US President Donald Trump has strong local competition for the award which columnist David Brooks recently bestowed on him.
He declared that the erratic leader of the free world as ‘ the all-time record holder of the Dunning-Kruger effect.’
In 1999, David Dunning and Justin Kruger – two academic psychologists at Cornell University – described how people of low ability suffer from illusory superiority when they mistakenly asses their ability as greater than they possess. Or, as Brooks pithily summarised it: “The phenomenon in which the incompetent person is too incompetent to understand their own incompetence.’’
South Africa has no shortage of claimants for this effect. This week three locals jostled for the award. Minerals minister Mosebenzi Zwane, public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane and finance Minister Malusi Gigaba , at the very least, merit placement.
Assuming that incompetence and a fatal lack of self-awareness is the best explanatory tool, then the just gazetted mining charter makes some sense. Or perhaps it’s a bill for looters –reducing century-old assets to fire sale prices and dressing up plunder in the garb of ideology?
Either way, just subject this economically and legally illiterate paper to some basic tests. Is it the result of extensive consultation with all stakeholders? Does it comply with both the constitution and legislation? Does it advance South Africa’s economic interests at a moment of national peril and credit downgrades?
The answers were swift in coming: within hours of its publication last Thursday over R51bn in value had been wiped off local mining stocks. The Chamber of Mines, representing 90% of mine owners, announced it was rushing to court to block the charter on the grounds that not only had there been inadequate consultation but that key provisions in the charter were never ever discussed before publication.
“Sloppy drafting”, “ irrational” ”, “vague and embarrassing” “ a violation of the Companies Act” were just several of the headline phrases used by legal firms in their reaction to the charter.
You might well ask how the cabinet actually approved the draft. President Zuma advised that it was consulted. Many thought it might not have been; recall Zwane’s announcement that cabinet had agreed to a commission of enquiry on the banking sector when it had not. He was forced into a humiliating apology for that misstep. But on his latest frolic he stands uncorrected. Anyway Zuma’s cabinet these days resembles the title on the book on the sinking of the Titanic, “Every Man for Himself”.
But on the subject of banks and the incompetence of incompetents, step forward our new Public Protector. There’s a lot of disturbing matter in the so-called Absa lifeboat saga. Not the least of it being the unhealthily close relationship between Bankorp ( predecessor of ABSA) and the then ruling National Party.
But current public protector Busisiwe Mkhwabane cherry-picked the reports of two Judges, Willem Heath and Dennis Davis into the matter, and ignored their central finding. Davis, no friend of the former regime or its backers, concluded it was Sanlam and not Absa which owed the bailout money and that the amount was irrecoverable, since Sanlam had changed from a mutual insurance society into a public listed company, hence the improbability of ever effectuating a successful claim.
Davis knows a lot of law, Mkhebane not much, and so she pronounced accordingly. But then she went way beyond her constitutional remit, and knowingly or ignorantly, decided to finish the assault on the banking sector, which Zwane had failed to complete last year. She took direct aim at the Reserve Bank and its mandate. She announced, that the Bank should abandon its role of protecting the currency and guarding against inflation. This breath-taking suggestion was shot down by the ANC secretary general, the reeling finance sector, the reserve bank itself and the ratings agencies.
So the public protector who on a good day should be the plaintiff in actions against an erring government, will now find herself as a defendant in court in an indefensible case of faulty findings, ignoring precedent and vast overreach.
Still, the unbanked and unbankable Guptas must be mightily pleased with her report, just as they must have delighted, if not actually drafted the so-called “Gupta clause” in the new mining charter. That incidentally allows for post-1994 ‘naturalised black citizens’ to qualify for the loot to be obtained from the dispossession of existing mine owners. But then of course, we also discovered only this week, that at least one of the Gupta Brothers was wrongly granted citizenship by Malusi Gigaba; or maybe he wasn’t. It’s bogged down in a swamp of incompetence, bewilderment and denial.
Another winner of the Dunning Kruger effect is British Prime Minister Theresa May. Her hubristic decision to call a snap election was only matched by her incompetence in the campaign. But after its calamitous conclusion, she at least had the humility to declare to her party: “I’m the one that got us into this mess, and I’m the one who is going to get us out of it.” Sadly, for South Africa, “Number One” has made no such declaration – and the slide downward accelerates.
• Featured in The Sunday Times