Let's Think

Recalibration of post-1994 South Africa urgently needed

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Mistakes and miscalculations during the transition process of the early 1990s to the ‘new’ South Africa are catching up on the country, retarding its economic and social development.

Some mistakes are repeats of those of the previous regime, some new. Fact is that individuals, communities and institutions continue to be victimised by them.

How it works

If the implications of policy and governance decisions are not properly thought through, the best of intentions can go horribly wrong.

Right at the end of the previous dispensation I, as a then member of the Executive Committee of the then province of Transvaal, attended a farewell function for staff members of the Townships Board – many of them female professional regional and town planners.

There were mainly two reasons for them leaving. The incoming ANC announced plans to move the capital and administration of Gauteng from Pretoria to Johannesburg. For many female employees it implied a daily peak-hour journey to Johannesburg and back. With some of their husbands working in Pretoria, relocation was not an attractive option.

The second reason was that especially older, more experienced civil servants were scared by rumours doing the rounds that a new government were planning to cut back on their pension benefits, and early retirement packages were on offer.

Calculations I made at the time showed that we, on that single morning said goodbye to no fewer than about 1 400 years of collective experience, and the institutional memory that goes with it – a huge loss that would show, and still does, in the years to come.

This was a process, especially on the back of the pension scare and driven by affirmative-action type programmes by the incoming government, that repeated itself many times over, across the breadth of the civil service at all levels and institutions.

Creating victims

Not only the transitional process to a new governmental dispensation, but also the quality of service delivery and the transfer of skills would fall victim to what happened.

Many of those civil servants who felt compelled to take early retirement severance packages, often intended to speed up the transitional/transformation process, used the money to enter the world of entrepreneurship – buying or starting businesses.

It was a world of which many of them had little experience or real knowledge – in short, they were ill prepared. Many failed at their new chosen career behind shop counters. I personally know a number of these ex-civil servants who have fallen onto hard times, some of them quite embittered and feeling cheated and let down.

History repeating itself

At a fundamental level, under the ANC government, some negative elements of the apartheid system are now repeating themselves.

The results of a research project by the Development Unit for New Enterprise at the University of Cape Town, released last week as a Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) report, relates how the social engineering of  broad-based black economic empowerment (B-BBEE) has gone wrong. It does not really benefit the majority of the black population, while entrepreneurship among minority (coloured, Indian, and white) communities is flourishing.

Early-stage entrepreneurs among blacks, as a proportion of the total, has shrunk from 85% in 2013 to 68% in 2015. The level of entrepreneurship among the three minority groups, in contrast, has increased. It doubled among Indians and tripled among whites.

Growing-up in the 1950s to the early 1970s, white children of my own generation of so-called baby boomers, were more often than not encouraged to prepare for a ‘safe and steady’ career in the civil services or in a big corporation.

Much the same is now happening with black children. Minority groups on the other hand feel they have to fend for themselves. The social engineering of B-BBEE, however, has brought back the phenomenon of ‘fronting’, as did the Group Areas Act of the apartheid days.

To get their hands on lucrative government business and contracts, companies appoint or allocate some shareholding to ‘token blacks’.

To what extent black individuals are sometimes victimised by this, is illustrated by a report in The Sowetan last week. It relates how, in February this year “William Masuku, 65, retired with only his last salary cheque from Nesandla Civils Pty (Ltd), a Benoni-based construction company he had served for 46 years.”

It turns out that he and a friend should have retired with hundreds of thousands or millions of rands. They were “were apparently listed as directors of the company, a move that improved the company's black economic empowerment (BEE) ratings”.

Getting rid of the problem

The GEM report prompts two observations. One is that the promotion of the black entrepreneurship component of the NDP is to all intents and purposes now null and void.

Entrepreneurship is what drives successful economies. Coloured people, Indians, and whites are acquiring the necessary skills, taking the necessary risks, and learning by trial and error. Africans are being left behind, writes John Kane-Berman, a policy fellow at the South African Institute of Race Relations.

“The gap in entrepreneurial skills between Africans on the one hand and the minority groups on the other will widen. This inequality will fuel resentment. It will be blamed on colonialism and apartheid, but that will not alter the fact that the ANC’s own racial policies are perpetuating, and even aggravating it,” he concludes.

And, going the route of more stringent government regulation to get rid of ‘fronting’, as seems to be suggested by President Zuma’s recently created B-BBEE Advisory Council, is also not the answer. The private sector will only start ‘boxing more clever’, as they always do, while adding another layer of cost to doing business in South Africa.

Conclusion

The ‘recalibration” of the plans and policies employed in the run-up to, and since, the 1994 South African transition to democracy as a truly national and multi-sector project, has become extremely important and urgent. Without it we are in danger of becoming a failed state.

by Piet Coetzer

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