President Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. Picture: NTSWE MOKOENA
President Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. Picture: NTSWE MOKOENA

With all the revelations trickling out — like the misuse of Covid relief funds, and the water department unable to account for R220m in drought relief funds — we should be asking just who in our executive is in charge of the numbers.

Pride of place for the most stupendous of mathematical gaffes, however, belongs to Limpopo.

The story is that two weeks ago, Limpopo premier Stanley Mathabatha proudly handed over 40 shacks to his subjects, each of which carried a price tag of R64,000. Now, I’m no accountant but I’m pretty sure I can drum up a quotation for a shack, and it wouldn’t cost R64,000.

It quickly got worse for Mathabatha. Soon, he was claiming he had no knowledge of the R2.4m used to pay for the 40-shack settlement. For the leader of one of the poorest provinces in the country, the best you could say is that’s extremely careless of him.

But then, it’s probably no coincidence that of the 27 municipalities in Limpopo, just one received a clean audit for the 2018/2019 financial year. Last month, auditor-general Kimi Makwetu told the Limpopo standing committee that only 8% of Limpopo’s municipalities were in good standing, 13% were in need of financial aid and 79% were a “concern”.

If President Cyril Ramaphosa is at all serious about addressing the hyenas feasting on state coffers, as he says, perhaps he ought to spend more time looking at a province where the premier merrily spends R2.4m on a development, then claims he has no memory of this.

And yet, the executive has its eyes elsewhere. Though the government claims its attention is fixed primarily on getting ahead of the pandemic, you could have fooled me.

Again, maths seems to be the problem.

As it stands, SA has the fifth-most Covid-19 cases globally, at 572,865, which suggests it was never really ahead of the pandemic. With our hospitals battling in recent weeks, and reports of some patients being turned away, you can’t really claim the lockdown measures worked particularly well.

Maybe, if we had a better grasp of the numbers, Ramaphosa’s executive wouldn’t be spending so much money defending an alcohol ban that is costing the state an estimated R300m every week in lost tax revenue.

Here, figures are important: SA’s liquor industry is worth R140bn, it contributes 3% to SA’s GDP and employs about 1-million people. Yet with the ongoing ban, more than 100,000 people have lost their jobs already, and according to the latest “Quarterly Labour Force Survey”, we have an unemployment rate of 30.1%.

For anyone who has the faintest idea of what these numbers mean, bells should be ringing.

Another number co-operative governance & traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma would do well to have in the back of her mind is R13bn: the cumulative cost of Consol Glass suspending the build of a glass manufacturing plant, SA Breweries canning R5bn in planned investment and Heineken scrapping its planned investment.

On the other hand, the numbers in the illicit booze and tobacco business are rocketing. So successful has the ban been in creating this backyard industry that it’ll be difficult to reverse.

Tax Justice SA, which describes itself as a campaign aimed at restoring a lawful and prosperous SA, wrote to Ramaphosa, saying: “The unintended consequences of this ban have caused harm that far outweighs whatever positive outcomes it hoped to achieve.”

Maybe all we need to reverse this is just a few people who understand numbers. Then they could sit down with some of the innumerate ministers and interrogate their figures, establish the trajectory, and maybe, just maybe, reach a more favourable outcome.

A few simple questions like: why did this tender cost so much?; who is the person who hiked the cost of a shack from R8,000 to R64,000?; and who will be harmed if we take this or that course of action?

Think of this mathematical training as an investment in our future, because, at the rate we’re going, it’s going to be a tough ask to make sense of all the money we’re burning through this year.

Last week, Ratings Afrika issued a sustainability report which said that only Cape Town was able to claim any marked improvement in its fiscal sustainability. Municipalities in the other provinces, not so much.

But then, this isn’t exactly a huge surprise, when the premier of one of those provinces can’t seem to get his head around the mathematics of rent-seeking.

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