Ratings and rankings Trump rantings
People like the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU) and the Black Professionals’ Forum (BPF), run by Mzwanele Manyi – Jimmy that was – hate rankings and ratings. The reason is obvious. Seldom indeed do the results of the rankings show them in a good light. More often, the deficiencies that we all either know about or suspect are confirmed by the dismal position occupied by our country and its institutions.
It does not take a genius to work out that if South Africa ranks near the bottom in educational achievement, especially in maths and science, our young people will be ill-equipped for university, the drop -out and failure rate will be huge, and far too few adequate graduates will be produced to fill all the posts crying out for young people with skills.
No problem: just appoint ANC cadres to these positions. Anyone who opposes that is a racist opposed to transformation.
Mr Manyi is a devoted admirer of President Jacob Zuma and is a fan of Zumanomics. This teaches us that if, after a generation of ANC rule and a decade of Zuma, we have the highest unemployment rate in the world, we need only blame White Monopoly Capital (whatever that is) and then redouble our efforts at radical economic transformation (whatever that is) and the national democratic revolution (whatever that is). Where the current economic policy has failed, we must apply more of the same.
Whatever other outstanding characteristics President Zuma may possess, he is not known for his expertise in economics. He and his acolytes like Manyi applaud loudly when the magic words “developmental state” are mentioned.
For years we have been told that South Africa must become a developmental state. Again, no problem. The fact that we have an incompetent state, barely able to grow at 0.2 % is definitely not a problem. That we have among the worst education systems in the world; that our state-owned enterprises are generally a laughing stock while absorbing billions of Rands in bail-out funds each year; and that corruption is a growing illness in our society, is of no account. What Zumanomics demands is more state control, not less. More outdated socialist direction of the economy by incompetent politicians instead of freeing up private enterprise in partnership with the government and the labour unions, to provide the growth and jobs we so desperately need.
Where reality intrudes, don’t let it. Don’t listen. Don’t learn. Instead of working with all our might to establish the type of society that our constitution promises and demands, change the constitution. That was Mr Manyi’s call very recently. Why have a constitution? Do away with it and let the majority in Parliament decide on everything. Who needs checks and balances? Who needs a Bill of Inalienable Rights applying to every person in this country? How dare the Courts tell Parliament what to do!
We do not know whether Manyi was speaking on behalf of the president in calling for the abolition of the constitution. It is not going to happen – not least because of the weakness of the current government. But it is dangerous to play the game of undermining the constitution and blaming the constitution itself for the poor, uncertain and incompetent government provided by President Zuma and his ministers who spend their time on in- fighting instead of attending to the interests of the people they govern.
And then there are the ratings agencies. Moody’s Investor Services, Fitch and S&P Global Ratings are not angels. Sometimes they make mistakes; sometimes they are plain wrong; sometimes they are quite bad, as they were over the United States financial crisis of 2008 and 2009. But they exist. The rankings they give are relied on by pension funds and investment managers worldwide in deciding where to invest their funds. When they all give negative views about the South African economy, in two cases, just above junk status and one slightly higher than that, the reaction of the government ought to be to ask themselves what it is about their policies that makes us pay 8.93 % on ten year borrowings while the UK pays 1.44% on the same borrowings. Germany, on ten year bonds pays .477% and Switzerland actually pays minus .074%.
Manyi’s solutions are simple: firstly, sue the ratings agencies for the damage they have done to the South African economy by detailing all the negative aspects as they see them. The equivalent would be if I went to the doctor to get a medical report to enable me to obtain life insurance and when he tells me that my health is fragile because of my unhealthy lifestyle, I sue him for the damage I suffer because I must pay through the nose to get insurance.
The second solution is to look to a new Ratings Agency from the BRICS grouping of countries to get a more favourable rating. Naturally, he and his ilk would not think of looking at the Global Competitiveness Index, building on the positives and deciding to do something dramatic to fix those areas where we fail abysmally to compete with our peers.
This is the mindless ignorance at the heart of Zumanomics. Instead of taking a realistic look at where we are, where we would like to be and what steps are possible to achieve those aims, we cling to outmoded ideology, bluffing ourselves and others that more of the same policies that have landed us in a low growth, low employment, high inequality, high poverty economy will somehow change everything.
Manyi and his merry men in the Black Professionals Forum regularly make fools of themselves; will they ever wake up to the fact that ratings count; rankings count; ranting might be fun but it produces no results?
A former opposition chief whip and former ambassador to Thailand, Douglas Gibson is a keynote speaker and writer. Follow him @dhmgibson.
This article first appeared in The Star.