Jacob Zuma and his clique are ever more fervent in their belief the state will provide even as they prove it cannot, writes Tony Leon

Ken Clarke, the veteran Tory grandee in the historic House of Commons vote triggering Brexit, drew on Lewis Caroll’s fantasy tale to frame his dissent. The former chancellor of the exchequer and Europhile scoffed at his government’s claims that a world of choices and riches awaits Britain outside the embrace of the EU.

Comparing Prime Minister Theresa May to Alice in Wonderland, he sneered: “Apparently you follow the rabbit down the hole and emerge in a wonderland where countries are queuing up to give us trading advantages and access to markets that previously we have never been able to achieve…. No doubt there is somewhere a Hatter holding a tea party with a dormouse.”

A similar lens of fantasy will be useful to view proceedings in our own Parliament when President Jacob Zuma presents his state of the nation address on Thursday, followed 13 days later by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s budget. But before looking for the rabbit holes that are likely to be conjured up on Thursday, the country has recently witnessed the reappearance of at least two Mad Hatters.

First, Mzwanele Manyi gave a manic turn in Parliament – which at least had the advantage of airing some home truths. For someone who is billed as the president of the Progressive Professionals Forum, he gave vent to some decidedly reactionary views. He wants to scrap the Constitution and throw the rule of law into the ditch. In his antic world view, these instruments block “transformation” and enacting the Financial Intelligence Centre Amendment Bill will have the effect of “bankrupting the ANC”. There you have it: the governing party coffers are awash, in his submission, with dodgy or dirty money, the very purpose of anti-money laundering laws being to red-flag such transfers.

Another member of the Mad Hatter club, but far more malign than Manyi in terms of harm actually done, is the recently dethroned Gauteng MEC for health, Qedani Mahlangu. Having presided over a decision to condemn to death through neglect at least 94 mentally ill patients entrusted to her care, she proved in all its essentials that the ANC slogan “A better life for all” can be translated into “No life at all” for some.

The publication of her correspondence with one patient’s daughters shows the arrogance of power on steroids. She belittles the anguished relative on language issues, avoids responsibility and actually lies. Then, in a chilling window into how the government views its citizens, the director of health, Dr Makgabo Manamela, responds to a life-and-death plea from the daughter with an electronic message demanding respect for her political boss: “I don’t appreciate the way you address her at times.”

In one sentence, the inverted world of government arrogance, misplaced priorities and utter contempt for its citizens is laid bare. Never mind the Hippocratic oath Manamela swore to uphold, which contains the injunction “above all, do no harm”.

No matter whether ideologically socialistic or libertarian, there is a broad consensus that the government’s essential duty is to provide healthcare for indigent people and to hold a protective umbrella to shield its most vulnerable citizens. Indeed, the Constitution Manyi and his fellow retrograde-progressives want to ditch commands the state to do so.

But in Otto von Bismarck’s description of Italy as a country with a “large appetite but poor teeth”, the governing party last week recommitted itself to shift the country from “a pure capitalist state to a state-managed developmentalist economy underpinned by a developmental public service”.

Before you die laughing at this gobbledygook, just think of the 94 mentally ill patients who actually died at the hands of the current “developmental public service” and the ANC politicians who head it. Or perhaps think about the 700-plus state-owned enterprises, so often sites of plunder, misgovernance and cronyistic networks of nepotism and corruption. The state is the largest single employer of people in the formal economy, hardly indicative of the “pure capitalistic state” with which, apparently, SA is burdened.

Actually paying those 3-million public servants, including those working at state-owned enterprises, together with the 17-million grant recipients, now consumes more than 44c of every rand the government spends, according to the figures of total consolidated expenditure in the current budget. Add in the dismal figures of the gross debt incurred to fund government spending (R2.2-trillion) and the debt-servicing costs (R147bn per annum).

Then there’s the alarming fact that paying off the debt is now the fastest nominal growth item in the budget (moving up 10.1%). All this as both cause and consequence of abysmally low sub-1% GDP growth, five times lower than the government’s promise and the premise on which the all-but-abandoned National Development Plan rests.

That is the real state of the nation, in a few dismal figures. But you won’t hear much about it from the man who has presided over this and much worse deterioration when he opens Parliament on Thursday.

Destructive Governance

He will rail against “white monopoly capital”, decry his bad inheritance and perhaps explain how the appetite of the state now extends to taking over chicken farms. Zuma might even elaborate on the rambling thesis he offered on the night of December 9 2015, on which he unleashed his weapon of destructive governance with the firing of Nhlanhla Nene and lying about the reasons for it.

Peter Bruce, on these pages on Friday, reprised Zuma’s views on the labour theory of surplus value. “I rebel against the idea that what determines the value of a commodity is the law of supply and demand … the [real] value of a commodity is the labour time taken in the production of a commodity.”

This mangled Marxism does not address something that will also be omitted from Zuma’s state of the nation address. The world of work has changed fundamentally. Even though the ANC lekgotla noted the so-called “fourth industrial revolution and the era of innovation”, it does nothing to prepare its voters for its consequences.

Like the woolly mammoth, Zuma is simply incapable of tackling the challenges of a rapidly changing world. But since many of his devout followers seem to enjoy trolling people on Twitter and other social media platforms, undoubtedly the inner circle are fans of both Facebook and WhatsApp.

Writer Jill Lapore provided a chilling insight into just how profitable, profoundly light on jobs and shattering of old Marxist myths this new technology is proving to be. Facebook, which did not exist until 2004, is now worth about $270bn, about two-thirds of the size of the total economy of SA. It employs just 13,000 people. In 2014, it bought WhatsApp for $22bn and WhatsApp had a grand total workforce of 55.

As Lapore notes: “When a $22bn company can fit its entire workforce into a Greyhound bus, the concept of surplus labour would seem to have run its course.”

The coming man in the dying days of the Zuma regime, Brian Molefe, thinks the “monster” in the room is “white monopoly capital”. But actually, the real monstrosity is peddling false promises and fake assurances on the economy and what ails it and not getting to grips with the real challenges. Just as the former MEC for health in Gauteng proved in public health.

• Leon, a former leader of the opposition, now chairs Resolve Communications and is a senior adviser to K2 Intelligence of London. @TonyLeonSA