Bruce’s List: A daily guide to informed reads.
South Africa becomes more dysfunctional by the day. At least the parts runs under the banner of the state do. SAA’s eye-watering losses are increased by R1bn, university campuses close down as national treasury scrambles to find the money to help poor students pay fees. State-owned companies are little more than fronts for theft on a grand scale. Key arms of the security and justice system are themselves riddled with criminality, corruption and dishonesty. You can feel it coming to a head and you can feel the bad guys losing.
There is so much going on these days that it is hard to stop and think about what the results might be. After all, the economy, thanks solely to the private sector, is tripping along better than we had thought. Moody’s, the ratings agency, seems to be saying the chances of a downgrade are pretty low. The president took an SAA flight to New York and finance minister Pravin Gordhan is still a free man.
But, still, the mess is real and the threat is in our faces. With leadership now almost entirely missing at a national level, thanks goodness there are thoughtful, diligent South Africans trying to see their way through it all. By helping the rest of us make sense of the madness of the Zuma years, they do their country a service. After that build-up, Judith February will probably blush to know I am talking mainly about her piece today in Daily Maverick. It wraps up our problems in the best way possible: It is The Age of Unreason. It is The Age of Impunity.
And Marianne Thamm paints a delightfully sarcastic picture here of the parliamentary hearing into the state of SAA yesterday. Dudu Myeni, President Jacob Zuma’s close friend, and still chair of the airline, arrived two hours late in order to avoid any meaningful cross-examination and the revelation by treasury that the airline’s losses are in fact much bigger than even the most pessimistic guesses. Zuma thinks Myeni’s a business genius: SAA: If we don’t fix it someone else will, Deputy Minister of Finance warns.
Deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas may well have been right in telling the SAA hearing that if SA doesn’t fix its state-owned companies “then someone else will”, like the IMF or the World Bank. But we’re at least on safe ground, it seems, with Moody’s, the ratings agency, which according to a report on the front page of Business Day today doesn’t seem to think there’s much of a problem here other than political division. Perhaps Moody’s would care to show us a rated country where there isn’t political division? Moody’s has SA two notches above a downgrade (so it has long been the most optimistic of the ratings agencies) but now sees our chances of being downgraded by it as around 30%. In other words, it isn’t going to happen and what is extraordinary is that not a single reform promised by government on public finances or the state-owned companies has been done. We should all be so lucky as to be rated by Moody’s. Such nice people: Divisions in politics are SA’s major weakness, says Moody’s.
And while Moody’s would probably not be too concerned about government ordering a nuclear build programme, other people are. Most South Africans, for a start. Energy minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson was also appearing before a parliamentary committee yesterday, mainly to refuse to hand over key documents relating to the process. None of the parties on the committee was having it and she is going to be obliged to do so: Nuclear bid: ‘Minister will have to release info’.
Not that it should matter. I have decided not to worry about the nuclear build programme. Sure, some money will be made illicitly during the run-up to an order for plant but it will never get that far. There is simply not enough money. Think about it. The state already has R20bn in guarantees alone to SAA tied up on its balance sheet. That money is a contingent liability. It would need to provide guarantees to any contractor involved in the nuclear build and it simply isn’t there. I know it looks scary as the Zuptas grind ahead with the nuclear process but they will all be long gone, and perhaps even in jail, by the time it is officially buried.