Russell Loubser and our weakest links

David Bullard says we've become a country that celebrates stupidity and mediocrity

It's rare that a leading business figure dares to voice his opinion in this country. Which is why it was refreshing to hear ex JSE boss Russell Loubser confess that he was "gatvol" (such a lovely descriptive word) with what  is happening to the country during a radio interview. This followed a media induced outcry over a speech he had made at Wits during the week lambasting the ANCYL and some of our politician's inability to see the economic wood for the trees.

It's a great pity more business figures don't lambaste the ANCYL and those with room temperature IQ's but the fact is most cannot afford to. By introducing BEE ratings and other such racist nonsense to the workplace the ANC has effectively silenced private enterprise and made it quite clear that if they want to do business in this country then they must play by the new rules. Besides, anybody who dares criticise the ruling party obviously risks being publicly labelled a racist by the left leaning media  and not everybody sees the funny side of something like that.

Loubser has the luxury of being comfortably retired and of having a famously thick skin (I've known him for almost 30 years) and some strongly held opinions. He's a man held in high regard by his global stock exchange peers who paid a glowing tribute to him when the JSE hosted the world's stock exchanges for three days in October 2011.

When he feels moved to make the comments he made last week it's almost certainly because he cares deeply for the future of this country rather than from any devious political motive. Reading the banal and solecistic responses from the ANCYL on Politicsweb was a depressing experience even if it lent weight to Loubser's argument.  

What did emerge from the Loubser affair though was the clear message that battle lines need to be redrawn in this country. It's no longer a matter of black versus white (although the popular press would like us to believe that because it helps them sell newspapers). It's not even the haves versus the have nots because that is a global problem. In South Africa it's became a battle between the educated few and the uneducated masses.

Those who read the depressingly accurate leader on South Africa in last week's The Economist would have been reminded that we are at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to education. We score 143 out of 144 countries when it comes to science and maths education. Under the ANC we are turning out the thickest kids in the world. The government likes to pretend it isn't so by fiddling the matric pass figures every year but the real test is whether those "scholars" go on to get a proper degree and then find a job for life and we know that very few manage that.

Stupidity is celebrated in South Africa as is mediocrity. It's no accident that most heads of state of other countries (even non democratic ones) are highly educated. Intelligent people tend to gather other intelligent people around them whereas those with only a basic education feel  intimidated in the presence of those with obviously superior intellectual powers. 

This is not to say that a man with only a basic education doesn't have the qualities to become president. We've experienced one so called intellectual president in this country and he was a total disaster. Nobody thought Jacob Zuma an intellectual when he became president but many of us (myself included) thought that he was smart enough to know what he didn't know and would gather clever people around him. We were wrong.

The battle lines being drawn between the educated and the uneducated threaten to destroy this country. It is well nigh impossible to argue rationally with someone who has no education. That is why we have experienced so many problems over the past few weeks with the mining industry. Illegal strikes simply don't happen when the workforce understand that they have contracted with management through free collective bargaining. But that assumes some regard for the rule of law. Talking to a leading labour lawyer last week I asked whether the rule of law meant anything anymore in these violent labour disputes. His response was that it has totally collapsed and we are all in no man's land now. This is scary stuff because it sends a clear message to any foreign investor that, as far as mining is concerned, we are a country to be avoided at all costs. How can you negotiate in good faith with your workforce one week and then have to deal with a panga wielding mob who have ripped up the agreement the next? Who can guarantee that such behaviour won't spread to other industries like retail or banking?

Thanks to the media hype surrounding people like Julius Malema and the motley assortment of black celebs famous for being famous, stupidity is now chic. It's quite obviously not necessary to study hard at school, pass exams, work hard and become a success in the business world to succeed financially. Indeed, those who take the long route and study and pass exams are looked upon with pitying eyes by their lazier peers. All you need to do these days is know the right people in the ANC and you can make a fortune by fronting a tender or becoming a cadre appointment and simply looting the public purse. If you're careless enough to get caught you will be suspended on full pay while the case moves, tortoise like, through the courts for the next ten years. Providing you show no remorse and refuse to be held accountable then you will do well. Lie and deny is the motto.

Those with education know that this is not sustainable and eventually the money will run out, investment will dry up and we will become the new Greece. Those without education can't even grasp such a reality and, even if they could, it wouldn't matter because theirs is a short term view. They simply don't have the mental capacity for forward planning.

I Tweeted recently that I didn't believe the ANC had sufficient intellectual capital for the relatively complex task of running a country. Shortly after President Zuma appealed for people to stop talking the country down. The only possible response to that is we will stop talking the country down when you stop bringing the country down. Ignoring reality and being too terrified to speak out over the past decade is what has got us into this mess. If we are going to survive we need more Russell Loubsers and fewer Floyd Shivambus.


You may easily have missed this but I think it's sinister enough to warrant a mention. Last week the talented  Jeremy Nell lost his job as cartoonist for The New Age where he has been since the newspaper began. This week's editor of The New Age is a man called Moegsien Williams who, like his predecessor, has jumped ship from the troubled Independent group as the retrenchment axe swings. I have never met Mr Williams but those who have worked with him describe him as a "brown nosing, corporate zombie". His reason for getting rid of Nell was that he thought his cartoons were too political. Presumably somebody upstairs had complained. The good news is that at least The New Age have finally nailed their colours to the mast and come out of the closet as a sychophantic  ANC praise singer.  A warning to New Age journos....this is not something you will want on your CV in years to come.

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