News / Opinion / Columns

William Saunderson-Meyer
3 minute read
30 Jun 2018
8:40 am

Cyril and Theresa are both reluctantly committing national suicide

William Saunderson-Meyer

Both are obligated against their better judgment to facilitate perverse acts of self-destruction in the name of populism.

British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Cyril and Theresa are twinned in misfortune.

President Cyril Ramaphosa and Prime Minister Theresa May are so very alike.

Not physically, of course. No, I’m referring to the plight that they are in.

Both head countries engaged in acts of national suicide. Both are obligated against their better judgment to facilitate these perverse acts of self-destruction.

The UK’s act of hara-kiri is Brexit. SA’s self-immolation is expropriation without compensation (EWC).

There are undoubtedly many reasons for the people of the UK to be dissatisfied with the EU. Ditto, in SA.

One doesn’t need to rack one’s brain to understand the anger and discontent over land ownership. There’s an entire spectrum of reasons, from the manifest historical injustice of the indigenes being stripped of land, to the practical imperative for them now to share in fruits of land ownership.

Both, then, are nations with challenging problems. Both are mistakenly opting for enticingly simple solutions that will, in fact, impose crippling costs, down the line.

Take, for one, the UK’s place in the global knowledge economy. One of the few competitive advantages that the UK has is its hard-won position as a leading international hub in the creation of knowledge through research, innovation and teaching.

Last year, nearly 135 000 EU students studied at UK universities. Post-Brexit, this is estimated to drop by as much as 60%.

In South Africa, similarly, the populist, easy solution is actually very challenging. EWC will cause incalculable damage in the long run and is already having an enervating effect on the economy – long-term foreign investment is drying up, the currency is sagging and the only new employment comes from state entities.

EWC will eventually destroy food production, end foreign investment, and accelerate the exit of financial and human capital.

Ramaphosa and May are hostages to populist insurrections. May, who supported remaining in the EU, is the hapless victim of a referendum that her party agreed to only because it was confident that the Remain vote would triumph. Ramaphosa, who opposed EWC at the conference where it was narrowly endorsed as ANC policy, is the first victim of a poisoned chalice concocted by the Zuma faction that he ostensibly defeated.

They are both engaged in damage limitation – trying to salvage as much as they can from a situation that they know is potentially ruinous.

On being asked where she stands now, May’s coy standard response is that “The British people voted for Brexit and I think it is incumbent … to deliver on [their] decision.”

Ramaphosa ingenuously claims that he is now, post-ANC conference, totally in favour of EWC, as long as it doesn’t endanger food security, undermine constitutional rights and doesn’t end in Zimbabwe-style chaos.

Theirs is a tricky balancing of duty and national interest. However, as national leaders – charged with ensuring their country’s greater good – they may eventually face a situation where fudging no longer works. What then?

William Saunderson-Meyer

William Saunderson-Meyer.

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