A brilliant open letter to the President from someone who started his business empire from the boot of his car.
By HERMAN MASHABA
I do not want to be a voice that offers only critique in a time of great national crisis. Nor do I want to be unfair and fail to offer credit where it is due.
I think your leadership on the health response of our country to COVID-19 has been commendable. Your leadership through this crisis has been a comfort to many South Africans who are rightly scared.
The SARS Commissioner is quoted as saying that the revenue gap for this year, based on the April figures stands at R285 billion. This is a gap that will only widen as expenditure rises to confront the pandemic and so few businesses are back to work.
Your own National Treasury has projected -6.4% economic growth in 2020 and the loss of between 3 to 7 million jobs. This would mean, for the first time in our country, that more people of productive age are not working than those who are.
Actuaries have demonstrated how the lockdown will cause greater devastation to lives and livelihoods than COVID-19 possibly ever could, and for a much longer period to come.
While South Africans have found a measure of comfort in your leadership, we find no such comfort in the leadership of the rest of your cabinet or collective decision making. Your cabinet and National Command Council are exactly that, yours.
Your cabinet does not offer hope, but rather offers fear to South Africans through their arbitrary and irrational decision making while the lives and livelihoods of South Africans are on the line.
Your Finance Minister is shouted down when he urges that we should not forego R1.7 billion in revenue from sin taxes. Rather than seeing e-commerce the way it is seen around the world right now, as valuable economic activity conducted safely, your Minister for Trade and Industry says it would be unfair to allow it.
I pray that I am wrong, but I cannot help but get the feeling that some in your cabinet see COVID-19 as the great leveller required for your party’s radical economic transformation.
Your own Minister in the Presidency spoke of Amílcar Cabral’s notion of class suicide and was quoted as saying: “COVID-19 also offers us an opportunity to accelerate the implementation of some long agreed-upon structural changes to enable reconstruction, development and growth.”
Mr President, we cannot have the direction of our country being set by a geriatric cabinet who, with the greatest respect, learnt their economics in the Soviet Union.
As I began, I do not come with critique and complaints alone. The task that is needed of you will make you greatly unpopular within your own ranks. Anyone who leads their country in a time like this cannot be popular. You have to recognise that now is the time to do what is right for the country and to hell with the political consequences.
This is what I offer you from one person who understands and has succeeded in business to another, in order to save our economy:
1. Ease lockdown regulations on businesses
The easing of lockdown regulations must be done by asking which businesses we cannot allow back to work, rather than which we can. Put in place the strongest preventative and detection measures, close businesses where there is non-compliance, but let people work. Evidence around the world reveals that over 96% of COVID-19 fatalities arise from comorbidities, so keep these people at home along with the aged – this will address your cabinet issues.
2. Reform the Finances of our Country
It is as clear as day that we cannot continue with a national budget of excess. Hundreds of billions could be freed up by cutting your cabinet, reducing the public service wage bill and loosing state owned entities that are running at a loss. These funds could be steered towards social relief, economic stimulation and tax breaks.
3. Relax Draconian Labour Laws
It is time to relax our rigid labour laws. These laws have served to protect the employed at the expense of the unemployed for many years. Now that the majority of South Africans will be without work in the coming months, let’s make it easier for businesses to hire them.
4. Help Small Businesses
We have solicited the views of small business owners over the past 2 weeks. Their messages are enough to induce tears. White and black they are crying for support for their workers and their families. Put in place real support measures, get them back to work and forget about racial criteria for their support. As someone who started a small business out of the boot of my car under the fist of PW Botha, I know what it means to succeed against the odds of government. We are a democracy now; we must support rather than destroy small businesses.
5. Put South Africans First
In an age of a viral pandemic, and a country that is facing huge struggles, it is time to put South Africans first. The flow of illegal immigration to South Africa must be stopped. People in our country illegally must be deported and those here legally must be documented. We need to ensure that every resource in our country goes to South Africans who will need it.
It should be seen as criminal to have a South African doctor at home, while our government spends nearly R500 million on importing Cuban doctors. Please, put South Africans first!
6. Declare Corruption Public Enemy Number 1
Corruption has plagued our country for decades. You have not lived up to your promise to combat it beyond words and rhetoric. We can’t do anything about that, but act decisively now. There are people in your party who view crisis as opportunity. They did so when Nelson Mandela passed away and they looted while we grieved. While we are burying our loved ones from COVID-19, they too will see the billions allocated to social relief as theirs to loot. Appoint a forensic panel to trace all expenditure and catch the corrupt, hand them over to a special unit in the NPA and jail them.
7. Simplify Social Grants
While facing a pandemic that has high mortality amongst the elderly, we cannot have the saga we have seen this week with social grants. In the year 2020, very few people should need to queue for a social grant when it can be deposited onto their SASSA cards. This is even more important with the additional relief measures you have correctly brought it for unemployed persons.
Mr President, the country is looking for you to lead. People who voted for you and those who did not need you to lead them out of this crisis. Put aside the voices of lunacy and senility in your cabinet and do what we both know needs to be done to save our country.
Adapting the words of the famous poet Dante I leave you with this – the hottest places in hell are reserved for leaders who, in times of great crisis, serve their parties and not their people.