Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Opposition Wins Again

Cheers erupted from the ANC caucus in parliament as speaker Baleka Mbete read the results of the secret ballot vote of no confidence against Jacob Zuma. 177 for. 198 against. The irony is that this group of jubilant souls were only celebrating their own demise.

To say the opposition lost would be technically accurate, but not at all a fair reflection of the bigger picture. The vote of no confidence failed, but the opposition won. You see, this was always a win-win situation. The very idea of the no-confidence vote was to put the ANC between a rock and a hard place. That is why we have had 8 of them already. Each time the ANC votes to keep Jacob Zuma in power they tie themselves ever closer to their greatest liability and alienate those who "love the ANC but hate Zuma." Every time the ANC caucus puts their weight behind Zuma they lose seats in the 2019 election.

I'm sure most ANC MPs know this, but are more concerned about saving themselves from the whip of party discipline than saving the party from the wrath of the voters and the mire of immorality. Though sometimes I do wonder.

On the other hand, voting Zuma out would also be a dangerous road and additionally, it would be an unpredictable one. No one really knows what would have happened had the required 50 ANC MP's broken ranks and had the president removed. It is far from inconceivable that it would cause an irreparable rift and possibly a split in the party. Far less likely, it would have been the turning point for the ANC to course correct and repair its once honourable reputation. But those possibilities are just what-ifs now. The ruling party has chosen the slow poison.

The only way for the ANC to escape this trap would be to recall Zuma itself. This would allow them to show some semblance of morality while not bending to the will of the opposition, though at this point it may even be too late for such a move to still be considered a show of strength. But this hasn't yet and certainly will not happen until at least the electoral conference in December. There are too many people high up on his side who would go down with him.

The country needs Jacob Zuma gone. But Jacob Zuma is not the extent of the problem. The ANC is the problem. You cannot separate Zuma from the ANC, and the secret ballot vote proved that. Zuma is not unique, he is a representation of what is happening in the rest of his party. Most of the ANC are as morally decayed as Zuma. If it were not so, he would not be in power. The whole party needs to go.

So while the DA and the EFF publicly mourn the retaining of President Zuma, privately they will be celebrating another hole fired into the sinking ship of the ruling party, all while its hopeless crew drown, shackled to their own pride.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Just Us and Venezuela

As we approach the decade mark since the start of the great recession all countries are now in recovery, well, all but two that is: economically devastated Venezuela and yup, you guessed it, South Africa. As of, well now, along with Venezuela we are the only economy (out of more than 200!) in recession.

First off, this means that any excuses about a slow global economy for our our limited growth are null and void. Second, although they are major contributors, Zuma and the Guptas are not the sole cause.

I'm sure most people know that there is trouble in Venezuela, but probably not the extent. In 1998 Hugo Chavez and his United Socialist Party took over the government, and as with all socialist projects things were wonderful at first, with the poor suddenly having access to housing, healthcare and education amongst other things. But socialists live on borrowed time and things quickly turned south. In 2016 Venezeula's GDP dropped more that 18% and inflation rose to 500%. Today the people of the once most prosperous state in South America are starving. The shops are empty and when they do have food lines stretch for hundreds of metres outside the store and around the block. And to make matters worse, Chavez' successor, Nicolas Maduro just used a bogus election to take control of all branches of government to further oppress the people.

So now you're thinking, "But Venezuela is nothing like South Africa?" You'll be surprised at the similarities:

  • Venezuela's economy is completely oil based, so when the oil price collapsed several years ago, so did their economy. Our economy is heavily reliant on the mining sector and so when there is trouble in the mining industry, as there has been in recent years, the whole economy suffers. Fortunately, unlike Venezuela, we are not completely a one-trick-pony.
  • When oil prices were high the Venezuelan government used the money for extensive social spending. When the oil price dropped they decided to keep spending and so put themselves into a debt crisis. Our government also does an unhealthy amount of social spending and it is putting us in debt. Yes many people have a better quality of life courtesy of the government purse, but if you feed the people today with tomorrow's bread, tomorrow the people will starve.
  • The United Socialist Party of Venezuela came to and maintains power not on sound policy and economic principles, but on populist rhetoric and Robin Hood economics. That is the same way the ANC maintains power. Free housing, free electricity, grants and government handouts: people are far more likely to believe according to what pleases the ear than what is true. They don't realise that the magic well of free stuff will eventually run dry.
  • Finally, and most importantly, the power in Venezuela is too concentrated. The government does far more than it should ever need to do, even by mainstream centre-left standards today. This is the root of the crisis. In South Africa the government also does far more than it has the right to do. It can't handle all the responsibilities it has taken upon itself, but it is yet seeking more. And worse yet, power within the government is becoming more centralised, with the Zupta faction now controlling the national assembly, the NPA, the judiciary, the public protector and many other institutions. We are on dangerous ground.
I honestly don't think we will reach the point Venezuela has. Even though we are heading in the same direction we are going slower and have sharper breaks in the form of power and influential moderates, who stand up against wannabe dictators. But we can't sit back and relax. Our country is in deep trouble. Unlike Venezuela, we have diagnosed our problems (at least some of them) early. Now we must be quick to act as well.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

A Symptom of Chronic Stupidity

Free Stuff!

That caught your attention, didn't it? The power of the word "free" is astounding. It always gets us excited even though our most basic intuitions tell us there must be catch. As South Africans we keep falling for this trap, free housing, free electricity, free education and now free health care. When will we realise that nothing is ever free?

Away from the State Capture vs White Monopoly Capital battle which is both capturing and monopolising the headlines, news regarding the progress of the NHI (National Health Insurance) has managed to attract some attention, though certainly not enough. For those who have no idea what I'm talking about, the ANC has big plans to create a national, single payer healthcare system similar to Obamacare, or the UK's NHS. The goal is for it to be implemented by 2025, but it has just popped up in the headlines because a couple of milestones in the planning stage have been hit.

This system spells disaster for our country. I know there are many who admire other countries' national healthcare systems and I know that there are many South Africans who are proponents of the NHI because they want to see universal access to quality health care. The foremost criticism of those who oppose the NHI is that they supposedly don't want such. I will say now that I am completely in favour of universal access to quality health care, and it is for that very reason that I oppose the NHI. I admire the intentions of those who expect it to be a great help to the poor, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and I am not interested in living in a socialist hell. The NHI is just another brick in that road.

My biggest concerns are the moral issues regarding a government-administered single-payer health system, but first let's look at the practicalities. In terms of affordability, well, it just isn't affordable. We already have a shrinking economy, too much debt and high taxes. There is simply nowhere to pull the R100 billion from without causing extensive damage to our fragile economy. The immediate response from the short-sighted is "Tax the rich!" but the more we tax tax the rich, the faster they are going to leave sunny, socialist South Africa for greener pastures overseas, further hampering our ability to provide access to quality healthcare. Then we have a problem with lack of resources. We have neither the infrastructure nor the human resources, i.e. doctors, to bring the healthcare standards for everyone up to the standards of the current private sector, so in spite of the huge price tag, the standard of health care will improve only marginally for poor, but take a massive nose-dive for the rich. And no, there is no opt-out option for the NHI. Everyone is part of it. So the net result of this legislation will be a mass exodus of educated, skilled middle-class systems, to countries where they can obtain their own affordable quality healthcare.

One of the reasons healthcare is so expensive is because the healthcare profession is like an exclusive club. There are many, many capable, aspiring doctors who cannot get into medical school because of arbitrary and meaningless selection processes and lack of space, all while Blade Nzimande brags about blocking the building of a private medical school, which could provide us with many more doctors. Then there are also all sorts of unnecessary government restrictions that make access to affordable medicine impossible. Government needs to cut a whole lot of red tape, and the cost of healthcare will come down significantly.

And now to the moral issue. The government simply does not have the right to interfere with private citizens choices regarding healthcare, health insurance or anything related. It does not have the right to steal from the rich to subsidize the poor in this regard. Health care is not a right. Health care is a service and one cannot have the right to the services of another person. A baker can expect to bake for whom he wants to bake and a painter can expect to paint for whom he wants to paint, but doctors and nurses, who invest thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of rands into their education must provide their services to whom the government dictates? We cannot make slaves of our healthcare professionals any more than we can make slaves of anyone else.

This post is already getting long and I have only just touched on some issues. Please comment if you want more information regarding any of points discussed. In conclusion, it is not more forceful redistribution that we need, but a growing economy, a free economy, that will allow people to access quality healthcare for themselves. Yes, I believe everyone should have access to quality healthcare, but it is not the governments responsibility to provide it.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Another One Bites the Dust

We always knew Public Protector Busisiwe Mkwebane was a Gupta appointee despite her rather pathetic efforts to appear nonpartisan, but finally she has flown her colours out in the open. Of course what I am referring to is her findings released last week regarding Absa and the Reserve Bank. The subject of Mkwebane's investigation was an apartheid era bailout of now Absa-owned Bankorp, but her findings ventured many miles from that mandate.

The core finding is that Absa should pay back the R1.125 billion it benefited from the 1985 bailout of Bankorp. I am all for holding accountable those who have unduly benefited from situations like this, but the shareholders who would be punished today are not the same shareholders who benefited during the apartheid era bailout and takeover. Thus it would be unfair to punish the current shareholders and by now, 3 decades later, it is impossible to track down the actual benefactors, rendering Mkwebane's investigation a waste of time, as the likes of Mbeki, Manuel, Gordhan and Madonsela already knew.

It is not, however, just the wasting of time and resources by our state institutions that we are worried about. The major problem is the capture of yet another chapter 9 institution, especially one so symbolically named the Public Protector. Mkwebane had already revealed her Gupta allegiance by having the office's televisions switched to ANN7 and insinuating that the leaked Gupta emails were fake, but now she is chasing after the first bank that closed the Gupta accounts. Also note that this is in light of a questionable relationship with Gupta-associated, Bell-Pottinger-linked Andile Mngxitama and the Black First Land First movement as well as the fact that Gupta-linked figures have condemned, or even talked publicly about the report, especially the other, more controversial part we are yet to discuss.

Before we get to the climax of this story we need to ask why the public protector is chasing a controversial, almost irrecoverable R1 billion and ignoring the R700 billion stolen by the ANC in the last 20 years. To be short, this simply reeks of favouring special interests.

Finally, we get to the crux of the matter. The public protector has no right to recommend changes to the constitution. Simple as that. Mkwebane completely overstepped the mark when she recommended parliament amend the constitution to change the mandate of the Reserve Bank. First, this is nowhere close to what she was asked to investigate, and second, she would not have the mandate to make the those recommendations even if she was asked. Yet we have these ridiculous findings playing right into the vague, unintepretable radical economic transformation rhetoric, designed purely to draw attention away from state capture.

So in the end, what we have, amongst other things, is another ploy to draw attention away from the Guptas and state capture. But it has, in fact, drawn a whole lot of attention to the capture of yet another state institution, the office of the public protector.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Smoke and Mirrors

South Africa is sitting on a precipice. Not since at least the early 90's, more probably the 1950's have we been so close to falling to a certain doom (noting that in the 50's we did fall.) It seems the ordinary folk of our beloved nation fail to comprehend the precariousness of our position. State capture is far more serious than most believe, in fact, academics have described the related events as a 'soft coup'. We are becoming more and more a dictatorship, a monarchy disguised as a democracy. Yet despite the dire situation we find ourselves in, with a moral-less ruling party, rampant corruption and one family slowly taking control of all our supposedly democratic institutions, far too much of our time, attention and media coverage is devoted to a non-issue: race.

Do not mistake me, I do not refute that this is a sensitive issue, nor seek to undermine the gross injustices of our past, but today's racial issues are but squabbles among siblings compared to the world war of apartheid. Take for example the Helen Zille Twitter row. I can only imagine that great struggle icons like Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu, who fought real racism and oppression, would be turning in their graves to see the reaction of their once great organisation to a couple of vague remarks that at a push could branded insensitive. It is frankly ridiculous that Zille's tweets have received exponentially more attention than situations that are actually going to have a real impact on the lives of ordinary South Africans, like the appointment of Gupta-servant Brian Molefe to parliament, or the Gupta take over of the SABC, or Eskom, or who knows how many other state institutions. It's simply a matter of priorities, and ours are all mixed up.

So why do we harp on about race then? Why does every unsavoury interaction between individuals with racial differences become a racist event? Why are hours of conversation time on 702 and other radio stations devoted to discussing this, the least of our worries as a nation? First, like I said, race is a sensitive topic, so racialised news is sensationalist. It grabs our attention and makes us angry. For some reason we want to be angry. It is an unhealthy fetish. The second reason is far more dangerous and builds on the sensationalism of the first: that is that it is a powerful distraction. It is a powerful distraction for Zuma, while he plunges the country into crisis. It is a powerful distraction for the Guptas whilst they systematically take control of our state institutions. It is a powerful distraction for the ANC while it buys time to find a solution to it's lack of moral leadership. It is a powerful tool in diverting our attention from the real dangers we face as a country.

What is most worrying is that people still buy this narrative, despite it having been exposed, most notably through the Bell Pottinger revelations. It reveals a great flaw in our human nature, that we are more likely to believe what we want to be true than what is actually true. It lays bare our inability to think critically and illustrates the lack of access many have to opposing view points. The crisis we need to solve as a country is not a race crisis. It is an education crisis. It is an unemployment crisis. It is a state-capture crisis. It is a governmental over-reach crisis. And ultimately, it is a freedom crisis.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Maimane's not so Big Moment

I am amazed, but not particularly surprised, that the Helen Zille tweet row has carried on for as long as it has, and that so few sensible voices have been prominent in the debate. I've had many thoughts on the issue since my post last week. These are a few.

First off, Zille needs berating for her own foolishness, not because what she said was wrong, but because someone with her experience in both politics and journalism should have foreseen the reaction to her tweets. She knows better than most how the racial propaganda war works in South Africa and has been a victim of it enough to have anticipated her moral lynching.

Zille's moment of naivety, however, by no means justifies the manufactured outrage from those who think only in terms of black and white. The dominant argument remains that Zille defended colonialism and thereby offended millions of South Africans who suffered because of it. It's even gotten to the point where the Black First Land First movement has decided to lay racism charges against her. I believe I sufficiently established the ridiculousness of these claims in my last article, but in case you were still in doubt I will further elaborate.

The now infamous tweet series started with a reference to how Singapore achieved major development by building off what the colonists left behind. The whole idea was how South Africa could emulate that, so the argument was never racial nor a defense of colonialism from the start, but merely about how to achieve development. One should not be surprised, however, at the racialist vultures who were hovering, waiting for any misrepresentable statement to cry racist over. Contrary to one popular argument, Zille did not say that there were good aspects of colonialism. She said that there were good aspects to the legacy of colonialism i.e. what we are left with because of colonialism. One can perfectly reasonably call colonialism abhorrent and evil and simultaneously suggest that there are consequences of colonialism that we can exploit to improve the lives of the people.

To sum it up in one question, Do you believe running water is a good thing, that written language is a good thing, democracy, electricity, modern travel? If yes, then you agree with Mrs Zille. The ANC agrees with her, the EFF, even Black First Land First agree with her. In fact, the ANC's own idea of the Developmental State is the same principle Zille was arguing.

Now, significantly, Zille's tweets are supposedly sufficient reason for her to be axed as premier of the Western Cape. We've already established why this is not the case, but let us try to convince Mmusi Maimane of this too. Apparently this is Maimane's chance to step out of Zille's shadow and show that he is the true leader of the DA by beheading his mentor and predecessor. Of course, this is a tempting opportunity, but it would cost him his integrity. Hopefully Mmusi will not fall into the trap baited by his enemies. So for many it is a question of whether Mmusi Maimane will man up and show that he is the true leader of the DA or stay in the shadow of Zille, but really the question is whether he will give up his integrity for cheap political points.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Storm in a Teacup

In the midst of a political disaster zone, with the social grants crisis reaching it's climax, xenophobia emerging from the dark crevices of society and more corrupt and incompetent so-called politicians being nominated to and defended in parliament, the media, politicians and opinionists of our beloved country decided to release all of hell's fury on Helen Zille in light of some, well, pretty uncontroversial tweets.

This is what the most prominent of the tweets said:

"For those claiming legacy of colonialism was ONLY negative, think of our independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water etc."

Of course what this means is that colonialism was a great thing and we should go back to the days of apartheid, so the hysteria of our radio personalities and twitterati is completely justified. Except that's not at all what she said. Let's break down her argument (luckily she made it in a tweet, so there is not that much analysing to do):

These are the premises:
  • Colonialism brought development to Africa, for example, an independent judiciary, transport infrastructure and piped water.
  • These examples of development are good things.
This leads her to the conclusion that:
  • Some aspects of the colonial legacy are good.
No sober minded person could refute the premises, and the conclusion follows directly from them and so one cannot deny that either. Yet almost every analyst has twisted her statement to portray  her as a racist, pro-apartheid colonialism-defender. Even her own party has distanced itself from her. To refute these claims let's look at what she does not do:
  • Justify the oppression under colonial rule.
  • Justify land theft or slavery or any other negative aspects assosciated with colonialism.
  • Justify colonialism at all, or even give an opinion on whether it was good or bad as a whole.
  • Praise colonists.
  • Even mention apartheid! Yet Zille, an anti-apartheid activist back in the day, is being accused of being pro-apartheid.
  • Say anything racist, unless you believe facts can be racist, but even then it's a far stretch.
Acknowledging that some good came out of colonialism does not imply that colonialism as a whole is good. And she has made this known. My favourite argument by these hysterical Zille-phobes is the analogy with Nazism. "So if there are good things that come out of things that are, on the whole bad," one might say, "then there were good things about Nazism too!" Actually yes. The Nazis brought an end to the great depression. Do you then mean to imply that the end of the great depression was a bad thing? The notion is utterly ridiculous. The end of the great depression was a good, whether or not the Nazis killed 6 million Jews. Furthermore it does not justify the holocaust or any of the other evil acts perpetrated by the Nazis, just as saying that the development brought about by colonialism is good does not justify the evil done under that ideology.

Absolutism. The idea that if something or someone is part bad they must be all bad. That is what it boils down to. It is a fallacy, but it has become very prominent in the world today, especially between opposing ends of the political spectrum. Look at Donald Trump for example. According to InfoWars he can do nothing wrong, but according to CNN he can do nothing right. But the fact is, that whether you support him or not, you can, and should, acknowledge that he does both good and bad. And it is the same with almost everything.

My biggest worry with this matter is that people don't have the ability to think for themselves. Many latch on to what Fikile Mbalula or Eusebius McKaiser say and take that as the truth without analysing the story themselves. And it is this lack of critical thinking that keeps corrupt and incompetent leaders like Jacob Zuma and Bathabile Dlamini in power. Hopefully more and more of us can learn to think critically, to create a better South Africa.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Assessing the Budget Speech

So I was pretty close with my predictions on the budget, though they weren't too hard to call for anyone. One thing that did surprise was the new tax bracket: 45% for those earning more than 1.5 million. We'll get back to that one though.

In the immediate aftermath of the budget speech there was nothing but praise for Gordhan for masterfully negotiating the political tightrope he had found before him. But I think there has been enough analysis on that. I want to focus on what the budget actually means for South Africa.

Perhaps the most notable point is how much emphasis Gordhan puts on reducing the deficit, but while doing almost nothing about it. There was no sign of spending cuts, not even the same admonition to end wastefulness that was given last year. Instead there were increases in social grants (which, as it stands, may not even make their intended destinations) and billions more thrown at education. Now I can sense the immediate protests of "But we need more money for these things!" I'm afraid though that if we keep raising the debt to finance welfare, we will get to the point where it will be impossible to pay for these things at all. Especially in an economy that is growing at hardly above 0%. As much as we want to be charitable, we need to be sustainable to survive. And a budget deficit, especially in our economic climate, is not sustainable.

The little that was done to address the deficit involved raising taxes. unfortunately this is a self-defeating method for such an aim. Having a balanced budget is simple. Income must equal expenses. So if expenses exceed income we can either reduce expenses, which Gordhan hasn't done, or we can increase income, which for the government is tax income. But this is where Gordhan went wrong: increasing the tax rate is not the same as increasing tax income. In fact, the very opposite is true. Often decreasing the tax rate leads to an increase in tax income in the long run. Why? Decreasing the tax rate attracts investment, investment brings economic growth and economic growth results in there being more money to tax.

This is where the new tax bracket comes in. Instant logic argues that 4% is not that big a difference, especially for people earning more than one and a half million a year. If someone can pay 41% surely they can pay 45%. Looking more deeply one may consider that for a lot of people that 4% could be the straw that breaks the camels back. There is only so many times you can take just a little bit more before all the little bits add up to a whole lot. And 41% is already a lot. So that 4% could well drive many people out of South Africa, to countries where they both earn more and keep more of what they earn. And you may say, "Oh, it's only 100 000 people that are affected, and only a fraction of them will leave anyway." But remember, these 100 000 are the people who contribute most to our economy. They are doctors, lawyers, engineers, and especially businessmen and entrepreneurs, the people who have the potential to grow the economy and create jobs. We have already been experiencing a mass exodus of these people and can't afford to lose any more. Marginalising the wealthy has a negative affect on all of society.

Unfortunately a budget that is good for our economy and for the people of South Africa is impossible in this political climate. So taking that into consideration, I too shall have to render my praise to Minister Gordhan for the budget he presented in such trying circumstances.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Preparing for the Budget Speech

It's a good thing that Pravin Gordhan is not one who is easily rattled. At least he doesn't show it if he is. Very few people in any job could be in a more stressful situation than our finance minister is in now. Multiple branches of the ANC are calling for his head, a rumoured potential replacement has been nominated for parliament, and he is preparing for the most important public event on his calendar, the budget speech, which needs to balance powerful conflicting interests.

With the ANC under pressure and policy tide turning toward populism as a release valve on the one hand, and an ailing economy in desperate need of some freedom therapy on the other, Gordhan has his work cut out. He is walking a tight rope. What we want him to say is this: "We are privatising the SOEs, phasing out state welfare and cutting taxes." This would catch the ears of the business world and spark a new era of economic growth. The rand would literally jump in value, but he would certainly lose his job. The ANC Youth League, Women's League and the MKTV would be joined by a host of more conservative ANC structures and members in calling for his head and Zuma would garner more than enough support to bring down the axe. But it's nice to fantacise about a budget that would actually help the economy.

To win back his detractors would require exactly the opposite of what we need. Increase taxes on the wealthy, more welfare and tons of investment in black business. However Gordhan is both intelligent and moral, at least when standing next to many of his ANC comrades, so there is no chance this will happen either. Besides, I doubt he could care less about what Collen Maine and company have to say. No exponents of this line of thinking have ever shown any understanding of economics, or even the ability to predict the consequences of ones actions. Unfortunately these people can say whatever they like, since they are not in a position to make the decisions and so will never be held accountable. No wonder Gordhan ignores them.

What is likely to happen is this: subtle tax increases attempting to raise tax income without driving away investment and subtle spending cuts in an attempt to reduce costs without sending the populists into a state of outrage. This is why he left big issues like income tax and SOEs alone last year and will probably do so again this year while focusing on things like sugar and sin taxes and cutting down on wasteful expenditure.

So I have pretty low expectations for this budget speech. I don't see anything radical happening, for better or worse. Gordhan, for the sake of keeping his job, without ruining the economy, will probably just deliver more of the same. But I hope I'm wrong.

Friday, 3 February 2017

#FeesMustFall: Freedom Must Rise

This is an article I am submitting to project rise: a forum to discuss what must happen after #FeesMustFall.

The funding crisis in higher education in South Africa right now is perhaps the most prominent political issue of recent years in our country. It has affected hundreds of thousands of students as well regular citizens. It is siphoning huge portions of our thought and discussion. It is one of the biggest problems we are facing as a country. Except it isn't. When we look at the bigger picture, problems with our higher education system are drowned out by far more significant issues, like 40+ percent unemployment, 17 thousand murders a year and a similar number of rapes, 0% economic growth and rampant corruption by an ineffective government. Yet #FeesMustFall continues to draw the lion's share of activism from around the country.

But why is such a comparatively insignificant issue getting so much attention? The most obvious reason is that those with the zeal and energy for activism are the ones  directly affected by this issue. #FeesMustFall has a far more obvious, direct impact and an 18, 20, 23 year old graduate than the greater, yet more subtle influence of unemployment, or stagnant economic growth.

In addition to this, the lack of critical thinking and desire to research within general South African culture, combined with almost ubiquitous frustration with our country's social and political situation creates a sheep culture, where all it takes is a few charismatic individuals to advance a cause before everyone is jumping on the activist bandwagon, trying to change the world, without ever bothering to think through how that is going to happen, only considering the surface issue and never looking at knock-on effects. The narrative is this: granting free education to everyone will solve all our problems by reducing income inequality, emancipating the poor and filling the market with graduates who can then be used as a catalyst for economic growth and job creation.

There are numerous problems with this logic. First, access to higher education isn't necessarily going to produce more graduates. Already we see that most students who enter university don't come out with degrees. Why? Because students don't come out of high school prepared for the rigours of university. Our high school system is not up to the task and our primary school system is a major problem. And even pre-school - how are we supposed to solve a higher education crisis when we can't even get pre-school right? Simply put, the majority of students enter university without having developed the cognitive ability to succeed.

Then there is this myth that graduates create jobs and spur economic growth. No. Graduates fill positions created by entrepreneurs. Being an entrepreneur does not require a university degree. Never in any society have graduates been the catalyst for economic growth. Problem solvers with freedom to express themselves, both the educated and non-educated create economic growth. And the major issue is that we do not give these people this freedom. We rely on the government to solve our problems. We don't all go and work on the problem ourselves till someone finds a solution. It is too easy to pass the buck.

So if free education is not going to solve these problems what is? Freedom is. In answer to the question, "What must rise?" freedom must rise. And don't get confused between freedom and free things. Government stepping in to solve people's problems is not freedom. It is interference. It is not sustainable and frankly a violation of basic human rights. In order to solve our problems we need government to get out the way. Government funding of education along with the numerous other social welfare programs is what is preventing access to education. Not so called "white-privilege". High taxes to fund the welfare state, strict labour laws and disproportionately over-powered trade unions strangle opportunities for those with the ability to make the economy grow. They run away because they have no chance of making a return on investment. By relaxing labour laws and reducing taxes we will create opportunities for businessmen to make profit. This leads to investment, which leads to economic growth which in turn creates jobs. And whilst graduates are not necessarily the cause of economic growth, they are necessary for it to happen. When companies need people with certain skills they will find them until there are no more to be found (this happens quickly in a high economic growth environment) and then they will start making them. That means scholarships and bursaries. So the government doesn't need to fund higher education. It needs to give the private sector space to grow and they will fund higher education.

So I'm not saying the university crisis is a non-issue. It is an issue. A big issue. But it's a secondary issue. It is a symptom, rather than a cause. You can treat a symptom, but it will come back. When you treat the cause - lack of freedom - the symptom goes for ever.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

The Right to Discriminate

Today I want to speak about 2 events that have made headlines in the past couple of days. Though the stories are hardly news-worthy, the media have really made a meal out of them. I would have just left them alone, but they allow me to open up a discussion on a principle that most people really haven't applied their minds to: the right to discriminate.

The first story is that of a b-list celebrity, Somizi Mhlongo, who was highly offended by the supposed homophobic preaching of Bishop Dag Heward-Mills. This is the less-significant event - just another left-wing celebrity being offended too easily and throwing a tantrum. To be fair, this a far less common occurrence here than in places like the US, where any right-wing opinion is deemed to be offensive. Somizi has nothing to complain about though. How could he be so shocked that the Grace BIBLE Church, would preach what is IN THE BIBLE! Whether you believe homosexuality is acceptable or not, the church, and Bishop Heward-Mills have the right to preach according to their beliefs. And the Bishop didn't preach hate against gays. He didn't incite violence. All he said was that homosexuality is unnatural, which is true, according to most religions and science. What is most concerning is that there is a large segment of society that wishes to silence any opinion it disagrees with. They don't use rational argument, but try to bully people into submitting to a particular opinion. I call this Control Freak Syndrome.

Now this Control Freak Syndrome is far more prevalent in the second story, which is far more controversial and more likely to divide opinion. You probably won't hear much more of the Somizi saga, but you will certainly hear about Lake Restaurant in Brakpan, where gay couples are refused access to date night. LGBTI groups have been all over this and the South African Human Rights Commission has even started an investigation, but the only only rights that are being infringed on are the rights of the owners of the restaurant. Yes, some of you are shocked, but that's the truth. If you own a restaurant, or a store, or a babershop, or any enterprise, you have the right to self-determine who you will or won't offer service to. It is YOUR store, and YOU have the right to decide who you trade with. You have the right to deny service to anyone for any reason. To argue otherwise is to put a gun to the head business owners and say 'you must trade with who we say you must trade with!' It is not right. If you disagree with the policy, don't eat at the restaurant! But don't try to force them to conform to your misguided opinion.

All these sorts of stories are accompanied by calls for lawmakers to bring new anti-discrimination laws and for investigations and prosecutions and just all-round government intervention. You see what I mean by Control Freak Syndrome? But this is both wrong and unnecessary. I'll give you a case to prove it. Not too long ago Andre Slade was exposed for blatant and unabashed racism with regards to his guesthouse. But he has the right to withhold his services from black people and we have the right to boycott him for such actions. He is now financially ruined as no one will give him business any more. No government action needed. You see, as society we have great power to do good and bad. We can hold people like this to account. We don't need the government for things like this.

So back to the homosexual issue. If you believe that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality, that is your right to believe that, and to voice that opinion and try to convince others of it. But don't be a control freak! Don't force your opinion on others.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Mcebo Dlamini: Hero or Villain?

A note before I get into it: I will be turning out blog posts once a week, but I will comment on issues as they happen on twitter @MatthewPienaar7.

Over  the weekend a series of stories were released by Eye Witness News about student activist Mcebo Dlamini being released on bail, on the grounds that the judge who denied bail flaunted the constitution by not allowing Dlamini and his lawyers access to some of the evidence presented against him.There are so many absurdities to this story it is ridiculous.

First thing to point out is the grounds on which bail was granted. The previous judges didn't give Dlamini and his lawyers access to video footage and statements by police fingerprint experts. According to the judge this is an abuse of Dlamini's constitutional rights and thus he should be granted bail. I'm not an expert on the constitution, so I can't comment on that. But how on earth is this sufficient reason to grant bail? He was denied bail because he is a danger to society and whether or not his rights were violated in such a minute way doesn't change this fact. He is still dangerous. Effectively, he was released on a technicality. What should have happened is that Dlamini should have been given access to the evidence he was previously denied access too and another bail hearing should the have taken place.

Judge Mokgatlheng admonished Dlamini to curb the violence in the protests, but Dlamini's response did not give us much hope of that.Which brings me to my third point, which is what Dlamini said afterwards. Dlamini tries to convince us that there will be no protests around registration time and that the protests have yielded positive results, especially with reference to the missing middle students. But then why were our universities shut for 4 weeks AFTER the government addressed this issue! The 'success' he is referring too now was, in August, the excuse that instigated the protests! Nothing has changed since then, except for Dlamini's argument. Worse yet, he criticises the judges admonition to stop the vandalism and looting by comparing broken windows to students injured in the protests:

"The situation on the ground has been very brutal and violent to a black child. Why should we be concerned about a broken window, when at Wits there is a girl who is disfigured permanently, who was burnt by a stun grenade thrown in her face?... A window is more important than the black body, that's the problem. We are not advocating for the damage of property, but we are also speaking strongly against police brutality on unarmed students."

First, this comparison does not work. On the basis of what he said, I can rob a bank and say I'm innocent because we have bigger things to worry about, like the fact that Hitler killed 6 million Jews, or that Al Quada bombed the Twin Towers. One tragedy does not excuse a host of illegal and barbaric activities. It is still wrong! I wish no one would have to be hurt in these protests, but the police's actions have been forced by the nature of the protests. The police wouldn't be there if the protesters hadn't been engaging in illegal and violent activities. According Dlamini, the students respond to police violence. This is simply not the case. I am a first hand witness to the fact that the protesters instigate the violence, deliberately to get a response from the police. They force the police into reacting with stun grenades and rubber bullets, just so that they can play the victim card and garner sympathy via our pro-left biased media.

In conclusion, it is obvious that the media are trying to turn a villain into a hero. The police are not well trained to handle what has been happening, but ultimately responsibility for millions of rands worth of damage to property, the disruption of university activities, injury and, in at least one case, the death of someone affected by the protests, rests on the shoulders of the protest leaders, especially Mcebo Dlamini. He should not have been let out.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

A statement that doesn't say much

I've just finished reading the ANC's January 8th statement, and while it's not filled with anything new or exciting I thought there were a few interesting things in there that are worth pointing out. One in particular that I find quite disturbing.

A time for humility
It is immediately obvious that this is not Jacob Zuma's statement, even if he was the one to read it. And perhaps it showed that Zuma is losing some influence, as evidenced by the apologetic tone in certain parts. This is one of the big positives for me. The ANC acknowledged that they have been making mistakes. They acknowledged their failures with regards to the recent elections and in a bout of good sportsmanship even admitted that it was good for democracy in South Africa, that it was good the democratic process that people showed their dissatisfaction at the voting booth. This is an absolute truth! Competition at election time is is great for democracy because it forces politicians to be on top of their game. The local government elections were a wake-up call for the ANC, and one they seem to be heeding, albeit slowly.

There was also a half-hearted concession to the perception that the ANC is rampant with corruption. In fact the very words they used were "perception of corruption." They stopped short of the mark by saying they want to get rid of the perception of of corruption, rather than corruption itself, but it's a start. Let's hope these words are sincere.

Not saying much
A lot of the transcript is made up of repetitions of ANC policies and rhetoric, of what in the past have been empty promises and threats about land redistribution and radical economic transformation. Land redistribution certainly needs happen, but it needs to be done wisely so that we don't end up in the same boat as Zimbabwe. Radical economic change is the scary part. The majority of our population were disenfranchised for many years and the injustices they suffered need to be rectified, but the ANC has no idea how to do this. Programs like BEE and BBBEE, government investment into black startups and social development programs have done little to solve the problems and in fact have just been making them worse. Black people cannot become wealthy simply by taking away the wealth of white people. There are 4 million whites and 40 million blacks in South Africa. Mathematically it is just not going to work. Furthermore, the general black populous does not have the necessary skill or experience to grow or even maintain that wealth. The fastest and only sustainable way to spread wealth across our society is to achieve massive economic growth through a free market, a top quality education system and significant cultural changes. By that I mean developing a cultural across South Africa of that places high value on integrity, learning and hard work. And this must be done at nursery school level, where our investment should be going, not at university level.

A fair chunk of material is devoted to preaching unity. Ironically, it did not take long for the youth and women's leagues to illustrate how hard that is going to be to achieve. Already there are two different endorsements for Jacob Zuma's successor as president of the ANC. Long before the election process is to start, Cosatu have put themselves firmly behind Cyril Ramaphosa and even in the wake of the call for unity, the women's league have put themselves equally firmly behind Nkosazane Dlamini-Zuma. But perhaps the most controversial endorsement is the one that hasn't happened yet, with Collen Maine claiming that the youth league will send "shockwaves through the ANC' when they reveal their candidate. Indeed they have been preaching that it is a time for younger leadership. The only people I can imagine they are referring to is Collen Maine himself, who will certainly lose if he runs, and  Julius Malema, if that is even allowed. But I'm excited to find out exactly what they mean.

Long live Leninism!
The most shocking part of the speech came near the end where out of nowhere there was a sudden praising of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. In case you were wondering, this revolution was the beginning of the Soviet Union, one of the most oppressive and evil regimes of modern history. We should all be horrified that a supposedly democratic institution such as the ANC should sing the praises of an authoritarian regime that stole the freedom of their people (killing 20 million of them process!), censored the media and was just all-round oppressive. In fact the Soviet government was far worse than our much loathed apartheid government. It is extremely worrying that there is evidence that such strong communist ideas still exist with some powerful people in the ANC. I'm not saying we are going to turn in to Cuba in the next 20 years, but any praise towards repressive communist systems must be strongly condemned!

But in the end actions speak louder than words, and the ANC being a broad church often don't match their actions to their words, so we are yet to see what this all means in reality, if anything at all.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Bull in a China shop

Quite refreshing has been the relative quiet from the political scene over the festive season. Even some typically poorly thought out comments about the role of churches in our democracy by President Zuma went by without too much fuss and bother. It seems our politicians have been peacefully enjoying their holidays.

But the peace was unnecessarily broken by an uproar over Tshwane mayor, Solly Msimanga's visit to Taiwan. For those who have chosen to stay out of the loop over the Christmas season (I really don't blame you for taking such a reprieve!) Mayor Msimaga took a trip to to Tapei, Taiwan to meet Mayor Ko Wen-Je and discuss economic ties and investment into Tshwane. The ANC subsequently exploded with criticism, with big guns accusing Msimanga of breaching the country's One China policy and lightweights throwing out the usual over-the-top recommendations like, "Take away his passport!" and so on.

For those unfamiliar with the history I'll give a quick review. Once, China was united as the Republic of China, but after WW2 a civil war started and the communists drove the existing state off the mainland and onto the island of Taiwan. They then renamed China the People's Republic of China. So now the People's Republic of China controls the mainland and the Republic of China controls Taiwan, but both claim exclusive sovereignty over the whole of China. Commonly these are now referred to as China and Taiwan respectively, so I will use these names. Although Taiwan is effectively a totally independent state, China does not take kindly to those who recognise it's sovereignty. Today most countries recognise the People's Republic of China, but still maintain unofficial diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

It is this stance that gave the ANC excuse to throw their toys out the cot over Mayor Msimanga's visit to Taiwan, which apparently damages our reputation internationally, and after all our President has done, we really can't afford much more damage. But for all the ruckus made by the ANC, China has said nothing, in fact, even if they know of his visit, it seems they couldn't care less. And that makes sense. This was a visit by a mayor of one city to another city to seek investment. It has little to do with international politics and it really then doesn't make a difference whether Taipei falls under the jurisdiction of Taiwan or China because they both agree on one China, even if they disagree over who runs it.

It really is making a mountain out of a mole-hill, but it is what this reaction tells us about the ANC that I find interesting. First it shows how desperate the constantly, and justly, under-fire ruling party is to find passable criticism to throw at the almost irreproachable opposition. Second, it reveals the true underlying values that exist in the ANC. For a party that boasts of its democratic ideals, it is very quick to recognise an oppressive and authoritarian regime over one that is a pinnacle of freedom and democracy. In fact, when we look at the closest economic allies we have made since 1994, most share our problems, but stand in stark contrast to the ideals of the ANC and the rest of the country. I speak of the BRICS countries. Russia and China are not beacons of democracy, and along with India and Brazil are grossly corrupt. In spite of the perceptions we have a of our own country, we may be the cleanest of the five.

This is something that is worrying, but that we aren't paying attention to. We make friends with those facing the same problems as us, rather than those who have overcome the problems we face, like Taiwan. Ask yourself, who is more likely able to help us overcome those problems, those who have overcome them themselves, or those who are still battling with them?