Ap­peas­ing these sabo­teurs will turn the New Dawn into a twi­light of vam­pires

Sunday Times - - Opinion - BAR­NEY MTHOMBOTHI

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.

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