British-American editor and author Tina Brown has just published her new take on the British Royal Family, The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor — the Truth and the Turmoil, to coincide with Queen Elizabeth II’s platinum jubilee.
The irreproachable queen’s third child and most wayward member of the house invited this acidic comment from the author: “[Prince] Andrew, unfortunately, exhibited classic symptoms of what is scientifically recognised as the Dunning-Kruger effect, the cognitive bias in which people come to believe that they are smarter and more capable than they really are.
“The combination of minimal self-awareness and dim wattage leads the sufferers of this condition to overestimate their capabilities. Years of enjoying unearned obeisance to his royal position allowed Andrew to bang on with a combination of overweening self-confidence and unchallenged ignorance.”
Our own parliament was recently reminded by the leader of the opposition that SA has one of the world’s largest cabinets — 33 full ministers and about 30 deputies. That is twice the size of the US cabinet at federal level, though we have 20% of the US population; and we house 10 more cabinet members than China, whose population is more than 20 times larger than ours.
One consequence of ministerial inflation in SA is that it is spoilt for choice (in a race to the bottom) for exhibitors of the Dunning-Kruger syndrome. Indeed, in all their status anxiety (insistence on being referenced as “Minister” for example, the bodyguards and blue lights) and the often fawning deference by civil servants and ANC MPs, many conform to Brown’s description of the prince.
A few weeks ago two ministers, almost on the same day, provided ample proof of both Dunning-Kruger at work and revealed a great deal about the state of the state, and the root cause of so many of its and the country’s travails. For potential investors, the reckless disregard for legality and economic sobriety displayed by mineral resources & energy minister Gwede Mantashe during his budget vote stands, in a crowded field, all on its own.
He threatened to suspend the mining licence of Sibanye-Stillwater, the world’s largest platinum groups metals producer and biggest employer in the SA mining sector, for not settling a strike on its gold mines. Never mind that most historical gold mining companies have upped sticks and departed these shores — the relevant legislation does not allow ministerial fiat to stop production. Nor does it allow the minister to use it as a cudgel to intervene in a bona fide industrial relations dispute.
Ministers swear an oath to uphold the constitution. Acting or threatening to act as Mantashe did, ultra vires his powers, is a direct contradiction of that oath. And just weeks before this threat was issued President Cyril Ramaphosa had tried to woo scarce, and arguably scared, investors at the Mining Indaba — seemingly with good reason, as evinced by the Fraser Institute survey, which placed us among the least attractive places in the world for mining investment.
In Ramaphosa’s emollient tones of reassurance he offered mining investors this view of our bottom ranking, “our worst ever” as he admitted: “This ranking underlines the fundamental reality that SA needs to move with greater purpose and urgency to remove the various impediments to the growth and development of the industry.”
Obviously, Mantashe wasn’t paying attention; or he was still smarting at the barracking Ramaphosa received from striking Sibanye mineworkers in Rustenburg just days before. Perhaps he wished to change the subject from the latest Zondo state capture report, which invited the law enforcement agencies to launch an investigation into Mantashe’s unearned gifts from that tender-milking entity Bosasa — or correctly being fingered by energy experts as accused number one in the dock for our electricity crisis.
Who knows what informs a ramshackle minister’s mind? He is likely not to enjoy the unvarnished frankness of the boss of Sibanye-Stillwater, Neal Froneman, who in addition to holding out on the strike had some choice remarks about the real state of our country. In March he described SA as “practically a failed state … this is a lack of leadership. This is a lack of people at the highest levels taking proper action against lawlessness, against crime….”
Indeed, just days before, and after Mantashe’s improper threat to Froneman, industrial sabotage at Eskom power stations was revealed yet again. And just as the instigators of the Durban July looting and destruction remain at large, little has been done to identify and convict the saboteurs.
When Ramaphosa offered his assurance to mining investors, weeks before Mantashe undercut it, one industry veteran said: “I have never heard him give a bad speech. [But] In business people look for action.”
Ramaphosa himself gifts posterity — also with a touch of Dunning-Kruger — with so many verbal hostages to fortune that he could settle our national debt if he had to pay for noncompliance with the commitments made and repeated, so many of which remain unmet.
In the midst of his own public enterprises minister recently not ruling out the possibility of stage eight load-shedding, it is sobering to recall a commitment Ramaphosa made to parliament in September 2015, when he was in charge of the Eskom “war room”. He advised: “In another 18 months to two years you will forget the challenges we had with relation to power and energy and Eskom ever happened.”
But we can always wrap ourselves in the flag. Or not, now that the R22m project of sport, arts & culture minister Nathi Mthethwa has been mothballed. There are two revealing takeaways from the false flag fiasco, both demonstrating anew the prevalence of Dunning-Kruger in the highest reaches of the state.
First, the project was approved by the whole cabinet. It was not a solo frolic of Mthethwa, dubbed by arts writer Chris Thurman as “the worst minister to hold this portfolio … and a contender for most inept cabinet member altogether”. Yet not one of the minister’s 32 colleagues thought to inquire what the flag would cost. “That is not how the cabinet operates,” was the official response. Well, that explains much else besides.
But neither the hapless Mthethwa nor any other ministerial paladin thought for a nanosecond of the optics and extravagance of a R22m bill for a flag and how it would be received by a people who go to bed hungry, while desperate children have been reported feeding themselves on sand, and more than half the population lives in poverty. Only a furious pushback forced a rare course reversal by the government.
For at least the past decade there was an assumption that the ANC was poor at governance but excellent at politics. Recent events suggest that the latter is no longer the case.
• Leon, a former leader of the opposition, now chairs a communications company.