Property owners may be forgiven for thinking that expropriation of their land without compensation (EWC) is the biggest bone of contention in the dog’s breakfast that is modern-day South Africa, but they’d be wrong.
For make no mistake, EWC ~ or at least the threat of expropriation of land and possibly other assets ~ is not going to go away, at least not as long as Julius Malema and his EFF rabble-rousers continue to take centre-stage. However, while South Africans’ attention was distracted by Jacob Zuma and his Gupta pals and their blatant thievery, the country was descending into an unmitigated mess.
In a way, what we have now is a perfect storm, because a number of lingering problems and national ailments have developed into full-on crises at the same time, and all have landed on the doorstep of President Ramaphosa. Poor man!
Take education: We have known for decades that primary and secondary state education was a mess. Badly trained and poorly-motivated teachers are expected to teach an ever-changing curriculum in broken-down and poorly-resourced schools which turn out functionally-illiterate and innumerate school leavers into a job market that simply can’t absorb them. So in an attempt to better their prospects of employment, these school leavers chase what they believe is the holy grail in the form of a university degree. Which, because many of them simply can’t afford it, resulted in the Fees Must Fall campaign, which was a resounding success, thanks to Jacob Zuma’s idiotic and unaffordable capitulation last year.
Take healthcare: Nurses and doctors working ridiculous hours in state hospitals that are filthy, broken, understaffed and under-equipped. And all the while the minister of health (who as a specialist in public health should know better) attempts to ram through his dream of a National Health Insurance scheme for all, never mind the fact that he hasn’t quite worked out how it’s going to be funded.
Take the job market: No entrepreneur in his or her right mind wants to take on the aforementioned functionally-illiterate and innumerate school leavers as workers, not least because the one thing they have internalised in their school careers is a sense of entitlement which tends to hobble their enthusiasm for productivity at work.
None of this is helped by labour laws that make it unpleasantly burdensome to take on ~ and pay ~ additional staff, or to get rid of underperforming or dishonest workers.
As a result, millions of young people spend their time at home, on street corners or getting up to mischief because their hope of ever getting a job that will “suit” them is zero. Thus, depending on how you define the total available labour force, unemployment in South Africa stands at anywhere between 25 and 60-plus percent.
Take social welfare: 17 million old, poor, disabled adults, or poor children, receive a monthly payment from the state, which is funded by five million taxpayers. While supporting the country’s most vulnerable financially is a noble sentiment, and a great injection of income into the economy, given the numbers it clearly isn’t sustainable in the long term.
Take local government: Even in a small province such as Gauteng, early-morning service delivery protests have become commonplace. And if they’re commonplace here they are also taking place regularly around the country. Road are potholed ~ been to Vereeniging lately? Rivers are polluted ~ been to Parys recently to enjoy the fetid miasma of sewage that rises from the Vaal River? In many municipalities water periodically stops flowing, or the lights go out. Emfuleni municipality recently had no official vehicles because it neglected to pay its vehicle leasing charges. Johannesburg, which should have about 140 functional fire engines, has 15 on the road.
Take state-owned businesses: The Post Office, after its protracted strike mid-year, is all-but defunct. Prasa is, by its own admission, a financial basket-case. SA Airways is bankrupt. Transnet is wracked by corruption and the SABC doesn’t have the money to pay its suppliers, despite raking in millions in TV license fees.
And then there’s politics: The ANC may have been an effective liberation movement but that hasn’t made it an effective governing party. It’s had 24 years to manage the affairs of the country but, after a promising start when the economy was growing and all seemed set fair, it has descended into an ineffective, fractured mess that would have difficulty running a bath, much less a country.
So this is the mess over which President Ramaphosa presides. Can he pull us right? God knows.