The Ramaphosa presidency is an infant –four months old, and –voters, party, and health willing – still with around 4000 days to go.
Hans Rosling, an acclaimed Swedish statistician and professor of international health who died recently, penned Factfulness, a book which objectively seeks to rebut the global pessimism on the world condition and ‘why things are better than you think’.
Rosling describes the world today in terms which could apply to the ‘new dawn’ SA presidency, buffeted only this week by a crashing currency, a capitulation to the unions at ESKOM and factionalism in three provinces and counting.
He writes, “Think of the world as a very sick premature baby in an incubator. After a week she is improving, but she has to stay in an incubator because her health is critical. Does it makes sense to say the situation is bad? Yes.” Rosling then cites the perils around us –climate change, war, violence and inequality.
Next he pivots: “Does it make sense to say the infant’s situation is improving? Yes it does.” He provides a welter of statistics proving how more literacy, less poverty, greater access to water and electricity has uplifted more people, more rapidly in recent years than at any other point in human history.
He then provides a rhetorical venn diagram of how the negatives and positives intersect: “Does saying things are improving imply that everything is fine, and we should not worry? Not at all: it is both bad and better. That is how we must think about the current state of the world.“
My brother Peter, a mining lawyer, has not yet read the book but he used almost its precise language in commenting on the newest version of the SA mining charter. “Better but still bad” –is his view.
Unlike the version offered by rapacious Gupta-doppelganger Mosobenzi Zwane, new minister of mineral resources Gwede Mantashe’s offering did not see his edits wipe out R50 bn of the market value of mining shares listed on the JSE. He addressed some key concerns on ownership and time lines and beneficiation. That’s the ‘better’ part.
But if the new administration is in its infancy, the mining industry is in sclerotic decline, and so to the ‘bad’ part of the new charter: ramping up racial requirements for board membership, compulsory share transfers of 30%, and the delights of what is termed a ‘trickle dividend’. None will likely not lead to any ‘trickle down’ in new investment flows.
Current mine owners have little choice except to comply. But in terms of attracting new investors and explorations, an international mining maven of my acquaintance reprised the immortal riposte of TV-antihero, the Mafiosi Tony Soprano: ‘fuhgeddaboudit’
The thinking behind this mining shake down and a dislike for market forces so embedded in the ideology behind this ‘better but still bad’ version of the charter – and the entire paraphernalia of ‘new dawn’ economic thinking – was rebutted in a single recent tweet.
I assume “Siphamandla” whose twitter account describes him as a “Christian, conservative, SA economist and believer in capitalism’’ is real live person, not a Russian-manufactured bot. Either way, he hones in on the essence of what keeps the Ramaphosa presidency on economic life-support at a moment of global uncertainty and dire domestic conditions.
“The ANC is obsessed with wealth redistribution, instead of wealth creation. The result is the formation of a costly large administrative working class and tenderpreneur system. More money on these workers and tenders and less money for development activities.“
‘Siphamandla’ also describes himself as a follower of Thomas Sowell, the American economist and iconoclast –an African American raised in Harlem and advocate for free enterprise economics. Early in his career, he opined on the perils of surfing against the currents of political correctness, ‘Truth has a hard swim in these waters.’ Likewise on our southern shores.
Four months into a possible ten year-plus administration, Ramaphosa and his ministers can keep the country in an incubator, ailing but better than before (under Jacob Zuma). Or they could try a different medical regime. It might just shock the patient into a healthy and long life.
• Leon, a former leader of the opposition, now chairs Resolve Communications and is a senior adviser to K2 Intelligence of London. @TonyLeonSA.
- Featured in Sunday Times