Cut the fat, feed the peo­ple

CityPress - - Business - Terry Bell busi­ness@ city­press. co. za

We have now had time to di­gest this year’s state of the na­tion ad­dress (Sona) – al­though ‘di­gest’ hardly seems the right word, given how lit­tle sub­stance there was in the speech.

Not that this was the view of the al­liance faith­ful. They still ral­lied du­ti­fully to pro­nounce, with a few reser­va­tions, that Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma was “on the right track”.

Cosatu, for ex­am­ple, wel­comed the “broad thrusts” of Sona which, the labour fed­er­a­tion noted, “high­lighted many im­por­tant steps to­wards lift­ing the na­tion out of its eco­nomic cri­sis and plac­ing it on the cor­rect path”.

The SA Com­mu­nist Party (SACP) kinder­garten, the Young Com­mu­nist League, went even fur­ther. Re­veal­ing a re­mark­ably slen­der grasp of re­al­ity, the league an­nounced the coun­try was “on the right track de­spite a bleak pic­ture about the state of the na­tion painted in pub­lic by the ne­olib­eral me­dia and its apol­o­gists”.

This “bleak pic­ture” is made up of an of­fi­cially ac­knowl­edged 35%-plus un­em­ploy­ment rate, with wide­spread hunger as the norm and where the ma­jor­ity of fam­i­lies live below any des­ig­nated poverty line. Much of this not, un­for­tu­nately, very widely re­ported in the me­dia.

Not un­ex­pect­edly, the praise-singing for the govern­ment was to­tally op­posed by the Na­tional Union of Met­al­work­ers of SA (Numsa), once the largest — and now ex­pelled — af­fil­i­ate of Cosatu. Numsa an­nounced it was “ap­palled” by a Sona that re­vealed a govern­ment which had “lost all grasp of the deep prob­lems fac­ing the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of South African peo­ple”.

In say­ing this, Numsa was in tune with most com­men­ta­tors. But the union went on to make it abun­dantly clear that it is in elec­tion mode and in­tends to “move with ur­gency to es­tab­lish a new demo­cratic work­ers’ party, which will stand for the com­plete so­cial­ist trans­for­ma­tion of so­ci­ety”.

This, of course, is the same goal ap­par­ently aimed at by the lead­ers of Cosatu, many of whom share lead­er­ship po­si­tions in the com­mu­nist party. The prob­lem here is there seems to ex­ist no clear def­i­ni­tion of what is meant by so­cial­ism.

Per­haps, as one vet­eran trade union­ist re­marked, “it’s sim­ply a bat­tle be­tween a hos­tile band of Stal­in­ist brothers”. This in ref­er­ence to the fact that the lead­ing polemi­cists in the SACP, Cosatu and Numsa all share the same political pedi­gree and ap­pear still to look to what ex­isted in the for­mer Soviet Union as “so­cial­ism”.

Lost in all this fiery rhetoric is a prac­ti­cal pro­posal from the Fed­er­a­tion of Unions of SA (Fe­dusa) that, in th­ese eco­nom­i­cally par­lous times, govern­ment should cut costs at the top, start­ing by re­duc­ing the grossly bloated Cab­i­net.

While Ger­many, for ex­am­ple, has a head of state, An­gela Merkel and 15 Cab­i­net min­is­ters, we have a pres­i­dent, deputy pres­i­dent, 35 min­is­ters and 37 deputy min­is­ters.

The to­tal cost, in salaries alone – there are also perks that in­clude med­i­cal aid, free and sub­sidised hous­ing, trans­port and other al­lowances – is more than R160 mil­lion a year. Fe­dusa pro­poses that a Cab­i­net for South Africa should com­prise 10 min­is­ters and that they should take a 25% pay cut.

Not a bad place to start?

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