2016 has started off with the country in the throes of one of the worst droughts in recorded history, the annual average rainfall is the lowest in 112 years and the agricultural sector is clearly not going to produce sufficient food for home consumption this year.
The economy remains a shambles with unemployment going through the roof and the value of the rand going through the floor.
Higher education is chaotic with students having tasted the fruits of success with the #FeesMustFall campaign last year are, as I forecast would happen, now demanding further concessions such as free education for all.
Instead of concentrating on these critical challenges what are we as South Africans doing? We have allowed ourselves to get into a debate on racism. In the media and on social media there has been a frenzy of statements, from people across both the political and racial divide, trying to prove who the biggest racists are or who is the most offended by these acts of racism – none of which are solving the challenges facing the country.
This whole racial furore was an irresponsible and highly racist Facebook post from a little known estate agent in KZN, Penny Sparrow, in which she posted “From now on I shall address the blacks of South Africa as monkeys”. This was in response to the crowded beaches that were left littered.
A little known employee at the Gauteng Department of Arts and Culture, Velaphi Khumalo, responded in an equally irresponsible manner in posting that “We must act as Hitler did to the Jews. I don’t believe any more that the is a large number of not so racist whit people. I’m starting to be sceptical even of those within our Movement the ANC. I will from today unfriend all white people I have as friends from today u must be put under the same blanket as any other racist white because secretly u all are a bunch of racist fuck heads. as we have already seen [all sic].” A statement described by the department as “barbaric and racist utterances”
Various people have now laid criminal charges against them and disciplinary action is being taken by their employers. Not satisfied with that political and business leaders sanctimoniously contribute to the debate and stir up emotions rather than trying to calm tempers. We are getting close to the local government elections but I certainly hope that old National Party tactic of creating a political bogey man called “swaart gevaar” is not going to become an election tactic of “racism” or “boere gevaar” as indicated when in November 2013 in Seshego Cyril Ramaphosa said “If you don’t vote the Boers will come back to control us”.
South Africans have got to realise that we will never be able to fight racism with more racism. Every racist remark posted on Facebook or twitter or any other platform only leads to a deluge of more racist comments supporting or opposing the original comments. In fact it demeans the person who posted the comment because they drop to the level of their opposition. Ultimately it is going to harm their future, their children’s future and the future of their grandchildren.
In any case racism does not solve the problem it creates more problems.
The current proposal from most of the political parties to make racism a criminal offence is equally fraught. Such a law is in itself has the potential to create more racism than solve the problem. People must be careful for what they wish for. The National Party found this out the hard way. After Immorality Act No. 21 of 1950 went into effect, the first person to be caught with a non-white was a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church.
One person who I never thought I would agree with not even on a single point is Andile Mngxitama the national convenor of the Black First Land First Movement who makes a valid point “The worst that can happen in this pressured time is the criminalisation of racism while institutional white power remains intact. Such a move will only lead to the mass incarceration of black people as perpetrators of racism instead of its victims.”
The best way to try to rid South Africa of racism is for ordinary citizens to get on with the job and leave the politicians and rabid racists to continue with their hobbyhorse while the ordinary people of South Africa get on with rescuing the country.
How many people have noticed that during this whole racial furore ordinary South Africans of all persuasions have been getting on with the job of trying to relieve one of the potentially most serious humanitarian crises to face South Africa?
Hundreds of thousands of ordinary people have been donating water and delivering it to the residents and farmers in the drought stricken areas. In some cases people and organisations have been drilling boreholes to create a more permanent solution.
While trying to alleviate the suffering of people and their livestock nobody has asked about the colour of the skin of the person who will receive this water nor did they ask if this water came from a “green” person. They were all just too willing to receive and donate water.
This type of action reinforces my inherent trust and belief that the majority of South Africans do care about their fellow countrymen and when left alone without threats will do the correct thing. South Africa needs fewer people trying to score politically correct brownie points and more people doing the things that matter.
Now for the important stuff – the economy:
Unfortunately the economic situation remains perilous and President Zuma still does not understand how the economy operates. Furthermore, he remains unrepentant about the fiasco he created on 5 December 2015 when he fired Nhlanhla Nene as Finance Minister.
Instead of keeping quiet he announces on Sunday 10 January 2016 in a TV interview on eNCA that “People didn’t understand what was happening, and they exaggerated the issue.” Within hours the Rand reached another record low.
Zuma is right and the rest of the world is wrong!
As a child I was once told that it is better to keep quiet and let people think that you are a fool rather than open your mouth and prove it. I am offering the same advice to our President.
Of greater concern was that on Thursday 14 January 2016 the ‘saviour’ Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said at a media briefing “The rand does not operate on what an individual does or says… but there are a wider set of factors that are at play.”
The Minister seems to have forgotten that:
In percentage terms the Rand had its biggest decline in history on 15 August 1985 when PW Botha said the wrong things in his Rubicon Speech delivered in Durban;
- The market had reacted against the Rand in March 1996 at being described, by the then Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, as an “amorphous monster”:
- Within minutes of the firing of Nene the Rand dropped to an all time low;
Please Minister tell us what other wider set of factors were in play on those three occasions?
The mind boggles if Pravin Gordham believes that when President Jacob Zuma tells a “business gala dinner in Sandton” early in December that “Africa was the biggest continent on earth”‚ and a statement is only issued on 18 January to say that he now “regrets the error” that it does not impact on South Africa’s credibility..
Gordham was right in one of his statements that “The world is in a terrible place,” and especially the markets, they don’t suffer fools gladly.
On Friday the South African delegation consisting of cabinet ministers and businessmen going to the World Economic Forum in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland on 20-23 January 2016 met. Speaking after the meeting President Jacob Zuma said South Africa’s delegation will have a unified voice as it promotes the country as an investment destination of choice.
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said the message government intended taking to the event is that South Africa has both the infrastructure and the growth potential that global investors are looking for. “South Africa is a very resilient country and it’s a country that has many pluses. It’s business infrastructure, monetary policies, fiscal policy and sophisticated businesses that other people could partner with.”
Not with standing all the current financial challenges Gordhan still has to deal with explaining the investment deterring bills passed by parliament awaiting Zuma’s signature viz: the Private Security Bill and The Secrecy Bill. If signed into law the laws will in all probability lead to a further flight of foreign capital and they certainly will not attract investment. The President cannot ponder over them forever; the Secrecy Bill has been on his desk for two years.
How is he going to explain that the Promotion and Protection of Investment Bill, signed into law on 15 December but not yet promulgated, is going to promote foreign investment?
How is the delegation going to explain the plague of corruption in the country or why government ignored a High Court order to allow Sudanese President al-Bashir to leave South Africa?
The delegation also has to deal with the potential down grading of the country’s investment potential to junk status. There is still the prospect of having to justify the potential expenditure of R1 trillion on procuring nuclear energy.
Now onto education:
This year has started with the matric pass rate dropping by 5.1% to 70.7%. The Eastern Cape was the worst performing province with a drop of 8.6% to 56.8% while the Western Cape was the only province to show an increased pass rate of 2.5% to 84.7% and for the first time in South Africa every learner who passed matric in the Western Cape passed with access to higher education.
Last Wednesday, more than 2 million pupils across the country kicked off the 2016 academic year. It has been reported that close to 20,000 children in Gauteng alone are yet to be allocated a school. The solution according to the Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi is to increase class sizes while realising that it’s going to create problems. ”I want to be upfront with parents, there will be learners that will have to share desks. There will be learners that have to share textbooks. There will be a teacher [who] will be overwhelmed with the number of [pupils in] the classroom,” he said.
Solving one problem yet creating another problem!
The department is still only looking at building extra classrooms and using mobile rooms. Where is their planning surely they must realise that this is an ongoing problem that should be resolved prior to the start of the year?
One wonders if the department has looked at using any of the empty schools scattered around the province and country. In many cases these schools are empty because parents have moved their children to suburban, former Model C schools, in order to obtain a better education. Upgrading these schools is more practical than spending millions starting from scratch and wasting valuable time. It is not the age of the building that matters, some of the best schools in South Africa and the world are over a hundred years old, but rather the teachers and the facilities.
Ultimately our learners should realise that there is only so much that officials, teachers and parents can do to assist them in the journey that lies ahead. It is up to them to strive to do their very best each and every day at school.
No sooner had schools resumed for 2016 and the new academic years for universities and colleges started and as predicted in Political Perceptions #24 that “Having tasted success this year we can expect mass action every year in the future until the government backs down and provides more funds to provide for greater funds for free basic and tertiary education”, and the student protests started.
One week later and South African education remains in chaos with students now demanding “free education for all’ and to “end outsourcing of university cleaners and security”. The government’s solution is to appoint a committee to report back in eight months time. As usual government were warned in November that this would happen – but no action was taken.
After in 1994 promising “Free education for all” the ANC yesterday said that free education is only for the poor!
In the meantime Higher Education Minister Nzimande has made R4.5 billion in emergency funding to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). However, what the Minister has been very vague about is that the grant is only for students whose fees should have been paid for in 2013, 2014 and 2015 but were not due to inefficiencies in NSFAS. While government attempts to play hero in this catastrophe, when it is in fact the villain, finally paying fees which it promised to pay up to three years ago.
Government has promised to increase NSFAS’s annual funding from R9.5 billion to R10 billion. Minister Nzimande has heralded this as a milestone that the Minister has promised to support 405 000 students. Exactly as many students as he promised to support last year.
Minister Blade Nzimande’s plans to introduce a new funding model for the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) that includes an amendment of the means test to include the “missing middle” – students currently too “rich” to be eligible for NSFAS funding, but too poor for other alternatives is welcome.
However why were these plans not put into place in 2010 when they were first recommended in the Ministerial Review of NSFAS? This is more than half a decade before the crisis of student funding erupted into nationwide protests. Sadly South Africa’s students and universities are now paying the price for Minister Nzimande’s lethargy and neglect.
Students will have to wait until 2017 before a new system is piloted at select universities.
Nelson Mandela famously said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. To achieve this ideal government must treat education as a priority, it is no good tinkering around with school’s or universities language or admission policies but to rather see the big picture and invest heavily in education by giving current teachers further education and upgrading the current schools and universities.
Finally this week – the drought:
Despite some very welcome rain the drought continues and may have unbearable consequences for not only the poor people in South and Southern Africa but also the economy. We are going to have to import essential foods with a depreciating Rand.
It is reported that South Africa has already imported about 750 000 tonnes of maize to meet the country’s needs. The 2015/16 season will see this increased to 5 million tons of maize. It is expected that we will also have to import about 10 million tons of grain, rice and soya into the country. This would put a heavy burden on our harbour and transport infrastructure while the decline in the Rand will increase the cost of doing so excessively.
The response to the drought by government has been inept to say the least. Several provinces have been declared disaster areas, but the President has so far failed to declare the crisis a national disaster. Instead the President laughed off the matter in response to an oral question posed to him in the National Assembly in November 2015.
So far R449.2 million has been made available for drought relief is nowhere near enough to avoid the pending humanitarian crises. If the R2.8 billion owed by ANC controlled municipalities was paid over to the various water boards there would be more funds available for humanitarian relief.
The exceptionally high water losses due to leakage, commercial losses and unbilled consumption compound the shortage of rain. In the biggest metros losses averages at 40% – it is only the DA-run City of Cape Town that bucks this trend at a mere 21%.
The crisis before us clearly requires urgent intervention, but Minister Mokonyane is doing everything she can to hide the failings of the ANC. The 2014 Blue and Green Drop reports into the state our water infrastructure has yet to be released for public comment.
For over 20 years the government has not constructed a single major dam. Three medium sized dams have been opened since 2010. In May last, in the middle of a drought, it was announced that government is considering planning six new dams. The first one will only be completed in 2019, if we are lucky remember the Medupi delays?
True to form government is doing too little too late. Instead of building power stations in 1998 when Eskom proposed it government waited until 2008 resulting in load shedding. Now they wait until the drought to ‘consider’ building dams let’s hope that the result is not starvation.
Obviously they have never taken the bible Genesis 41 about Pharaoh’s dream regarding the seven years of plenty and seven years of famine seriously. Over the past few years when water was scarce there were no dams built but now when we are in the midst of a draught then there are suddenly plans to build new dams.
If this is how 2016 has started imagine what the election campaign is going to be like later in the year.
Until next time,
This newsletter is published by Clive Hatch former Leader of the Opposition in the Mpumalanga Provincial Legislature and former DA Provincial Leader. These views are my personal views and do not represent those of any other person or organisation.