News / Opinion / Columns

Martin Williams
3 minute read
3 Jul 2019
9:35 am

A South African dream preferred

Martin Williams

If we could follow Martin Luther King’s dream, without abandoning redress, we’d be on the right road.

South Africa power utility giant Eskom imposed severe and highly unpopular power rationing, known as load-shedding, for ten consecutive days in March 2019. Picture: AFP / File / MARCO LONGARI

While President Cyril Ramaphosa and acolytes peddle dreams, an economic nightmare rages. Unemployment is up, economic growth is down. Stateowned entities are battling to pay salaries. Big construction companies are in trouble.

Only in cloud-cuckoo-land will Gauteng Premier David Makhura “facilitate the creation of 100 000 jobs in the construction sector”, as claimed in his State of the Province address.

Last month Probuild Construction Group was placed in business rescue, joining Basil Read, Liviero Group and Esor Construction. Group 5 applied for debt-freezing agreements, while Lenco construction has been liquidated. Thousands of subcontractors and suppliers are affected by this construction bloodbath. And one of the causes is government tardiness in paying for work completed.

These and other lay-offs will push the official unemployment rate way beyond 27.6% measured in the first quarter of 2019. The 38% recorded on the expanded definition, which includes those who have given up looking for work, will also be overtaken.

SA is in trouble. And there have been no government announcements that could change this trend. The dominant kleptocratic ideology in the fractured ANC is not business-friendly. It has other priorities.

Consider, for the example, Eskom, whose R500 billion debt poses the biggest risk to SA’s credit ratings. There has been pressure for Eskom to cancel a R4 billion contract to supply a new boiler to the Duvha power station.

There are flaws in this deal with Dongfang, which bears the fingerprints of Gupta-linked Trillian “advisory” firm. But the primary motivation for cancellation is that Dongfang failed to meet Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) requirements. Amazing. A logical conclusion is that Eskom will be allowed to keep the lights on, only if this is done according to BBBEE rules. Racial profiling overrides all.

Let’s be clear. Redress is necessary to help overcome past racial injustices. However, the ANC way of applying BEE contributes to this country’s woes. Attempting to cancel an Eskom deal because of perceived BEE shortcomings would be one example.

Anyway, BEE, BBBEE etc are used as fig leaves for cadre enrichment schemes where jobs and contracts go not to the best candidates but the most loyal.

Thus governments at national, provincial and local level are dysfunctional because they don’t hire the best people. Last week Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu announced that only 18 municipalities received clean audits in 2017-18.

In this climate of corruption and incompetence, it is unsurprising that contractors are not paid on time. South Africa could do so much better. Martin Luther King Jnr dreamed that his children would “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character”.

We remain focused on skin colour, understandably. But if we could follow Martin Luther King’s dream, without abandoning redress, we’d be on the right road.

A Dream Deferred is the title of a Thabo Mbeki biography. For SA, Martin Luther King offers a dream preferred.

Martin Williams, DA councillor and former editor of The Citizen.

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