Politics strains the budget

black and white image of a rhinoceros

We had a budget speech delivered yesterday. South Africa’s Finance Minister, Tito Mboweni, stood up and delivered a budget that is supposedly all about the country’s recovery from the pandemic, promoting business and reducing unemployment. This whole thing has kind of stuck in my throat.

For a moment let’s overlook the fact that the government have been spectacularly bad at reducing unemployment. They’ve done a great job of causing job losses and a spectacular job at decimating business investment, but they’re not good at creating jobs, definitely not private sector jobs.

In 2019, this CNN article indicates youth unemployment in SA peaked at 56%. This is way before the spectre of a global pandemic had even been entertained as a thought. In the first quarter of 2020, again before the pandemic when the first lockdown was instated at the end of March – at the end of the first quarter, unemployment hit a record high locally, breaking the 30% barrier according to a Statistics SA report named in this Reuters article.

That’s a change from 6.7 million unemployed in the last quarter of 2019 to 7.1 million unemployed in the first quarter of this year. If you need it spelled out, that’s 400,000 jobs lost in three months.

There’s an “expanded definition” to unemployment as well which includes people who have actually stopped looking for work. Include this group and the figures go from 38.7% in Q4 2019 to 39.7% in Q1 this year.

This UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) report indicates the South African economy is likely to shrink by as much as eight percent this year alone. The result is that as many as 34% of households will “exit the middle class”.

Okay, I didn’t overlook government’s spectacular failure with unemployment, unlike the government itself which is clearly overlooking this incredibly significant issue. Going forward they are guaranteed to blame everything on Covid, just as they’ve unfailingly used the cover of Apartheid to hide behind every failure since 1994 and the dawn of a democratic era.

Getting back to the original point, originally I considered that it was government’s lackadaisical attitude to unemployment that irked me about this budget speech, but then I thought it was because of their plans to cut into SAPS (South African Police Services) and higher education budgets to fund SAA (South African Airways) to the tune of another R11 billion (US$671,317,607).

Turns out it wasn’t that which annoyed me the most either. I read this Financial Times article and it spelled out what my real annoyance about this budget speech is. The paragraph in question, “Ideally, President Cyril Ramaphosa would look to consolidate government departments, thereby reducing the number of ministers and senior bureaucrats. That would go a long way to appease union concerns about fat-cat politicians and senior managers. But firing the politically connected may be even less palatable for the ANC than holding the line on wages. – FM”.

Herein lies the source of my annoyance and, at least in my opinion, one of the deep-seated problems with the situation in South Africa. The political field is infested with landmines, making any kind of significant change or improvement impossible. Annoy the wrong people and you’re going to sink your political ambitions – and what politician is looking to sever ties and lose their spot on the train?

This situation presents a barrier to any improvement in the lives of South Africans or a fix for the ailing economy. Unable to cut the dead wood, paralysed from shrinking taxpayer-funded remuneration at the most expensive levels, prevented from improving efficiency to ensure service delivery and encourage business growth, it guarantees only one thing – the continued slide of the entire country. You cannot fix anything if you cannot effect change.

I am not impressed by the delivered budget, I’m not impressed by words from the world’s greatest talkshow (the South African parliament). The only thing that counts now is action, and a lot of it.

On a final note, Dr Flossie Wong-Staal might be someone you’ve not heard of, but she’s an important medical figure. Flossie was born Wong Yee Ching in Guangzhou Province in China, 1946 and her family headed to Hong Kong six years later to escape the effects of the communist revolution which happened during this period.

It was Flossie’s father who suggested the new name, for the 1964 typhoon which first made landfall near Shanghai. This change was encouraged by the teachers at Maryknoll Convent School where she studied and excelled in science. Flossie continued in these studies after moving to the United States, achieving a B.S in bacteriology at University of California, Los Angeles and then a PhD in molecular biology from UCLA and did her post-doctorate work at University of California, San Diego.

We lost Dr Wong-Staal in July of this year, aged 73, but her work will stay with us forever thanks to her achievements at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) where her work in retroviruses led her and her team of researchers to identify HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) as the cause of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) in the same period (1983) as the French virologist, Luc Antoine Montagnier. Wong-Staal became the first researcher to clone HIV and then complete genetic mapping which allowed for HIV testing.

In 1990 she was recruited by University of California, San Diego to start the Center for AIDS Research and four years later was named chairman – the same year she was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the US National Academies. In 2002 Dr Wong-Staal was named one of the “50 Most Extraordinary Women Scientists” by the science magazine Discover and 32 on the list of “Top 100 Living Geniuses” by The Daily Telegraph in 2007.

Author: Morné Condon

Automotive journalist in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, following new models, old cars, car clubs and motorsport. My interests are not restricted to the automotive environment, although this is where I am mostly to be found.

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