over some of the real issues confronting this country and took no responsibility for anything. From past experience we know that nobody is or is made to be accountable and therefore the implementation will be once again pathetic. Objectives were bandied about, yet not once was any time limit or line of responsibility spelt out!
At a time like this it is just as well to remind ourselves of the actual state of our beloved South Africa:

·         Economy: South Africa has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world with some 27% of the working force unemployed. The government is clearly at a loss to provide meaningful solutions, but seems hell-bent on exacerbating the crisis by not addressing some of the real on-the-ground issues such as eliminating all the red tape frustrating emerging entrepreneurs and so forth. Virtually a zero growth rate in our economy, which speaks for itself; no growth, no new job opportunities, no income, poverty, starvation, Marikana[ii], hunger strikes etc.

The president’s forecast of more than 1% growth for this year is optimistic to say the least! Has this government explained the consequences of this country being relegated to junk status fully to its people? Does South Africa realise Thursday evening’s shambolic parliament and pathetic presidential state of the nation speech will exacerbate our already parlous standing and drive us closer to junk status?

It is estimated by some that about 40% of foreign investment in South Africa is in the long-term category and in terms of the investment mandates of most countries, long-term monies are precluded from being invested in a junk status economy. Thus, it effectively means that an estimated R600-billion[iii] will be withdrawn from South Africa should the country be relegated. In addition to this consider the current R2-trillion[iv] debt this country labours under. The interest payable on this debt will be dramatically increased if junk status is declared.

These two items alone could severely affect this government’s ability to function to the extent that it may find difficulty in meeting its salary bill. One can only, with horror, contemplate the consequences.  Do folk understand that the brunt of this disaster will then consequently have to be borne by the long-suffering tax payers who will be faced with appalling income tax increases?
·         Education: a few years ago the World Economic Forum rated South Africa’s education system as the worst of some 140 countries and, with despair one would postulate that we have since regressed, if that is at all possible. The president says we have improved, which one finds difficult to believe after reading all the negative press releases in the last few months. However much is regrettably said and promised, the execution is woefully poor and will remain so unless Education Minister Angie Motshekga is held accountable and fired if necessary.
·         Crime: according to police reports 51.2 murders are committed per day in South Africa! South Africa is referred to as the ‘rape capital of the world’ by many people worldwide. Gender abuse is rampant and many would say out of control.
While we cannot even appoint a credible chief of police, what chances do our police services stand of becoming an effective force to combat the rampant crime in this country? Police Minister Nathi Nhleko is on record as saying that we South Africans are violent and have a prevalent culture for violence. What a sad indictment of our South African society that has to rely on a weak police force.
·         Racial inequality: racism is on the increase and what is truly worrying is the intensification in the virulent nature of the incidents. One of the reasons is the pent-up frustration of people who are simply fed up with the current state of affairs, lack of leadership and broken promises in this country and are lashing out.
·         Corruption: the country is rotten with corrupt people in virtually all spheres permeating the very fabric of our society and with a president who himself is under suspicion. the ANC can only pay lip service to this, the scourge of our country.
·         President: blithely Jacob Zuma giggles, and carries on ducking and diving in true ANC fashion, providing zero leadership. What is truly frightening is that despite all his failures, Zuma’s cronies can see him doing no wrong and condone all his infidelities and the disgrace he is to himself and our country.

And now the ANC-led regional government blatantly murders our vulnerable people – 92 deaths in Gauteng and still counting[v]. Once again we see a scurry of officials disappearing into the woodwork to escape responsibility. The unauthorised transferral of mental patients to unregistered NGOs without supervision or follow-up is tantamount to unmitigated murder and more so as it was committed on defenceless people.

It will be interesting to see if Gauteng Premier David Makhura, former Health Minister Qedani Mahlangu and fellow decision-makers will be held accountable and convicted of murder and, if so, jailed for life, as would be the right thing to do.
All of this speaks to some, and I repeat, some, of the many real issues facing our country. It is a sad litany of a government too weak to accept accountability and that flounders from one crisis to the next. A change of government has become absolutely critical.”

I have rarely read such a passionate piece. It may be a little short on facts but lacks nothing in virulent rhetoric. Mr Cox could have mentioned the homeless, some 15% of the population, about 8 million people! The rand has lost 20% against the US dollar in the past year, often falling after rash statements by president Zuma.  Some of the people we talked to believe that Zuma and his cronies have captured the Treasury. Zuma spent hundreds of millions of public money improving his home. When this was eventually investigated he claimed that the swimming pool was a necessary investment by the state so that adequate water supply would be available for use in the event of a fire. The novel concept of a ‘fire pool’ entered the vernacular. Zuma’s son has close links to the Gupta family whose banks are often involved in questionable dealings. While we were there Citibank owned up to price fixing in the currency markets. They have got off with a modest fine as the whistle blower but the other banks involved will not get off so lightly.

Overall it is a sad state of affairs and Mr Cox’s appeal for a change of government is unlikely to be successful. We visited Victor Verster prison near Paarl where Nelson Mandela spent his last period in captivity and where a joyous stature of the great man stands. We also visited Robben Island where he was imprisoned for 18 years and saw the miserable little cell in which he was incarcerated and the garden where he concealed his book, Long Walk to Freedom. His vision of the Rainbow Nation that entranced the world seems a long way off just 23 years after he was elected South Africa’s first black president. But just two presidents later we have a man whose only vision is his personal enrichment.

[i] ‘President skirts the real issues’. Talbot Cox. The Herald (Port Elizabeth) 13 February, 2017
[ii] The Marikana massacre started as a wildcat strike at a mine owned by Lonmin in the Marikana area, close to Rustenburg in 2012. The event garnered international attention following a series of violent incidents between the South African police Service, Lonmin security and the leadership of the National Union of Mineworkers on the one side and strikers themselves on the other, which resulted in the deaths of 44 people, 41 of whom were striking mineworkers killed by police. At least 78 additional, workers were injured. Most of the dead were shot in the back.
[iii] Approximately £36 billion at today’s exchange rate.
[iv] Approximately £123 billion at today’s exchange rate.
[v] At least 94 patients with mental health issues died after authorities moved them from hospitals to unlicensed health facilities that were likened to concentration camps, a government investigation revealed. Many of the deaths were due to pneumonia, dehydration, and diarrhea as the patients had hurriedly moved to 27 ‘poorly prepared’ facilities in an apparent cost-cutting measure that showed evidence of neglect. The health ombudsman report detailed how some patients were collected from Life Edidimeni hospital in Gauteng province last year using open pickup trucks. As the scandal broke, the provincial health minister, Qedani Mahlangu, resigned over the findings, which directly implicated her in the move.

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