So. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has approved a $4.3 billion loan in “emergency assistance” to help the South African government address this country’s “challenging health situation and severe economic impact of the Covid-19 shock”.
Thereafter, says the IMF, “there is a pressing need” to ensure debt sustainability, fix state-owned enterprises, and implement other “growth-enhancing structural reforms”. “Urgency” and “steadfast implementation” to “achieve sustainable and inclusive growth” are devoutly to be wished.
If the IMF actually believes that any of these pious hopes will amount to anything, then it has not been doing enough homework. While that organisation was busy issuing its statement last week, Cyril Ramaphosa was simultaneously sending out one of his newsletters. This contained promises about fixing “fundamentals”, a “capable state”, new “sources of growth”, “reliable energy”, “access to broadband”, “competitive ports”, “efficient transport”, “improving execution”, speedier “implementation”, a “new methodology to develop an infrastructure pipeline,” a “growing small and medium enterprise sector”, “initiatives to improve the business environment”, a “robust programme of reconstruction and recovery”, and a “firm platform for industries with high potential to flourish”.
All of this we have heard times without number. Some of it echoes intentions expressed by the minister of finance and the governor of the South African Reserve Bank in their letter of 15th July asking the IMF for the emergency loan. But the number of people who actually believe that President Ramaphosa has the intellectual conviction, leadership qualities, and political courage to implement any of these reforms is shrinking as fast as the economy. He long ago missed his chance to liberalise his government’s restrictive policies. And even if he now wanted to, which is doubtful, Luthuli House would not allow it.
In his newsletter Mr Ramaphosa also said “an agricultural sector that delivers food security” was “relevant and urgent” among the “new sources of growth”. “Food security” is precisely what this country’s farmers already deliver, not least as they are busy harvesting one of the largest maize crops ever.
Mr Ramaphosa’s government is itself by far the biggest threat to food security: charitable organisations have to seek a court order to get the government’s own National School Nutrition Programme implemented during the current lockdown; ministers and officials shut down soup kitchens, prohibit the distribution of cooked food, peanut butter sandwiches, and food parcels, and otherwise obstruct charities that feed the hungry; and, of course, the threat of expropriating farms and other property has been renewed.