The most unusual advertising campaign in history?

John Kane-Berman writes on the billions the ANC govt keeps shovelling into SAA

Billions to advertise comradely delinquency, with more to come

It must be one of the most unusual advertising campaigns in history – the billions of rands the government has spent bailing out South African Airways (SAA) and otherwise attempting to keep it going despite the chronic fecklessness and incompetence (and worse) of its controlling shareholder.

Every time another couple of billion is handed over to SAA, each time another turnaround plan is announced, each time we are told that a new airline is to be launched from amid the ruins of SAA, each time yet another bunch of consultants is hired, the resulting headlines serve only to remind everyone of the never-ending failure of the ruling alliance, the government it controls, and the boards they appoint to do a proper job of running SAA.

Talk about negative advertising! – repeatedly reminding everyone of the incompetence, malfeasance, cowardice, and corruption that has brought about this tragic state of affairs. Thus do the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) showcase the consequences for the country’s flagship airline of their flagship policies: cadre deployment, “employment equity”, and racially-slanted procurement criteria – the whole caboodle, along with arrogance, racial obsession, incessant interference, high-handedness, disdain for accountability, and contempt for taxpayers.

In a way, it’s all rather pathetic, this persistent attempt to have an airline to play with, as if doing so enhances your prestige or your sense of self-worth, while showing that you too can do what grown-ups do – except that most of the grown-up governments have long since grown out of the desire to have state-owned airlines..

Handing down her judgment in the North Gauteng High Court at the end of last month, Ronel Tolmay declared that Dudu Myeni, former chairman of SAA, was “not a fit and proper person to be appointed as a director of any company”. A “lifelong delinquency order” was accordingly issued against her.

But Judge Tolmay also said the court should take ‘judicial notice of the immense harm that was done to the country and its people in the last years due to the mismanagement not only of SAA but also other SOEs [state-owned enterprises] and the suffering that it brought and continues to bring to millions of South Africans”.

Ms Myeni, in other words, is not the only delinquent. Adjectives that the judge used of her include “reckless”, “supine with indifference”, and “grossly negligent”. She was a “director gone rogue”, guilty of a “gross abuse of power” and “complete disregard for public funds”.

Some or all of these strictures apply also to many of the people who run hundreds of organs of state up and down the country whether national, provincial, or local, from billion-rand SOEs down to municipal sewerage works and everything in between.

Ms Myeni is indeed the epitome of umpteen hundreds of politicians, bureaucrats, and local councillors – so much so that her profile should adorn the next R5 coin.

The only real difference between Ms Myeni and the mini-Myenis to be found all over the show is that she was considered important enough to be taken to court by a couple of heavyweights. She at least was not directly life threatening, unlike some of her lookalikes, big and small, who are responsible, among other things, for the fact that millions of people do not have ready access to the water they need to help protect themselves from Covid-19.      

Despite the “immense harm” they have already done, the ANC/SACP alliance has its heart set on more of the same: increased intervention in the economy in the name of radical economic transformation. The “reconstruction” plan recently put forward by Enoch Godongwana, chairman of the ANC’s economic transformation committee, is founded on the belief that the Covid-19 crisis has shifted the “balance of forces” in favour of further steps to advance the national democratic revolution. Nothing like sitting on a national coronavirus “command council” to whet the appetite for more of that sort of power and more of that sort of institution.

The national health insurance scheme, expropriation without compensation, appropriation of pension fund assets, and intensified racial preferencing are all part of the programme, not to forget the cherry on the top, operational control of the South African Reserve Bank.

There is little reason to suppose that Cyril Ramaphosa has lost his appetite for any of this. He recently declared that Covid-19 “gives a stronger rationale to transform and restructure” the “colonial and racist economy”. His main job is to lend the whole transformation enterprise a face of respectability for the benefit of all those in business and the media who are still willing to be deceived.

And so, with eyes wide open, we march from the command council to the command economy.

*John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom. Readers are invited to take a stand with the IRR by clicking here or sending an SMS with your name to 32823. Each SMS costs R1. Ts and Cs apply.