Appeasing these saboteurs will turn the New Dawn into a twilight of vampires
We were lulled into believing that once Jacob Zuma, the great Satan, was gone, things could only get better. It would be morning in South Africa again. We spoke about the transition in almost hallucinatory terms, as though it was the second coming. Cyril Ramaphosa, he walked on water. He had the Midas touch. He was, one wag enthused, Mandela-esque. We even coined a word for it, Ramaphoria. And it sounded just about right.
Well, the New Dawn, like a puff of smoke, has evaporated into nothingness. Things have got worse. And numbers don’t lie. On the day Zuma resigned, for instance, the rand was sitting at R11.83 to the dollar. Today the currency is dancing between R13 and R14 to the greenback.
And the ever-rising fuel price is beginning to induce a real sense of agitation and foreboding.
The price of fuel is of course a function of our diminishing currency. But it’s also because in the motorist, the government has found a docile and dependable cash cow. It has heaped tax after tax on every litre of fuel. And the fuel levy is a fuel levy in name only; it’s being used for other things. A tax revolt could be in the offing unless the government takes steps to ensure, and demonstrate to all South Africans, that their tax rands are indeed going towards the public cause.
However, this is not to suggest that the Zuma era was all milk and honey. Hardly. He is, after all, the villain of the piece. He took us to the edge of the precipice. But since his departure we’ve neither reversed course nor taken a detour, despite the fulsome declarations of a new beginning. We’re still charging full-steam ahead.
The positive sentiments palpable a while ago were not so much the result of the dazzling rays of Ramaphosa’s New Dawn; it was simply glee at seeing the back of Zuma. And now it’s wearing off. While people are getting poorer, angrier and more desperate, Zuma — the architect of this nightmare — is enjoying his retirement on full pay. And what’s more, Ramaphosa has decreed that the taxpayer will continue to foot Zuma’s legal fees.
The old geezer is having a good time.
But what’s even more concerning about the current state of affairs is that it doesn’t seem like anybody’s in charge. People break laws and burn things with abandon, and there’s nary a word from the authorities.
It’s just another day in sunny South Africa. If anything is said or done about it at all, it’s always after the fact. There’s a lack of decisiveness — and direction — about this Thuma Mina government.
This week, for instance, disgruntled protesters blockaded two of the country’s main arteries, rendering them totally impassable. The scenic Garden Route, popular with tourists, was a no-go area because demonstrators, protesting about one thing or the other, decided nobody should go through on the N2. There was no explanation why things were allowed to degenerate to such an extent, and why stern action wasn’t taken.
The N3 is probably the country’s most important national route, connecting Gauteng, South Africa’s economic heartland, with Durban, our main port. With our rail system being what it is, the N3 is of critical importance to the economy.
Yet truck drivers were allowed this week to turn Van Reenen’s Pass into a parking lot, completely blocking traffic between the two centres. Some 62 drivers were arrested, but they will only be charged with public violence and obstructing traffic. That’s a slap on the wrist. Sabotage is a more appropriate indictment.
“We are very, very pleased that it [the N3] has been reopened,” a spokesman for the toll operators was quoted as saying. He should have been ashamed and embarrassed that such a debacle was allowed to happen in the first place.
An economy that’s almost on its knees can hardly afford such deliberate acts of sabotage. These hooligans will probably be let off scot-free “for lack of evidence”.
The truckers could probably be forgiven for acting irresponsibly; they’re just an unorganised mob. But the union fighting for a wage increase at Eskom cannot plead such innocence or ignorance of the law.
Its members, in pursuance of their demands, sabotaged the national grid, thus endangering the national interest. But instead of being frog-marched to court as the saboteurs they are, they were invited for a cuppa with Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, a meeting at which the goalposts were moved in their favour and management got a bloody nose. Intimidation had done the trick.
Why should they even listen or take heed of what Eskom management says when the minister is at their beck and call? Saboteurs should not be having a cordial tête-à-tête with a government minister; they should be in jail.
Eskom, like all other state-owned enterprises, is in a crisis. It is overstaffed and very tough decisions will have to be taken if it is to be resuscitated.
How then can a neutered management be expected to undertake such an onerous task? It’s a perennial question about the governance of these SOEs: who calls the shots?
Why have a board if the minister can simply walk in and give a directive? Lawlessness should not in any way be rewarded. Anarchy, once tolerated, becomes the norm. And disorder is the enemy of progress.