FINANCE Minister Tito Mboweni delivered his Medium-term Budget Policy Statement this week. Phando Jikelo African News Agency (ANA)
When our leaders proclaim “hope” to be a patriotic duty, one can be assured the country is really deep in the dwang.

But as South Africa edges closer to economic disaster and an emptying fiscus, hope, it seems, has become the “must-have” emotion.

It was President Cyril Ramaphosa who started the hope crusade. 

In the February State of the Nation address, he informed us that “our people are much more hopeful about a better tomorrow”. And, he assured us, this hope “is not baseless it is grounded on the progress being made”.

Business is doing its bit. Investec’s Stephen Koseff says we have to be optimistic: “You have to give people hope.”

Discovery’s Adrian Gore expounds an entire theory around hope, the optimism paradox. The paradox is “the gap between private hope and public despair”, and apparently this is “an intriguing idiosyncrasy explained by behavioural economics”.

In the face of this week’s truly awful unemployment figures - youth unemployment nudging 50% - Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi exhorted South Africans to “not give up hope”.

There’s nothing innately wrong with all these attempts to kindle hope. 

Despair can be paralysing and South Africans have been on a prolonged, deep downer. (On the other hand, if the Springboks win the Rugby World Cup, sedation will be required.)

But let’s not be simplistic. Common sense, thorough planning and competent execution beat hope, optimism and stout hearts.

Some in government get that. As Tito Mboweni said this week, presenting the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS): “Hope is good but it is not a strategy.”

To his credit, Mboweni doesn’t try to hide the seriousness of the problem. In fact, he seems to take some glee in it. The national debt, he told Parliament, now exceeds R3 trillion and will rise to R4.5 trillion in the next three years.

That, says Mboweni, is “a serious position to be in”. Worse, it is “unsustainable”, “clearly, we need to do things differently”, “there is no status quo option!”, and “the consequences of not acting now would be grave”.

Then he does, as is the ANC’s wont, absolutely nothing. Any action to address the problem is postponed to next year’s Budget.

On Eskom, SAA and other state-owned candidates for bankruptcy, there were only platitudes. “Eskom is a business and should be run that way.” With SAA, “operational and government interventions are required urgently!”

As regards the national disease of non-payment for services, the government has decided that the solution is to appeal to our better natures: “I urge the nation to please pay your bills.” No doubt that will bring rolling in the R37billion that was owing to Eskom, as at June 2019, by delinquent users.

The proposed and hugely expensive National Health Service drew only a passing mention. The ministers of Finance and Health are in “ongoing discussions”, said Mboweni tersely.

A Treasury document attached to the MTBPS was more honest. “However, given the macroeconomic and fiscal outlook, the estimates to roll out NHI are no longer affordable.”

That’s not to say Mboweni’s MTBPS was a complete waste of time. He at least provided the opposition with some wonderful ammunition.

He revealed that the average government wage has risen by 66% in 10 years and 29000 public servants now earn more than R1million a year. Adjusting for inflation, that’s double the number in 2006/2007 and - since Sars data shows 148000 taxpayers earn over a million a year - it means that 20% of SA’s rand millionaires work for the state.

This encapsulate the kernel of SA’s problem. The ANC has added massively to the state payroll and these are the people who keep them in office.

For an ANC government to now do what it knows it must - to slash state employment - would be to slit its own throat.

All together now: One! Two! Three! Hope!

Follow WSM on Twitter: @TheJaundicedEye

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