OPINION: Sanity will prevail in South Africa

By Meyer Benjamin Time of article published Aug 29, 2018

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JOHANNESBURG - Rand crashing! Corruption at critical levels! Crime now a tsunami! Unemployment hits record highs! Land expropriation without compensation!

The headlines are screaming neon panic, and endemic doom.  The chattering classes are nervously looking at emigration options, and quietly renewing second passports.

The future seems dark – to those wearing blinkers.  To all this I say: breath deeply.  Be part of the solution, not the problem.  Green shoots are everywhere. 

And yes, sanity will prevail.  South Africa is the miracle nation.  So many of us – perhaps especially those too young to remember – might have forgotten the miracle of 1994. A time when South Africa emerged into the light, becoming the globally lauded Rainbow Nation, as opposed to exploding into the dystopia that doom-mongers and nay-sayers predicted.

But I'm not here to peddle cheap, woolly sentiment.  First things first.

Yes, the rand did recently collapse, breaching over R15 to the dollar – all part of a rout on emerging market currencies, fired largely by the collapse of the Turkish lira. In the immediate term this could lead to more fuel price increases at the beginning of next month, as confirmed by the Automobile Association (AA).

But “Don't Panic” – to use that famous phrase from Douglas Adams' “The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.”

The rand is chronically undervalued. Its real value is around R10 to the dollar, an equilibrium that I predict it will soon start finding, with at least R12 to the dollar possible by the end of 2018. 

The corruption that seems endemic at all levels of the government – from state to provincial to municipal – is a hangover from the Jacob Zuma administration whose main aim really seemed to be wholesale looting, and cadre deployment.  The new Cyril Ramaphosa administration is sweeping out the deadwood. Slowly, some might say, but  a Judicial Commission of Inquiry into allegations of State Capture – chaired by deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo – has begun.

And while some may say that “Ramaphoria” is over, with Expropriation Without Compensation being rammed through, the fact is that if EWC is done prudently and sanely, it could alleviate some historical injustices, and help level the playing fields a little, as well as actually drive growth. 

Cyril Ramaphosa is an astute, seasoned businessman, wise enough to avoid wrecking the economy merely for the short-term gratification of an overwhelming ANC victory in next year's general election. 

But he does need to find the delicate middle-ground between being business friendly and pacifying the growing brand of populism peddled by the EFF, and indeed some elements of his own party.  So the emphasis here is on prudence. 

My message to Mr Ramaphosa is: don't play to the choir. If you start talking universal EWC, you will fall into a hole. In at least some cases there will need to be some compensation.  I do, however, think that the first property to be expropriated should be Mr Zuma's Nkandla, (in)famously built with tax payers money!

Education also needs to be addressed. In fact, education is South Africa's ultimate golden ticket.   Standards in education need to be raised. A system that issues often near-worthless matric certificates to generate artificially high pass rates, so making politicians look good,  needs to remedied , and I believe it will, while there needs to be far more focus on technically as opposed to academically orientated education.

As is globally proven, quality education is a sure-fire way to grow a middle-class – which in turn brings stability, lowers unemployment, plus increases the tax base.

The Ramaphosa administration should also be wise (and big!) enough to realise that the ANC has been terrible at running State Owned Enterprises (SOEs). Abysmal, in fact. And so these SOEs – from SAA to Eskom to Denel – should be and need to be handed over to private enterprise, and professional people.

As for all those who say that this glorious country that I love so much is on the path to becoming another Zimbabwe or Venezuela, I say: rubbish. We're the most industrialised country on the continent, and we have a robust, free media and an incorruptible judiciary.  We also have no shortage of brilliant, committed politicians. Politicians who – unlike so many of their peers who make lofty, improbable promises, rather like those toothpaste adverts that promise whiter teeth or healthier gums in 10 days or your money back – actually deliver.

Among them, Trevor Manuel, probably the best finance minister we have ever had, Pravin Gordhan, our dedicated health minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, and the fearless Thuli Madonsela, our former public protector.   So yes. The sun will shine.

But now is not the time for self-fulfilling negative prophecies or for the wringing of hands.  It's a time for political parties to put aside petty differences, and to align their thoughts and objectives, and to put the good of this great land above self-serving self interest It's a time to look at perhaps introducing some form of conscription. Unlike under the apartheid regime, we have no (dubious) wars to fight, so it need not be a military conscription as such.

But with youth unemployment (under 25) now sitting at a startling, shocking 53.7 percent in the second quarter of 2018, according to Statistics SA, some form of conscription would and could provide discipline, self belief, sorely needed technical  and life skills, and give this young generation a sense of worth. Plus it would go light years towards fostering unity. Can you imagine the benefits of different colours, creeds, and economic and social classes – who normally would not interact – sharing a bungalow for a year or two, while at the same time earning some sort stipend?

It's a time to remember that failure is not endemic to this continent as the Afro-pessimists like to maintain, with even broken, battered little Rwanda now shining against all odds.

As the “Jerusalem Post” wrote a little while back, “No-one believed, neither in Rwanda nor outside it, that this small, divided Central African country would recover and rise from the ruins.”  And as the saying goes, it's not over until the fat lady sings.  Auto industry veteran and commentator Meyer Benjamin is the director of the IPOP (In People Our Passion) Motor Group, which includes Suzuki dealerships, a Mazda dealership, and a Haval dealership. He is also actively involved in the upliftment, improvement, and betterment of Rosettenville Johannesburg, where IPOP is headquartered.

Auto industry veteran and commentator Meyer Benjamin is the director of the IPOP (In People Our Passion) Motor Group, which includes Suzuki dealerships, a Mazda dealership, and a Haval dealership. He is also actively involved in the upliftment, improvement, and betterment of Rosettenville Johannesburg, where IPOP is headquartered.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.


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