Now, if I were Pravin...
‘Wives are young men’s mistresses, companions for middle age and old men’s nurses,” wrote 17th-century English philosopher Francis Bacon. Thankfully, the world has changed a lot since then, but sadly, in many respects, it remains the same. Africans largely remain the “hewers of wood and drawers of water”, as Hendrik Verwoerd said when arguing for the introduction of Bantu education.
I have high hopes as the minister of finance, comeback kid Pravin Gordhan, takes the podium again. He is the de facto CEO of the country. He draws up the budget and must clearly articulate the returns he expects from each minister, as well as his department.
His job is to grow the economy and undo our apartheid legacy. We are failing not because of his policies or the Zuma-Gupta debacle. One of our biggest constraints is the department of trade and industry (the dti). Gordhan should be tough on the dti’s minister, Rob Davies; call him into a room and speak frankly to him.
He must look him straight in the eye and tell him quietly but firmly: “Rob, you’re messing up. If you were black, you would have been fired long ago. Your job is to grow the economy, not shrink it. Is that clear? You have made doing business in South Africa extremely difficult, not to mention almost impossible, for black business to grow and compete with white business. You’ve turned running a business into a crushing bureaucratic exercise.
“Rob, you expect someone who starts a business to apply to the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission and renew this every year?
“It may be okay for a white business, which can employ an army of consultants, to do so. What about black businesses in places like Sterkspruit and Greytown in the Eastern Cape? Do you know how much documentation is required to start a company? Do you realise that by increasing bureaucracy, you are increasing internal barriers to trade?” “The problem, Comrade...” “Shut up, Rob! Just because I was elected democratically doesn’t mean I have to practise democracy. I want 6% growth, Rob. I want 6 million jobs, and stop making it difficult for South Africa to attain that. Next! What’s your portfolio again? There are 70 of you; I can’t remember what everybody does.” “I’m the minister of economic development.” “Ebby Patel. And what economic development have you brought about?” “I ...” “The economy is shrinking, Ebby. Useless people like you in the private sector are hauled through a competence inquiry to see if they’re fit for the job. We have a minister of economic development, yet the economy is shrinking! I’ll tell you what I’ve decided to do: you’re retrenched. I’m merging your department with Rob’s.
“It’s a proven formula in the corporate world: when two or more companies are individually in trouble, merge them. So, I’m going to merge the dti with the department of economic development. Ebby, you know how South Africa goes: you’re easily dispensable. It’s nothing personal, Comrade. You know dung rolls downwards. It’s the whites, then Indians, followed by the coloureds, and in the bottom toilet it’s the Africans, even today. Ask Nene.
“And Rob, now that you’ve kept the job, I know you’re a good man and your heart is in the right place, but you must deliver, Comrade...”
Yes, I do have hope, but then my experiences of this country force me to ask myself this question: What is the difference between hope and lying to yourself?
All I can say to small black business, which will not be considered in Parliament, except as a token of appeasement, is do not despair. Those who see you through tinted windows are blinded by the beauty of blue lights and oppressed by the sirens of power. They are not killing you intentionally.
They’re not ill-natured; they’re good people. So keep crawling. That way, you can’t hew any wood or draw any water for anyone.