Economy the priority


13 September 2020

Sustaining the onslaught on racist brands the best way to honour Biko

My mind was made up. I was too upset. I wanted to write about the idiots at Clicks (and TRESemmé), the politics of hair and the anniversary of the brutal killing of Steve Biko.

I wanted to write about how those bright sparks at Clicks deserve all the hell they’re getting from Julius Malema and his band of angry young men and women. I am happy that Clicks is learning that racism can be costly to the bottom line.

I wanted to write about how those who criticise, including the suddenly infamous professor from Stellenbosch who used “unconscious bias” to put up a pathetic excuse for racists, are unhelpful to our cause as black people. While I didn’t want to condone the violence used by the EFF, I wanted to say that those who are doing nothing to restore the dignity of black people have no place acting sanctimonious in the middle of a war. If you have a better solution to the EFF’s violence, then, by all means, put it on the table and help reverse the ignominy visited on our people.

Anyway, I wanted to show that often, the racists use other black people to sow confusion among us. In the end, you look at how Mbuyiseni Ndlozi et al unleashed their attacks on Thuli Madonsela, the uber-racists’ apologist-in-chief, and how other black people attacked Ndlozi for disrespecting his elder. The result is that the whole thing descends into a crescendo of attacks between black people, with whites momentarily watching from the sidelines.

How could we? Just a few days before the 43rd anniversary of Biko’s killing, we put our ignorance and inability to learn on display. Did he just die so we have the freedom to exchange expletives on social media?

I also wanted to write about how the state is complicit in Clicks’ disrespect for black people. Well, this is a long story best saved for another day.

In the march of time, I calmed myself down. I remembered it’s easy to be angry. To be effusive and froth at the mouth. It’s harder to chart a way forward. To lead. This is why many of those who criticise Malema and company’s anger have hardly suggested an alternative, much less demonstrated that their alternative solutions work. This is why Clicks and Unilever met on Thursday with the EFF – and not its critics.

As for the leader of society, our beloved ANC of Ace Magashule? Well, we wait. And the DA? Should we even expect anything from a party that does not believe we must use race to correct what apartheid has done to race groups in society? I think if you’re black and remain in the DA, you need help.

What’s to be done? To restore the dignity of black people, we should elevate our discussion on the economy. We must be interested in what the quarter two (Q2) GDP statistics reveal about our economy, and seek to effect change that matters, to be part of the solution.

If we had any doubt about our priorities as a nation, the release of GDP statistics this week made the poignant point  that our greatest test today is our ability to save our economy from collapse.

While a few misunderstood the data, believing the economy has suddenly halved in the second quarter when it in fact contracted by 16.4%, one thing we may not misunderstand is the urgency required to save our people from the indignity of a life of want. While the contraction is not that unexpected given the hard lockdown we had, its impact on individual businesses and people makes the reconstruction process urgent.

Our economy had been on the decline before the outbreak. Our public debt is set to hit 80% this year at a time when government’s ability to generate revenue is woefully compromised. In the 10 quarters that Ramaphosa has presided over, the economy has only managed to grow in three. A Joburg-based consultancy, Eunomix, said in a report this week: “Bar a meaningful change of trajectory, South Africa will be a failed state by 2030,” with compromised security similar to Nigeria and diminishing prosperity like Ivory Coast and Bangladesh. That’s only 10 years away. My patriotic heart wants to believe that’s alarmist. But my mind says the numbers don’t lie.

While Jacob Zuma gifted Ramaphosa a poisoned chalice, there is a point beyond which we must stop blaming him and focus on what new, reconstructive agenda this administration is implementing – if any.

Ramaphosa said, again, this week that infrastructure is the way to go. “We will be able to identify key projects across all our provinces that we can embark on. Some of them are ready and some are almost ready by a press of the button very shortly and they will create quite a number of jobs.”

In the short term, this helps create so-called job opportunities. To build a sustainable economy, we need not only sort out security of power supply, but invest in what innovation scholar Keun Lee termed “short-cycle technologies” used by Korea and Taiwan to transition from developing economies to developed. A perpetual focus on “job opportunities” that are important in the short term will keep us in the middle-income trap.

The best way to honour Biko is to support and sustain the onslaught on racist brands, but also, beyond that, thinking of ways of using innovation to get people into meaningful jobs and thus restore their dignity. With corona somewhat behind us, it is this that must keep our leaders up at night.



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