Why there won't be a Thatcher figure to save SA

David Bullard on the parallels between our problems and those of the UK pre-1979

Baroness Thatcher's funeral went without hitch last week and it was a suitably fitting tribute to a great leader. The spontaneous applause as the hearse drove past the crowds on its way to St Paul's cathedral was particularly moving because applause is not usually associated with a funeral. I have a feeling Margaret Thatcher would have approved.

Happily the lefties seem to have stayed away, perhaps because they spent their welfare money on booze and couldn't afford a return fare to London but probably because they got the message that Thatcher's supporters far outnumber her detractors, many of them uncouth louts who were snotty nosed kids during her term of office.

The reason Margaret Thatcher was loathed by so many in the UK is that she put an end to the something for nothing culture that had been cultivated under Labour. She also had the guts to take on the trade unions. This was portrayed by the left wing press as an attack on the working man but it was nothing of the sort. It was simply a wake up call that if the UK carried on the way it did under a Labour government of the 1970's there would be no future at all for anybody. As I mentioned in last week's column the parallels between South Africa in 2013 and the UK in the late 1970's are uncanny.

The Labour party in the UK was (prior to Tony Blair) the party of the working man. The funding came from unions and the leaders of the trade unions were powerful political figures. Even after years of being screwed over by his own party's empty election promises a dyed in the wool Labour supporter would no more think of voting Conservative than an ANC supporter would vote DA. 

The Conservative party was seen as the party of the "toffs" or upper classes but in reality its main support came from the expanding middle class who were enjoying some prosperity after the war. The Conservative party (or Tories) were friendly towards business while the Labour party clung to some nonsensical notion that all business owners were exploiters of the poor and should be taxed as much as possible. Any attempt to explain to them that wealth and jobs are generated by those who are prepared to risk capital by starting new business ventures fell on deaf ears.


The view of the average Labour supporter was that there was a supply of money always available (presumably free of interest) to rich bastards so that they could start a business and exploit the poor working man by paying him a low wage. Meanwhile the rich bastard owner of the business would build himself a grand house and buy an expensive car while his workers would be forced to live in a terraced house with an outdoor toilet and get the bus to work every day.

Once again, any suggestion that the rewards for actually creating a business should obviously be higher than for those employed by the business didn't go down well with the unionised workers. Their thinking was very simple (simplicity was probably all they were capable of) and what the wealth gap between the boss and the worker told them was that the boss was taking too much out of the business for himself.

We have precisely the same problem in South Africa. We have a heavily unionised workforce who have been encouraged to believe that the evil bosses are holding back money due to them. All it requires is an annual strike and a bit of violence on the picket line and their demands will be met.

Like the Labour government, the ANC is happy to cheer the workers on because they make up a substantial portion of their support base come election time. Like the Labour party, the ANC is openly hostile to business even to the extent that it appoints card carrying commies as cabinet ministers. As I remarked in a previous column, expecting a commie politician to support capitalism is a bit like expecting a Liverpool supporter to cheer for Manchester United. It just ain't gonna happen.

So we shouldn't be surprised this year as strikes once again damage our fragile economy and the government sits by and does nothing. Neither should we be surprised at the growing amount of red tape and bureaucracy imposed on those who are daft enough to believe in free enterprise and want to start or run a business. Again I ask, why would a party that believes in socialism want to oil the wheels of free enterprise?

Another uncomfortable comparison is with the failed nationalised industries. Socialists think they know how to run businesses but experience suggests that they don't.  Pretty well all industries owned by the UK government pre Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister were a disaster although I don't recall the wholesale looting that we experience with our nationalised industries here. 

When the ANC announce that they want to become more involved in key industries like mining one must be forgiven a mirthless smirk. Count their many successes to date, SAA, Eskom, Transnet, SAPO, Telkom etc etc and you have to come to the conclusion that these clowns couldn't be trusted to run a spaza shop without cocking it up.

In addition, many well connected cadres have enriched themselves from our failed nationalised industries, drawing executive salaries comparable to the private sector and awarding themselves fat performance bonuses for not performing. But since it's the government who ultimately have to meet the bill who cares? As all socialists fervently believe, governments have unlimited funds to draw on.

Now comes the bad news. The UK made a choice in 1979 to end the misery and falling living standards brought on by a financially irresponsible Labour party that believed (wrongly) that they could borrow themselves out of trouble. They rejected a government that was hostile to business and so hated those who were financially successful that they pushed tax rates up and drove talent overseas. Part of the reason for this is that the British electorate could compare the gloom of the seventies with the prosperity of the Harold MacMillan "you've never had it so good" years which spilled over into the 1960's. That comparison does not apply here in SA.

The ANC have succeeded in keeping the living standards of their supporters at an appallingly low level since 1994. Money that could have gone towards substantial upliftment has been squandered on dodgy arms deals or stolen which means that most ANC voters are in no position to make any comparison between how well off they are today versus how well off they were ten years ago. In other words they have nothing to lose by voting ANC because the ANC has given them nothing to lose.

The chances of a Thatcher figure emerging from the ruling party to save the day seems inconceivable. The culture of the ANC simply doesn't allow imaginative thinking. Clever blacks are objects of derision.

So my guess is that things will become progressively worse for the majority of South Africans and when we eventually ask the ruling party whether they saw the writing on the wall they will no doubt answer with a grin "What do you mean, we put the writing on the wall". And like all good commies they will have accumulated an offshore nest egg.

(I suspect that I will get the usual quota of "if you don't like it here why don't you go back to where you came from?" comments following this column. To save you all the trouble let me assure that you that I do like it here and plan to stay. Fortunately I am now at an age when I can see the exit signs on life's motorway and can afford to live a life of genteel poverty. But if I were under the age of 50 I would be seriously worried about this country's future, or lack thereof.)

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