Hello, this is Captain Frogboiler speaking

David Bullard writes on the President's plan to ensure a soft-landing for the post-lockdown economy


I don’t know about you but when I get on an aircraft for an international flight (something that doesn’t seem too likely for the foreseeable future) I like to think the guys down the sharp end just in front of the first class cabin know what they’re doing.

There are lots of buttons, switches, levers and computer screens in the cockpit of a Boeing or an Airbus and you can’t bluff your way at 35 000 feet if you don’t know why they are there .

I’m hoping that the Captain and the First Officer get on well and the one is not having a torrid love affair with the wife of the other which might lead to some unpleasantness once we’re airborne. I am assuming that they have filed a flight plan and know exactly where we should be heading.

When the control tower tells them to taxi toward 06 right for takeoff, I am presuming they know what the tower is talking about and don’t take a left instead of a right onto the opposite runway. I am fervently hoping that their call sign of PKY will be relayed to air traffic controllers as Papa Kilo Yankee and not as Ptarmigan Knighthood Yquem which could lead to confusion, particularly if Tango November Echo is in the same airspace.

Once up in the air I hope they know how to keep an eye on the radar and try to avoid other aircraft but most of all I hope they know how to land 300 tons of aircraft safely. When I was learning to fly taking off was the easy bit. It was getting the blighter back onto the ground without killing anybody or breaking anything that was the real challenge. Thus far, all of my flying experiences have been incident free and even a scary landing in the old Hong Kong airport in a crosswind was handled superbly.

If Pres Frogboiler came across on the tannoy and announced that he was captaining my flight I would be hammering on the door begging to be let off. Based on the shambolic economic presentation last Thursday it’s become perfectly clear that neither he or his crew have the slightest idea how to even taxi the SA economy to the runway let alone how to take off. And should we even get up in the air by some happy fluke the chances of anything except a crash landing are extremely remote.

Predictably economists were divided on whether this was a good or bad Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan but even the more bullish had to question the promise of 11 800 MW of new generation capacity within the next 15 months.

Quite why we have all been suffering from load shedding since 2008 when the solution was that simple is puzzling but that’s the promise on the table. In fact an extra 2 000MW of capacity is about to be ‘unlocked’ in the next twelve months. As Ed Stoddard commented on Daily Maverick:

Bullion producer Gold Fields has been waiting three years for approval for a 40MW solar project at its South Deep mine to reduce its reliance on unreliable Eskom. Now, magically, almost 12,000MW is going to be added to the grid in two years?”

If it really was that easy then why on earth didn’t the ANC tap into this readily accessible supply of new power much earlier? The answer to that of course is that it isn’t at all easy (and even less likely) and falls into much the same category of empty promises as the bullet trains crisscrossing the country and the sparkling new hi-tech city emerging out of the red dust near Lanseria. As always with the ANC the talk is always big but the delivery rarely matches the talk.

Obviously jobs featured in the speech and apparently 800 000 new jobs will be created in the near future. Naturally these will have to meet the union’s stringent demands for well paid jobs with dignity so they presumably won’t involve any demeaning manual work.

I’m never sure how governments come up with these figures and why it is 800 000 new jobs as opposed to 600 000 or 900 000 but let’s assume that the numbers have been thoroughly crunched and 800 000 is the magic number.

Well, since over 2 million jobs are estimated to have been lost since lockdown in March that still leaves a net deficit of around 1.2 mln jobs. So, in reality, no new jobs are being created this year but, with any luck, some replacement jobs might be available to absorb the ever-growing ranks of the unemployed.

Among the more interesting comments on the Recovery Plan was this from Zwelinzima Vavi, the general secretary of the South African Federation of Trade Unions. He didn’t mince his words writing:

“SAFTU is simply disgusted with the president’s attempts to pull the wool over the eyes of the public, pretending his new plan will lead to recovery and reconstruction – when so much of it reflects a Build Back Worse mentality. The most important point we are drawing from this plan, and that we anticipate will follow in two weeks at the Medium-Term Budget speech by Finance Minister Mboweni, is the dominance of the neoliberal world view, joined with corporate power through the traditional ‘minerals energy complex’ priorities for extraction of our wealth no matter the social, labour and environmental costs, worsened by financialisation”

I’ve been puzzling over the last four lines these past few days and I think what Cde Vavi is saying is that this looks like another stitch up by those bloody capitalists. The sort of people who want a return on their investment and who have no conscience about exploiting the poor workers. Surely there must be another way?

Vavi goes on to lament the heartlessness of modern capitalism saying

“The desperate need to pull poor and working-class people out of our morass is being ignored. The need to prepare our children with a good education, the need to support the youth’s demands for climate-conscious policy, the need to end femicide and gender-based violence, and the need for publicly funded jobs to turn our economy, environment and society around – these needs are largely ignored”.

I’m not sure ending femicide and gender based violence (the scourge thereof) would be a key factor in boosting the economy but it’s the need for “publicly funded jobs to turn our economy, environment and society around” that gives some clue as to the lack of union buy in for this great new economic recovery.

It must be publicly funded which is just another way of saying that we should never expect to run a profitable state owned operation. I wonder if Cde Vavi has been in a coma these past few months. Has nobody told him that South Africa is bankrupt and there are no more public funds to pump into government owned, loss making disasters?

For that matter, one wonders where Pres Frogboiler is planning to conjure up the half trillion rand that this stimulus package is supposed to be costing. Are new foreign investors lining up to put their money into this country as Julius Malema fantasizes about starting a civil war and EFF members of parliament post pictures on social media of automatic weapons along with incitements to violence against the white settlers. Did Jews rush to open new businesses in Berlin in 1939?

It all sounds very grand and projections of an average 3% economic growth over the next ten years are clearly designed to fool the more gullible into thinking that the captain and crew are fully in control and able to land this baby. Sorry about the early turbulence by the way.

The reality though is that we are a financial basket case and things are getting worse not better. We are also showing signs of becoming politically unstable. Add to that the fact that the government is controlled by communists who see in COVID a chance to ‘reset the economy’ and talk openly of ‘class suicide’ and you soon realize that the prospect of doing business with South Africa has about as much appeal as a dose of the clap.