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Decay in South Africa should never be accepted as the new ‘normal’

From an international perspective, a stronger US dollar and South Africa's economic problems, including load shedding, inadequate infrastructure and policy uncertainty, are some of the reasons for the weakened currency. File Photo

From an international perspective, a stronger US dollar and South Africa's economic problems, including load shedding, inadequate infrastructure and policy uncertainty, are some of the reasons for the weakened currency. File Photo

Published Jun 19, 2023


By Christo Van der Rheede

Let's be clear and upfront about this: we are going downhill as a country. The rot is visible everywhere because the state is failing us.

However, crime, grime and decline can never be accepted as the new normal. As a citizenry, we should neither fall silent nor close our ears and eyes to the failings of those in charge of the state. If their actions, utterances, and policies undermine and destroy our human dignity, freedom, quality of life and future, then we must question the constitutionality of it and oppose it because it is the state's job to honour, uphold and guarantee the values and ideals as defined in our National Constitution.

It all starts with state leadership. The ‘’new normal’’ of indecisive leadership speaks volumes of state leadership, whose left hand does not know what the right hand is doing and vice versa.

President Cyril Ramaphosa briefed members of Parliament during the State of the Nation on February 10. A National State of Disaster was also declared, and a Minister of Electricity was appointed to the Presidency.

On April 5, the government announced that it had withdrawn with immediate effect the National State of Disaster declared by the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs on February 9. A turf war was sparked between the ministers of energy and electricity because there is no clarity on what the latter had to do.

On May 26, the Presidency signed a proclamation transferring certain powers and functions to the Minister of Electricity. However, the question remains whether the Minister of Electricity is in a position to implement any decisions regarding these powers and functions. According to experts, it remains the responsibility of the Minister of Energy to enter into agreements, facilitate tender processes, issue guarantees and commit the state to future electricity purchases. Meanwhile, load shedding is crippling our economy.

This indecision is also rooted in state ideology, so much so that the SA Reserve Bank warns that South Africa's political neutrality in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia is increasingly being questioned. The Reserve Bank points to the possibility of sanctions and other risks. Add to that the Lady R saga, and we have a moral and economic crisis imminent if it is true that South Africa supplied weapons and either ammunition to Russia.

These risks are reflected in the deteriorating value of the rand.

From an international perspective, a stronger US dollar and South Africa's economic problems, including load shedding, inadequate infrastructure and policy uncertainty, are some of the reasons for the weakened currency. Not only is it one of the worst-performing currencies in emerging markets this year, but over the past 18 months, the repo rate has been increased by a cumulative 425 basis points. This has a significant impact on the purchasing power and standard of living of everyone. All of us are getting poorer and even more disillusioned day after day.

Ideology also impacts the state budget. While the 2023 National Budget provides for economic, fiscal and social development, it is the latter that gets the lion's share of the budget, R1.35 trillion. In contrast, the amount budgeted for economic development amounts to R237.6bn. It is way too little to grow the economy. A growing economy lessens people’s dependence on the state.

The elephant in the room remains government spending. Approximately R701.2bn for salaries of public servants. Goods and services amount to R305.2bn. Capital expenditure amounts to R192.8bn. Transfer payments, including welfare, financial aid, social security and government subsidies for its state-owned enterprises, amount to R685bn. Debt servicing cost amounts to R349bn. However, do we, as a country, get value for all the state spending invested in salaries, goods and services, capital expenditure, transfer payments and subsidies?

State-owned enterprises are failing us regardless of all the government bailouts. Service delivery by government departments and municipalities is at an absolute low. Our state hospitals are poorly managed. The latest findings of an International Reading Literacy Study found that 81% of Grade 4 pupils cannot read with meaning.

Instead of addressing these crises, state populism is gaining increasing momentum. Race-based draft laws and regulations are now being announced left and right instead of focusing on expertise to address the many challenges facing the country.

Lack of expertise in many state entities will remain our country's Achilles heel forever if we continue to base state appointments on skin colour as opposed to also take merit into account.The deterioration of our road networks, the decay of our towns and cities, and municipal wastewater treatment systems are a telling result of incompetence. The recent cholera outbreak in parts of the country testifies to poor levels of governance and management.

Bheki Cele, the Minister of Police, also recently released the statistics for crimes recorded between January and March 2023.  About 70 people were killed every day in the first three months of the year. More than 10 500 rape cases were opened during this time. The most brutal farm murders have occurred in recent times and are a serious indictment of the government's ability to fulfil its constitutional mandate, namely to protect and secure the inhabitants of the Republic and their property; and uphold and enforce the law.

On state accountability, unfortunately, there is no sign. The country remains mired in economic stagnation as the state fails to act decisively to address the many problems facing South Africa. Given South Africa's shortage of domestic capital, stimulating economic growth requires foreign investment. This will only succeed if policies are formulated rationally, so that investors are confident in the long-term sustainability of South Africa as an investment destination.

The most serious threat to the South African economy is increasing lawlessness. Social disorder places a serious additional burden on businesses.

For the poorest and most vulnerable, the impact that incompetent management in state entities has on their lives is far-reaching. The inability of state institutions to uphold and protect the rights of every citizen as enshrined in the Bill of Rights, to unlock the potential of every human being and to provide basic services and basic security poses a serious risk to South Africa's future as a free and democratic state, where all citizens should enjoy equal rights and where their dignity is sacred.

The wealthier, more entrepreneurial inclined and highly skilled section of society is subjected to a range of inhibitory policy measures, such as employment equity targets, bureaucratic red tape, complex financial support measures, and collapsing economic and infrastructure-related challenges. Who wants to establish a business venture in such circumstances?

However, the continued disintegration of public services should never be accepted as the new normal. So, the responsibility of holding the state accountable weighs heavily on every citizen's shoulders. By giving effect to this responsibility, we can stop the rot and save our country.

Christo Van der Rheede is writing in his personal capacity. Not in his capacity as CEO Agri SA.