Images: REUTERS, TISO BLACKSTAR
Images: REUTERS, TISO BLACKSTAR

Dear reader,

Here are five premium articles that sum up the state of the country's governance. Written by South Africa's top journalists from Business Day, Financial Mail, Business Times and Rand Daily Mail, they provide the sort of high-level insight that our subscribers demand.

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First up, Business Day's deputy editor, Carol Paton, writes under the headline, Structural changes will save SA, not Gigaba’s grim vision

Carol, who attended all the behind-the-scenes briefings and the medium-term budget speech itself, reveals how Malusi Gigaba is struggling to come to terms with his finance ministry portfolio. This from the article:

He struggled through the pre-budget parliamentary briefing, muddling concepts and dropping words and phrases such as "spending cuts" and "fiscal stimulus", apparently without noticing the contradictions.

At one point, Gigaba misspoke so badly he actually said the government would not be able to bail Eskom out if the utility’s lenders called for their money.

But if Wednesday was bad, Thursday was much worse as the extent of the fallout over the medium-term budget policy statement became known. The market reeled.

After growing accustomed to a Treasury that always made a plan, even if it was not thoroughly convincing, it was a rude shock to discover this was a Treasury that, when confronted with the worst growth and debt scenario since 1996, decided to do nothing.

 

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Next up, Barney Mthombothi writes that Zuma's ministers are in a deep hole and still digging

Barney examines the recent pronouncements of Gigaba and the new police minister, Fikile Mbalula. Here's what he had to say:

If the primary responsibility of a government is to protect its people, President Jacob Zuma's administration has hopelessly failed to carry it out.

In many countries, this level of crime would result in the government being voted out of power.

But we've become so blasé about crime that it does not even feature as an issue in the ANC presidential contest. And yet thousands of people are murdered, raped and robbed every day. People live in fear, not of wild animals, but of other human beings.

Society has lost faith in the government's ability to protect its citizens, and as a result vigilantism is on the rise. People are taking the law into their own hands.

 

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Writing in Business Day, John Dludlu describes Zuma’s ruinous realm of shifting sands.

Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba delivering his medium-term budget speech on Wednesday. Picture: GCIS
Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba delivering his medium-term budget speech on Wednesday. Picture: GCIS

It would be naïve to expect one man, Malusi Gigaba, to have all the answers to our problems. But, as I have argued in this space before, there are many things that are within the government’s control and those are the ones it ought to focus on. Two come to mind.

First, the size of the public service is a large part of the proverbial elephant in the room. Not filling vacancies is old-style management, as is tinkering with salaries to arrest the runaway rise of the public sector wage bill.

In the spirit of being brutally frank — seemingly the central idea behind last Wednesday’s speech — we really have to confront the question: is the size of our public service appropriate for our economy?

Second, the government requires no permission to overhaul the hundreds of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) it owns. It inspires no confidence when one hears that the Cabinet is fussing about vetting the qualifications of South Africans to serve on the boards of an important SOE such as Eskom or the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

 

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Claire Bisseker writes in her Business Day column that Ramaphosa’s wage hopes are too high. Claire attended a dinner where Ramaphosa spoke. This from her article:

Claire Bisseker
Claire Bisseker

Ramaphosa said it was in SA’s DNA for people from opposing sides to be able to work together to solve intractable problems — and the country would solve the problem of youth unemployment, too. Unfortunately, he chose the example of the national minimum wage negotiations, which he chaired for more than a year, as an example of "partnerships that work". Business and labour managed to come together to agree on a national minimum wage that would lift the earnings of 6-million people, he beamed.

The labour economist sitting next to me dropped his head into his hands. Is it really possible that Ramaphosa doesn’t realise that a minimum wage that raises entry-level wages across large parts of the economy will worsen youth unemployment? In fact, it is hard to think of an intervention that is more likely to damage young, unskilled people’s prospects of finding their first job than the introduction of a national minimum wage.

One of the root causes of SA’s high youth unemployment rate is the fact that employers consider entry-level wages to be too high relative to the risk of hiring inexperienced workers.

 

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Finally, Gareth van Onselen goes where angels fear to tread and suggests that South Africa needs a new national anthem, one that is more invigorating than the mash-up produced by the transition.

In Time for a new national anthem, Van Onselen argues:

It is doubtful, in the age of hypersensitivity and political correctness, that you could ever come up with a modern-day equivalent of the French anthem. But like it or lump it, in word and musical reverence, it gets the blood pumping. By comparison, the SA anthem numbs like a Jacob Zuma state of the nation address. Do you want to rally the troops, or put them to sleep?

All the great national anthems have a powerful effect. "Flower of Scotland", Ireland’s "A Soldier’s Song" ... they all fuel the only real purpose national anthems serve these days: sporting motivation and zeal.

One could go for something more watered down, perhaps. The Americans, for whom national pride is the quintessential patriotic ingredient, have basically settled on paying homage to their flag. It’s ceremony bowing before symbol; the perfect nationalistic ritual.

I hope you have enjoyed reading these excerpts from five of our many writers. Sign up to read the full articles and many other premium writers on BusinessLIVE Premium.

Yours

Ray Hartley

Editor: BusinessLIVE

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