Mr. President, South Africa is Burning!

08 February 2022 | South Africa is on the brink of collapse! A declining economy, staggering unemployment, unfettered corruption, rampant lawlessness, a failing infrastructure – and one can easily draw the analogy that, as too, with the Houses of Parliament on fire earlier this year – South Africa itself is burning!

What is needed to douse the flames is clear and decisive leadership and action, with a firm and delineated commitment to intended outcomes. It is time to draw a line in the sand, Mr. President. Any grace period for further consideration and review is over!

As South African business, and our entire rainbow nation, awaits clarity on a plethora of pressing national crises ahead of this week’s State of the Nation address, certain key issues vital to our economy and the growth of our nation lead the national agenda.

Corruption

Ongoing corruption continues to impede the growth and development of our beautiful country. Despite a commitment made by President Ramaphosa during last year’s SONA address on the establishment of a National Anti-Corruption Council, there remains little clarity.

Part two of the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, released last week, brought with it compelling evidence and recommendations on the responsible parties to be prosecuted.

The commission, and its in-depth investigation, is now complete. Any action or lack thereof, moving forward, will be a clear indication of government’s resolve to either tackle corruption head on – or simply create the illusion of doing so.

Failure to do so will not only have an ongoing dire impact on investor and business confidence and the further depletion of already empty state coffers but, so too, will further fan the flames of rampant lawlessness. South Africa appears to have a growing culture of impunity heavily impacting the daily lives of ordinary South Africans. An inability, or unwillingness, by government to decisively act against those in power who stand accused of criminal activity, fails to bode well in the face of an increasing criminal element pervading our communities. If we live in a country where the order of law, irrespective of the parties involved, is not adhered to, and enforced – we risk creating a culture of lawlessness throughout our society.

A case in point – despite a South African court ruling in December last year that the parole of former president Jacob Zuma was unlawful and that he should be returned to prison – little or no commentary from our government has been forthcoming. So too, the recent riots of last year – absolute anarchy intended to render the country ungovernable. We await clarity on the prosecution of all those responsible.

The energy crisis

The last few days has seen our country once again plunged into loadshedding, further devastating an already struggling economy – an all-too-common occurrence, dating as far back as 2007. Whilst the full impact of load shedding may be difficult to calculate, an often-quoted calculation by the CSIR predicts a cost of approximately R700 million per load shedding stage per day. “In 2019 alone, the CSIR estimated that load shedding cost the economy between R60-billion and R120-billion. Multiply this cost by 14 years of load shedding, and it becomes too big to comprehend.”[1]

With a staggering price hike of 20.5% on the cards this April, our already failing electricity infrastructure will be further rendered unaffordable for many low-income households. We cannot begin to recover our economy – let alone build a strong, stable, and flourishing one without guaranteed access to an abundant, reliable, and affordable power supply.

In 2019, President Ramaphosa announced the splitting of Eskom into three divisions – generation, transmission, and distribution. We need to build on this, with changes in our legislation that allows for the decentralization of power generation. Municipalities need to be empowered to partner with business and other third parties to develop their own energy infrastructure – including that of renewable energy.

President Ramaphosa’s announcement in June last year that sees business given the green light to generate power of up to 100MW without a license (from the previous 1MW), has been heralded a definite breakthrough for big business. The actual impact or benefit of that for many South African municipalities, however, is unclear. Associated costs could potentially render this beyond the financial scope of many municipalities already under financial review, in turn seeing a large portion of our country still reliant, for years to come, on a failing electricity infrastructure.

A crumbling transport system

Beset by severe challenges pre Covid-19, South Africa’s transport infrastructure remains in tatters. An overwhelming percentage of our workforce, scholars and students rely on safe, secure, and reliable public transport. Ongoing cable theft, crime, interrupted rail schedules and an often violently disrupted taxi association severely curtails many commuters’ ability to forge productive lives.

Of particular concern, a grossly inefficient Cape Town port. Key to trade and industry, long turnaround times for ships are seeing an increasing number bypass South African waters in favour of elsewhere.

Whilst the development of additional transport infrastructures can often be heralded as a positive contribution towards a country’s growth, it nevertheless remains key to protect and maintain existing assets in our bid to restore the economy.

South Africa’s second pandemic

Referred to by President Ramaphosa himself as ‘South Africa’s second pandemic’, gender-based violence (GBV) continues to destroy the lives and futures of countless women and children. We welcome the three recent GBV bills signed into legislation by our President intended to improve the protection of our women and children and increase survivors’ likelihood of receiving justice. Effective implementation is critical together with interventions at grassroot levels to eradicate this ongoing scourge.

This week’s State of the Nation calls for accountability, clearly articulated and well-defined implementation plans. We need to stamp out the toxic blaze that has its foot on the throat of our nation. And so, we turn to you Mr. President. We look to you for the strong leadership and decisive action so desperately needed to lead our beloved country forward to the future we all deserve and, for which, so many have fought!

References:

  1. Staying power: Happy 14th birthday, load shedding (dailymaverick.co.za)

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