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Themba Maseko joins WSG

- Kemantha Govender

The Wits School of Governance is delighted to announce that Mr Themba Maseko has joined the School as the Director of Executive Education (short courses).

The former government spokesperson and CEO of the Government Communications and Information Services is already well acquainted with the School as the former Academic Champion for the Government Communications and Marketing short course. He is the first Head of, and was responsible for setting up the Gauteng Department of Education, former Managing Director of Damelin Education Group and Director General of the national departments of Public Works, Public Service and Administration.  He also served as the Communications Director at the Business Leadership South Africa.

“Themba comes with high leadership pedigree and a practitioner’s experience in public policy and governance. He has worked at a high level in government and was also one of the first cohorts of Members of Parliament under the democratic dispensation. We are extremely delighted to have him as a colleague and part of our management team at the School” said WSG Head of School, Professor Mzukisi Qobo.

Maseko is the author of the book, For my country and  holds a BA LLB from Wits University, an MBA at De Montfort University and the Senior Executive Programme, a joint programme from Wits Business School and Harvard University. 

“I am delighted to lead a rejuvenated team to deliver quality education in the fields of governance, public development and management. Since the outbreak of Covid-19, we have been compelled to re-think the way we do things, how we lecture being one of them. We are ensuring that our course content is relevant and can offer skills and support to tackle the myriad of challenges that we face today. We stand by our commitment to offer courses with a balance between academic grounding and practical learning” said Maseko.

Is opposition to basic income support for vulnerable adults informed by evidence or ideology?

- Adjunct Professor Alex van den Heever

For over two decades, pretty much the same thinking has dominated economic policy in South Africa...

With what appears to be a perpetuation of poor economic and social outcomes.

The question is whether these poor outcomes are an accident of fate, or just the result of the repeated application of the same kinds of thinking.

In this respect, it is worth noting that if the Republicans in the US were to impose their dystopic vision on any society from scratch, it would pretty much look like South Africa today.

It would be characterised by structural poverty and deep social divides arising from market failures in the distribution of income and its close relative, the social distribution of risk.

Only the well-off would have any form of social security and the rest, well, that’s not the problem of government or the privileged.

So, why is the distribution of risk so important to incomes?

There are many events that can disrupt the flow of incomes to families.

These include the death, disability or illness of a breadwinner as well as normal activities such as giving birth and looking after an infant child or losing employment due to old age.

In addition, the loss of employment due to the structure of the economy and economic cycles imposes severe costs and hardships on individual households outside of their control.

The operative phrase here is “outside of their control”.

Under conditions of precarity, social contingencies such as death, disability or childbirth exacerbate the effects of any structural exclusion from the labour market.

While the occurrence and duration of these various events cannot be predicted at the individual level, they are, however, predictable at a societal level. This is quite simply why social security systems pool these risks.

Not only will most of these events occur at some point in any household’s lifetime, but they will happen to some households somewhere at all points in time.

However, the effects of these events are not evenly distributed.

Not unexpectedly, the more precarious a household’s social condition, the more catastrophic the impact of such an event, with the effects harming the lives and life paths of households.

The converse is equally true: the less precarious a household’s social condition, the greater its ability to mitigate the effects of such an event alone.

Think of a game of “snakes and ladders”, where for most of the population there are many more snakes than ladders. For the privileged few, in contrast, there are few or no snakes and just ladders.

In such a game, “winning” and “losing” outcomes are structured into the game and have little to do with effort levels, competence or even chance.

In any society that individualises the bearing of such income-harming events, socially predictable risks are implicitly transferred onto the households that have no real ability to manage them on their own.

Only a very small percentage of households will be able to manage such risks on their own — roughly equivalent to half of the highest-earning 10% of households.

The systemic outcome of individualising the distribution of risk in this way is to cement in disadvantage, which then “mysteriously” manifests as endemic poverty and inequality.

Social protection regimes redistribute the snakes and ladders, expanding access to ladders and reducing the impact of snakes.

To conventional economists, the social implications of these risk distributions are invisible — and therefore, to them, do not exist.

There was a time when surgeons also did not recognise the importance of washing their hands prior to surgery.

Why? Because the existence of “germs” was just a theory, as no one could see them.

It took the invention and use of the microscope to convince surgeons they were killing their patients.

This mindset is age-old and reflects the path dependency of entrenched practices and thinking where emergent evidence will not be considered until such time as it becomes overwhelming and obvious to pretty much everyone.

The recent note by the President’s Economic Advisory Council (PEAC) on the extension of basic income to income-compromised adults closely resembles this failure on the part of surgeons.

As with bad waiters, there are “none so blind as those who do not wish to see”.

Conventional economists, in fact, have no technical expertise or models to understand the social and economic transmission mechanisms associated with social income-pooling schemes.

They are therefore not in any position to comment with authority or evidence on the social and economic effects of any social security arrangement, whether in reference to a system of basic income or social insurance.

Conventional macroeconomic models, used for relatively basic projections or limited policy assessments, also over-aggregate the key features of any economy (and society), and cannot be used for anything other than the crudest of appraisals.

So, what such economists, using such models, cannot see, effectively “doesn’t exist”.

When it comes to the resulting policy analysis, the evidence gaps are invariably filled by selecting assumptions that reflect the prejudices of the economists involved and drive all the results. Alternatively, they just cut out the middleman and run with assumptions.

If we leap back in time to reflect on the utilitarian economists of the 19th century, it illustrates in fairly stark terms how evidence-free theorising in economics persists to this day.

For instance, there was a UK Royal Commission that in 1834 examined and reported on the workings of the “poor laws” which governed income relief (social assistance) paid by local authorities to those without adequate incomes.

A particular target of the commission was the so-called “Speenhandland system”, which supplemented the income of poor households based on the price of bread (a food poverty line of sorts) and family size.

These measures had been introduced via the “poor laws” system to address the fact that even earned incomes were insufficient to support poor families.

The Royal Commission, however, determined that the system of relief for the poor had the following outcomes:

  • “paupers claimed relief regardless of their merits”;
  • “large families received the most relief, therefore improvident marriages were encouraged and this led to larger families”;
  • “women were able to claim relief for their illegitimate children, so the system encouraged immorality”;
  • “labourers had no incentive to work hard and be thrifty when worthless idlers got more relief than could be earned by honest hard work”;
  • “employers kept wages deliberately low”;
  • “paupers had no respect for an employer when they knew that their wages would be supplemented by the parish”; and
  • “men were discouraged from providing for their families and aged parents because they could ‘be put on the rates’”.

These outcomes were not informed by evidence and instead reflected views that “the existing ‘poor law’ undermined the prosperity of the country because it interfered with the ‘natural’ laws of supply and demand”.

The commission worked from the premise that poverty was inevitable (“the poor are always with you”) and that only the “deserving poor” merited support.

If you were able-bodied, you were by definition “undeserving”.

The commission consequently recommended a “poor laws” regime that expressly punished the able-bodied poor through a draconian workhouse system.

This, they assumed, would create an incentive for the poor to sort themselves out.

The idea that being poor was the outcome of structure rather than conduct was beyond the limited worldview of the utilitarian Benthamites of the period.

But how different are these views from those that inform government policy in South Africa today?

Importantly, how much evidence is used to inform such views?

It is worth noting that this 1834 position was comprehensively thrown out with the post-World War 2 European consensus on social protection, where redistributive schemes were systematically and comprehensively introduced to eliminate poverty and inequality.

After all, how could you ask the (majority) poor to fight for you against Hitler and Stalin when your society offered them nothing but hardship and suffering?

It was plainly understood that if you treat people like dirt, they may, and probably will, treat you the same at some point.

Were a Sweden or a France to eliminate their redistributive schemes now, their levels of poverty and inequality would gravitate towards South Africa’s outcomes.

Stable societies require that resources are reasonably pooled at the societal level using good institutions to transfer the burden of social risks faced by everyone, from individual households to society as a whole.

In simple terms: you restructure the distribution of snakes and ladders to provide the maximum opportunity for advancement to all.

To a large extent, the PEAC rejects this view and instead reflects the conventional wisdom espoused by the Royal Commission, arguing that social support for the “able-bodied” will allegedly undermine employment and fiscal sustainability:

“Significantly increased social grant spending would likely weaken the position of poor South Africans as it would erode public services and infrastructure, slow down employment creation and result in a crisis for public finances that would take years to resolve.”

This mirrors Commissioner Nassau Senior’s argument (from the Royal Commission) that “the great test which must be applied to any project of state action in regard to relief [social assistance] is the question whether it has any tendency to increase that which it is proposed to diminish”.

The commission’s argument is simple: if you provide income support to able-bodied people, they will have no incentive to work.

And economists, “as everyone knows”, are the “pre-eminent experts on incentives”, at least in their own minds.

But if the fear of starvation worked as an incentive to generate economic growth, South Africa would be the fastest-growing economy in the world.

However, very little has changed with respect to both poverty and inequality from 1994, and there are no policies proposed — outside of income support for those in income poverty — that are any different to what has been proposed before.  

Along these lines, the PEAC effectively adopts an ideological posture, arguing that “inclusive economic growth must be built on employment creation. Our vision must be to promote employment rather than ever-increasing state-funded income support. For those of working-age, grant support should be temporary with clear pathways to employment… We face a real danger of policy error at a macroeconomic level where we will limit our economy’s growth and job creation potential by increasing the system of social grant payments in an unsustainable manner that would weaken economic [sic] and undermine the country’s capacity to address poverty and unemployment” (p. 14).

According to this thesis, labour markets are primarily responsible for the distribution of income, and growth expands labour markets.

Along the same lines as the Royal Commission, therefore, income support to the able-bodied undermines the integrity of the labour market and therefore growth.

It is worth noting that this proposition isn’t really arguing that income support for working-age adults is not feasible. It is in fact arguing that it should not be done at all. Ever.

With this reading, and consistent with those of the Royal Commission, even if funds were available, this policy should not be pursued.

Invoking macroeconomic arguments and fiscal constraints, therefore, comes across as mere window-dressing for ideological opposition to such an income-support programme.

That is, when poor households are concerned.

For consistency, such a position would require a re-assessment of all programmes funded through the fiscus that involve income support provided to working-age adults in South Africa.

It may surprise many to find out that we have many such programmes, and they are not cheap.

They have the following features in common: they subsidise the top 10% of income earners; they largely fly under the radar as they are provided through the tax system; and they have no associated macroeconomic or other appraisals to support their social and economic outcomes.

The estimates in 2018 values are (Annexure B – Tax Expenditure Statement):

  • Tax subsidies for retirement provision, which include deductions against contributions and the elimination of the 18% withholding tax on retirement fund assets in 2003:

o   Subsidies on contributions: R87-billion

o   Subsidies related to the return on investments of retirement fund assets:   R46-billion (own estimate — also see Social Budget bulletin 2)

o   Total = R133 billion

  • Tax-free savings accounts: R3.4-billion
  • Employment tax incentive: R4.5-billion
  • Participation exemption, which exempts foreign dividends from income tax if a South African resident holds at least 10% of the total equity shares and voting rights in a foreign company declaring a foreign dividend: R11-billion

In total, these subsidies amount to an annual set of permanent obligations on the fiscus for working-age adults quantified in 2018 values at around R146-billion.

In contrast, the potential maximum recurrent value of the Covid-19 social relief of distress (SRD) grant in 2021 prices (not 2018 values) is around R56-billion with a maximum, but unlikely, ceiling value of around R76-billion at maturity.

The PEAC proposal for the Covid-19 SRD grant is, however, R0.

The irony should not escape anyone that, according to the PEAC, it is fiscally and macroeconomically irresponsible to provide income support to the millions of income-compromised adults of working age in South Africa, while government presently funds working-age adults in the top decile to the tune of R146-billion per annum (in 2018 values).

In the game of snakes and ladders, the PEAC clearly has no concerns about more ladders for the privileged and more snakes for the poor.

This is important because it raises clear questions about the authenticity of the PEAC’s admonitions about fiscal and macroeconomy responsibility.

Importantly, therefore, there is ample scope for a restructuring of the fiscal snakes and ladders to achieve a more effective social outcome with available resources.

Not exercising this discretion to support income-vulnerable households is therefore quite evidently a policy choice and not an imposition conditioned by an unfortunate set of time-bound economic circumstances.

Let no one be fooled.

This article was first published on the Daily Maverick website

 

 

Skills crunch in the state? Use outside experts

- Professor Mzukisi Qobo

Getting outsiders to lend support to the government’s mission is a sign of self-awareness and purposefulness on the part of a country’s leadership.

It also shows a leader’s openness to innovative ideas. External expertise through secondments and advisory bodies can lend weight to the government’s reform agenda. Such expertise is different from that which comes through consultants who trade their knowledge in exchange for material gain with no serious moral commitment to government’s success. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa has recently come under torrid fire from commentators for bringing outsiders into the presidency, with some accusing him of centralising government and creating parallel structures. 

South Africa is fighting many battlefronts right now: an economy that is struggling to grow, a society that is fracturing in the face of socioeconomic challenges, and a broken public service. The government needs to mobilise creative energies across the private and not-for-profit sector in generating new solutions to old problems that are festering.

Since he assumed office in 2018, Ramaphosa has tapped into external experts to close critical gaps in government. 

In his first year in office he appointed investment envoys to market South Africa abroad, leading to the launch of the investment conference pledges to the value of R130-billion. He would later appoint advisory structures to support his reform agenda. These included the Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture, the  Presidential Economic Advisory Council (disclaimer: I am a member), and the Presidential State-Owned Enterprises Council.  

These institutions serve as sounding boards and brains trusts that offer insights not constrained by conventional thinking and practices in government. Their focus has primarily been on those areas the president regards as a priority. Some have helped to activate policy implementation. 

For instance, the Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture recommended that the government create a beneficiary selection criteria policy in land reform, which would help in selecting the land redistribution beneficiaries. The department of agriculture, land reform and rural development carried through this task, and we now have some policy in our panoply of land redistribution instruments. Ultimately, implementation of any policy lies with the ministers and the accounting officers that preside over government departments.

More recently, Ramaphosa enlisted two outsiders to lead government priorities: Sipho Nkosi has been entrusted with overcoming bureaucratic red tape that undermines the growth of small, micro, and medium enterprises. He is a highly respected executive who presided over the establishment of a coal mining giant. Nkosi retired from the private sector a few years ago. 

The second appointment is that of Daniel Mminele, former deputy governor at the South African Reserve Bank, who also had a short stint as chief executive of Absa. Mminele’s orders from the president entail leading the Presidential Climate Finance Task Team, a tricky responsibility given the lack of commitment by developed countries to pay for their historical sins in polluting the environment. 

These are both impeccable appointments that could supplement thin capabilities in government. 

 

It is well known that the government suffers from a skills crunch and that professional standards are low, which is why early last year, the former minister of public services and administration, Senzo Mchunu, launched an initiative to professionalise the public service. There is a long way to go to rebuild capabilities in the state since the core challenge lies at the top ministerial layer. 

Where does skills erosion come from?

Skills erosion in the public service has multiple sources, including the absence of inspiring leadership at the executive level; corruption; mismatch between the needs of government and society, and the skills and capabilities of those who get appointed; a culture that tolerates underperformance; and cadre deployment. 

In a context where the skills base is low, it makes sense for the government — especially the president — to attract outsiders who bring innovative ideas to support his reform agenda. As desirable as that is, dismissing ministers does not always provide a quick solution since, in any case, the president has to go back to the same suboptimal breeder, parliament, to get talent. Reshuffling and demotion of ministers to less essential portfolios can help to keep them on their toes, but agility in government may require the supplement of external talent that does not come through the usual channels of the ruling party. 

Constitutionally, the president can only appoint up to two ministers outside of parliament, and therefore has to rely on professional expertise to secure his reforms. 

A Westminster loophole

The parliamentary limit to ministerial appointments has its origins in the Westminster tradition. This convention is followed in Commonwealth countries such as Canada, India, and New Zealand, with varying modifications. The way Britain has been getting around this since the years when Tony Blair was prime minister is to draw some of the ministers from the unelected House of Lords. Despite its obvious weaknesses and democratic deficit, this system delivers fresh talent.

 This loophole has enabled the British government to access a broader skills base of individuals beyond career politicians. Such a practice balances democratic representation with efficiency. That is not to say it is not open to cronyism as has, indeed, been the case with Britain since the Blair years. However, it gives leaders the best shot at creating a rich talent base in government. If used astutely, this system can bolster the skills profile of the executive. Bringing outsiders into government is conventional in the US political system, which uses a revolving door system, with both the Democrats and the Republicans at ease in drawing upon outsiders — bankers, academics, and policy think tanks. 

When you want to get a job done as a leader, you should have access to a toolbox with the right tools, and that of South Africa’s parliament may not be up to the task. In such a situation, short of reaching out to opposition benches, a leader’s hand is tied as the Constitution gives him very little room to go outside to scout for ministerial talent. For South Africa, this problem of skills deficiency at the ministerial level is likely to worsen as the majority of the governing party in parliament reduces significantly from 2024 onwards, with dire implications for government performance, service delivery, and leadership of the economy. 

No parallel authority

The idea that bringing external expertise in government creates parallel authority, as some of the experts have argued, is not a true reflection of reality, mainly because power still lies with the ministers and the directors general. Without these two functions of government acquiescing to decisions of external experts or advisers, nothing moves. 

Yet the value that external experts bring to government could help in overcoming constraints to implementation and using their insights to unlock further opportunities for reforms in government. Having external experts who are given the task of driving certain reforms does not absolve ministers of their responsibilities; neither does it take away the president’s responsibility to discipline ministers for underperformance. 

The role of external experts and advisers should be complementary to, rather than competing with, existing institutions and their officials.

Any leader serious about getting reforms off the ground will need to supplement their core ministerial and bureaucratic team with fresh ideas from outside. In a general sense, having a revolving door in government where experts from the private sector, non-governmental sector, academia, and elsewhere are used can bring much-needed regenerative quality and innovative approaches to government. 

When the government makes use of outsiders, it is essential that they are given clearly defined responsibilities and support to do their work without bureaucratic hindrance. The president will need to lend them his authority so they have the legitimacy to drive or support reforms. They also must be adept at using soft power in working through the government bureaucracy and its Byzantine hierarchies.

This article is republished from the Mail and Guardian under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

OP-ED: South Africa can damn Putin and stay non-aligned in the West

- Professor Mzukisi Qobo

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a rude reminder of how deeply interconnected the global economy is...

It has also underlined the fragility of global stability and the multilateral institutions that underpin it. It shows that the interplays of power reign supreme and the strongest can run roughshod over the weak in ways that undermine international law. 

The global climate of tension among major powers creates grave uncertainties about the future state of the global system and whether the rules-based international institutions can withstand the pressure. This fraught environment also raises questions about where countries like South Africa, and broadly the African continent, should position themselves in what could become a widening international conflict fuelled by geopolitical rivalries.

Many countries condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Only 17 countries, including South Africa, adopted a neutral posture. South Africa explained that it had been called upon to act as a mediator. It is not clear what precise mediation role South Africa will play that is missing from France, Israel and Turkey, the three countries shuttling between the warring parties and creating a bridge with Western powers. It does not seem that South Africa’s mediating role has the blessing of all the interested parties in the conflict.

South Africa further rationalised its decision by pointing to Russia’s perceived sense of vulnerability from Nato’s eastward expansion, essentially playing into Russia’s narrative for invading Ukraine. Others have also used the grand narrative of great power rivalry to explain why Russia is justified to attack Ukraine in peacetime. 

No doubt, Vladimir Putin has often felt frustrated by what he perceived as the United States’ hostility to his grand vision of rebuilding Russia as a preeminent power in the post-Soviet geography. His fear has always been that the post-Soviet states that are gravitating to the West could be used as a bridgehead to attack Russia or undercut its rise. 

The Russia-inspired Eurasian Economic Union, which includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia, is one of Putin’s political instruments. This platform has enabled Russia to stamp its authority in its region by drawing former Soviet states into a tight economic union that would dissuade them from joining the European Union. 

Putin does not consider Ukraine as just any country in Russia’s backyard, but as its core interest and a fragment of its history dating back to the mid-17th century. Many Ukrainians in the eastern part and Crimea speak Russian, a geographic and linguistic construct Putin uses to whip up nationalistic sentiments in Russia and as a cover for his imperial designs in Russia’s neighbourhood. 

If this sort of linguistic and historical justification were to be allowed in international law, any country can dig up historical narratives, distort them, and use them as a basis for invasion. 

South Africa’s lack of moral compass in not condemning acts of aggression and international law violations should frighten its neighbouring countries.

Southern Africa, historically, has had a similar experience, although the facts were entirely different. The equivalent of perverse use of geographic contiguity and an exaggerated sense of external danger was South Africa’s attempt to forge a Constellation of Southern African States under then president PW Botha in the late 1970s. 

This constellation was an imperial scheme by the white minority regime that sought to draw countries like Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Namibia; and former homelands such as Transkei and Bophuthatswana into South Africa’s orbit through a shared political, security, and economic framework. 

This perverse strategy was designed to counter Russia’s support for the liberation movements and delay the road to freedom in various Southern African countries, including South Africa.

Despite enjoying the support of prominent business leaders such as Harry Oppenheimer, who referred to the stratagem as an act of “charm and imagination”, Botha’s imperial project failed dismally. The apartheid regime in South Africa at the time lacked legitimacy because other countries did not trust it. Instead, it inspired the establishment of the Southern African Development Community as a counter-force and a lightning rod for national liberation in countries that were under the grip of tyranny. 

Russia today has limited social legitimacy among Eastern European countries that still have nightmares about life under the Soviet empire. These countries desire liberty and economic prosperity, which they want to realise through association with the European Union rather than Russia’s alternative Eurasian Economic Union. Countries such as Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Romania, and Bulgaria had fared better since they joined the European Union than under the Soviet empire. 

Some observers have seen Russia’s invasion of Ukraine through great power rivalry rather than the lens of international law. Great power rivalry should be seen as an anomaly rather than something we should take as a given. It is also a poor basis for rationalising an attack of a smaller country by one with preponderant military and economic power. 

We should remember that it was the rationale of great power rivalry that led to Britain’s invasion of the Cape Colony in the late 18th century, and its occupation of Simon’s Town as its naval base to thwart the Dutch and any great power that would emerge. 

Keeping quiet in the face of aggression, as South Africa has done, is a disservice to history and a blot on the country’s long-standing commitment to international law. Ukraine is a sovereign state that should enjoy protection under international law as enshrined in Article 2 (4) of the United Nations Charter. 

It is possible to condemn Russia for the specific act of aggression while staying non-aligned in the grander geopolitical rivalries between the West and Russia. For example, many countries condemned the US and the United Kingdom for invading Iraq in 2003 because this was a clear act of aggression. Those countries that condemned the West during that war were not pro-Iraq but pro-peace. 

At the height of the Cold War in 1961, many newly independent states in Asia and Africa constituted themselves into the non-aligned movement, which sought to avoid the tensions between the US and the Soviet Union. These countries would condemn acts of aggression whether they came from the West or the Soviet Union while staying broadly non-aligned. 

Apart from the explanation that South Africa’s membership of the Brics  bloc (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) played a role and that it was called upon to mediate, there are possibly other factors that may explain the country’s fence-sitting approach. 

The first is the exaggerated image of Putin as a strong man who should not be offended even when he breaches international law. The second is that Russia represents an historical ally of the ruling party, the ANC, and there are party-to-party relationships between the ANC and United Russia, Putin’s party. 

Russia under Putin is fundamentally different from what existed during the Cold War. Even Putin is loath to invoke any historical connections to that era. Today’s Russia is more right-wing than the communist Russia of the 20th century. There are also no ideological affinities between United Russia and the ANC — the former is conservative and nationalistic, and the ANC is more social-democratic in its outlook. 

Yet still, South Africa must stay committed to international law and the protection of territorial integrity while guarding its foreign policy independence on broader geopolitical tensions between the West and Russia where there are no clear angels and demons. If South Africa sounds half-supportive of Russia, it risks being used by Putin and Russia’s overworking information networks. The damage to South Africa’s global profile could be irreversible. 

This article was first published in the Mail and Guardian

 

 

Parts of South Africa have now collapsed: WSG expert

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South Africa is likely to see increased anti-foreigner and other populist sentiments in the coming years as it teeters on the edge of becoming a failed state.

This is the view of Adjunct Professor Eddy Maloka at the School.

Speaking to the SABC, Maloka said that there would be increased fighting and violence in the country, whether there are foreign nationals or not. He added that South Africa is not unique in its acceptance of foreigners from neighbouring countries, but other countries do not see the same level of violence or xenophobia.

Watch the interview here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nseFGADDhEc&t=1s 

“The problems that we have with migrant nationals are a reflection of the problems we have as a country. There is no way that the migrants can be the source of unemployment and the source of crime in South Africa.

“They only reflect the state of the country in those specific areas. They can exacerbate them (but are not the cause).”

Maloka said that there has been a complete collapse of local government in certain areas, with migrants taking advantage of this broken system.

“Government has collapsed in a number of areas across the country (and) we are seeing inner-cities collapse and degenerate. They have not picked up waste in the Johannesburg city centre for a number of years, so you can’t blame migrants for that – those are reflections of the problems we have in government.”

Maloka said that a number of factors are responsible for the country nearing a failed state, with a crisis in the ruling ANC being a key factor. He noted that this crisis had effectively been exported from the ANC into wider society through a dearth of leadership and a system of patronage.

He noted that this system is somewhat functional when there is a wide network of people to pull from, but that this is no longer the case, and the country now has a much weaker calibre of leadership and governance.

“It is not a problem that South African have caused themselves, it is problem that has been caused by the ruling party.”

This article was first published on Business Tech.

Wits welcomes Carnegie Diversifying Academy grant recipients

- IOL Reporter

Wits University hosted a ceremony recently to welcome 26 grant recipients of the Carnegie Diversifying the Academy (CDTA) programme.

The grants, which have been awarded since 2015, seek to attract and retain a socially diverse professoriate.

The Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Zeblon Vilakazi gave opening remarks and highlighted the importance of diversifying academia in South Africa so that these academics can contribute their unique perspectives to solving the world’s problems.

Since inception, the grant has supported 120 academics, including the current cohort, to advance their personal development while becoming part of an active research university community that values diversity, transformation and a culture of building on past learnings.

In her address, Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Ruksana Osman said that while the programme has traditionally focused on strengthening the professoriate, it has identified the parallel need to support those entering the academy. Indeed, two-thirds of the recent recipients are at lecturer level.

In addition to the Diversifying the Academy initiative, the University has also introduced the Enhancing Mid-Career Academic Transitions (EMCA) programme – also sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation – which is an academic development programme aimed at mid-career researchers.

This programme is a collaboration between CLTD, the Research Office and the Transformation Office.

Grant recipients from the 2021 cohort, Kholiswa Malindini of the Wits School of Governance and Dr Thabelo Ramantswana of the School of Construction Economics and Management, both said that the grants represent an opportunity for personal career development.

Ramantswana said she is excited to be part of the group and looks forward to support from the more experienced on how to manage grant and related processes.

For Malindini, the grant offers an opportunity to reshape her career.

“I have been able to buy out of my teaching contract and am freed from that rigid programme so it means I can concentrate more on my research that includes development economics,” she says.

The event held on 25 February provided the first opportunity for recipients to network with each other and key members of the University. Group mentorship sessions are in the pipeline.

Prior to Covid-19 the Wits Centre for Diversity Studies completed a broad review of the University’s diversity grant programmes and formulated key recommendations to bolster the programmes. An overview of the review findings and recommendations were presented by Dr Hayley McEwan of the Centre for Diversity Studies at the Welcome Day event at Wits on [date].

McEwan said the methodology of the review was multifaceted and included analysing employee data from 2009 to 2019 in terms of race, gender and disability; a literature review; a review of policies and strategies; as well as 79 personal interviews with grant recipients, Heads of School and Deans.

From the R45 million set aside for transformation programmes in 2017, around R35 million has been used to bring in new academics from industry and other universities. Recipients of enabling grants meanwhile have been able to buy out their teaching contracts to focus on research. These strategies mean that Wits is able to attract fresh talent, introduce industry-relevant insights and help tailor career planning for staff members. These strategies have been popular.

“In doing this review we found people who are doing amazing work, and people just want more of these programmes. Recipients loved this programme and want it to be made available to more staff members and mid-career academics,” McEwan said.

McEwan highlighted that recipients had however indicated a need for more structure in the grant programme. Feedback from academics suggested a need for stronger alignment of the programme to Wits’ core diversity strategies; improved and consistent mentorships and coaching; professional development; improved networking with other recipients and within the University; and better communication flow overall. The recommendations raised have been included in an overhaul of the programme structure.

These changes have included bringing in a project manager, Dr Antonia Wadley, to support Dr Bernadette Johnson, the Director of the Transformation and Employment Equity Office (TEEO), in running the grants. Wadley maintains regular communication with recipients, and provides support, including coaching.

In her closing remarks, Johnson highlighted the importance of ongoing support and for the University collectively to co-create an institutional culture that supports diversity and inclusion, especially within the context of Diversifying the Academy.

This article first appeared on Independent Online. 

 

The state of disaster is over. Now what?

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Adjunct Professor Alex van den Heever joins Michael Avery and guests to discuss the slew of proposed new measures to deal with Covid-19.

With the lifting of the National State of Disaster after almost two years on Monday evening, the government is moving swiftly to draft new measures for managing the coronavirus pandemic.

Health minister Joe Phaahla has released a slew of proposed changes to health regulations, some of which have left experts baffled. At the same time, labour & employment minister Thulas Nxesi published a new code of conduct for managing Covid-19 in the workplace, reaffirming employers’ rights to introduce vaccine mandates and tightening the grounds on which employees may refuse vaccination.

The flurry of directions, codes and regulations create a complex landscape of rules and regulations for employers to navigate. Joining Michael Avery to discuss the situation are Nerine Khan, former commissioner and director at the CCMA and founder of Employment Relations Exchange; Connie Mulder, head: Solidarity Research Institute; and Adjunct Professor Alex van den Heever, chair in the field of social security systems administration and management studies at the Wits School of Governance.

Listen to the interview here: https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/companies/2022-04-06-watch-the-state-of-disaster-is-over-now-what/ 

Meet our new Academic Director: Professor Kwandiwe Kondlo

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Did you know that an Academic Director at a University school is more like the chief operations officer of a company?

Our newly appointed Academic Director at the Wits School of Governance (WSG), Professor Kwandiwe Kondlo is in this role and is responsible for guiding the implementation of the School’s strategy and coordinates the entire academic project. This position looks into details of internal processes and procedures, committees, content of courses taught at WSG, research, student throughput rates as well as research outputs.  

Kondlo has spent nearly 10 years as a Professor of International Political Economy in the Department of Politics and International Relations at University of Johannesburg (UJ). He was previously a Senior Professor and Director of the Centre for Africa Studies at the University of the Free State. He holds an MA from the University of Cape Town, and a DLitt et Phil (PhD) from the University of Johannesburg.

Kondlo said he is committed to upholding the vision of WSG which is to be “Africa’s leading School of Governance that is research-led, globally competitive and recognised as a postgraduate institution that works towards transforming the public, private and non-governmental sectors”.

“As Academic Director, I will stay relevant to this vision and ensure that the mission which is to produce internationally competitive, locally relevant scholarship on governance, is realised. I am working with a Steering Committee to identify from the overall strategy of the School, actionable items in the short, medium and long-term and constantly monitor activities geared towards the strategic goals,” he explained.

Kondlo said the School already plays a huge role in the governance space in the country with courses taught at diploma and, Masters levels as well as the PhD research programme undertaken by students. The scope and quality of academic teaching in the various programmes and the depth of research produced continue to put WSG in the frontline of intellectual endeavour.

“The courses are well explained and illustrated on the WSG website. Various academics from WSG sit in advisory committees at national, provincial and local government institutions  and some participate in public intellectual deliberations in various media platforms.

“In other words, the WSG is not just an isolated intellectual ivory tower but is deeply embedded in the realities of the country and actively involved in the design of practically relevant solutions to challenges facing South Africa,” he said.

He has worked in government and fully understands the dynamics of the public sector. He has also worked with the private sector as the CEO of what used to be known as SACOB, later transformed during his tenure into what is now known as the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Kondlo said he looks forward to being part of a positive team, highly motivated and not afraid to dream of innovative ways and means to further enhance the brand of WSG and make a positive contribution to the country.

“Most importantly I look forward to starting a WSG Journal of Governance in the 21st century and we are likely start this as WSG Governance Working Papers and I hope this could help us mark our own specific niche in the governance intellectual space and publishing”.

“I also look forward to helping attract a generation of young academics, especially young and upcoming black female South African scholars, as this is important for the future of South African scholarship and the WSG itself.

“The School is very determined to support them and through them establish lasting intellectual partnerships and network all over the continent and the globe. I am also planning with the Head of School to host more Governance seminar series which will hopefully enliven intellectual debates within the School,” he added.

Looking ahead, Kondlo said that there is a project fully underway to make more of WSG’s courses online and already have four ‘foundational’ modules all online.

He has sole authored two books and co-edited five books. Among his widely cited publications are his classic publication ‘In the Twilight of the Revolution – The Pan Africanist Congress of Azania, 1959-1994’. The other book he co-edited with Professor Chinenyengozi Ejiogu, titled ‘Africa in Focus – Governance in the 21st Century’ has also made serious waves in the African continent.

Kondlo has supervised and moderated numerous MA and PhD students as well as Postdoctoral Research Fellows at various universities in South Africa and abroad.

Is it time to stop buying that PowerBall ticket?

- Dr Christine Hobden

Read about the ethical dilemma as far as the Lotto goes...

As reports on wrongdoing at the National Lotteries Commission mount, those of us who provide the funding for its operation may want to consider whether we have an obligation to vote with our wallets.

As the PowerBall jackpot rolled over through a long January, there was increasing social media banter about what one would do if one won the jackpot ­– disappear into a life of luxury, walk out of toxic workplaces, or pay off family debt – and mock celebration of those small, taunting R7.50 wins that in most cases fail to even pay off the cost of playing.

The draw on 11 February saw a R165 million jackpot, and a single lucky winner, of whom we have not yet heard any details – for most then, hope is diminished, but not lost as the jackpot slowly begins to grow again. 

I too have found solace in the fun of dreaming big and losing small, at most spending R30 of my eBucks on an occasional draw. To me, the Lotto and PowerBall have always felt more akin to buying a raffle ticket at the church fair than gambling at the casino. While we know the casino always wins in the end, the National Lotteries Commission (NLC) is mandated to ensure that “net proceeds are as large as possible” and that these proceeds are used for “good causes” – for the upliftment of fellow South African citizens and residents. While I have consistently lost, never winning more than R15, losing to a good cause never seemed like much of a problem.

But now, belatedly and perhaps not unexpectedly, I realise that as in many of our government spaces, money set aside for “good causes”, or indeed basic human rights entitlements, has long been going into the pockets of private individuals and into legal fees racked up as they defend their behaviour. Slowly and steadily, Raymond Joseph and others at GroundUp have revealed the multitude of dubious and illegal goings-on at the NLC: from board members receiving millions linked to Lotto grants, to serious concerns that Lotto funds were used for ANC campaigning in the Western Cape, to a Lotto grant for a children’s centre in Limpopo not reaching any children. Despite investigations and numerous employees blowing the whistle, the NLC holds a firmly defensive position, spending millions on litigation against current and former employees and committing further legal fees to unsuccessfully applying to set aside the appointment of independent investigators by the minister of trade, industry and competition in June 2020.

The real horror of this story is that the bulk of these stolen funds comes from those who have little to no income available to contribute: a 2019 study by Unisa’s Bureau of Market Research found that nearly 28% of people who play the Lotto are unemployed, and 42%, live on incomes of R5,000 per month or less. Indeed, the Lottery has been described as a regressive tax  – a tax that more heavily impacts upon the poor. While not imposed by law, this impact is sanctioned by governments’ active (and arguably manipulative) advertising.

As early as 2019, Joseph reported on the suspiciously large increase in the NLC’s advertising spend from 2012’s R716,000 to a high of R43-million in 2016, and a lower but still-substantial R21.9-million and R22.7-million in the 2018 and 2019 financial years. This level of ad spend provides important revenue for struggling media houses across the country. But the advertising often takes an advertorial form, making it difficult to distinguish from reporting, and the NLC’s ability to be such an important source of revenue compromises the media’s independence on this issue. It is perhaps not by chance that GroundUp, a non-profit that does not run advertisements, has been the main source of investigative journalism into corruption at the NLC.

So, what are we to do? 

While it is important that these issues are properly and independently investigated and that those accountable be held so by our judiciary, corruption at the NLC provides us with a perfect opportunity to “vote with our wallets” to add to pressure on the commission to do better. My work on citizenship and political consumerism suggests that we should be more conscious of our collective consumer power as a tool to hold our government accountable.

This may not be possible for everyone: many who support the Lotto experience conditions that make it difficult to leverage consumer power, and make it morally problematic for others to demand it of them. But for those who do have that choice, for whom the PowerBall or the Lotto is idle entertainment, or a nice but not necessary dream, a public boycott of all Ithuba lotteries might put weight behind a call for the government to take action on the NLC.

Boycotts, of course, come with costs and we should cautiously think through the potential impact on many deserving recipients of Lottery funding. But boycotts do not have to be absolute nor open-ended to be strategically valuable. Think of the impact of a well-coordinated and well-publicised boycott of a single draw or a regular boycott on the last Friday of the month, until certain, tangible accountability demands are met.

As readers and subscribers we can also put pressure on media houses to join the boycott by refusing advertising from the NLC for a defined period or until certain steps have been taken to hold wrongdoers accountable. We can also call upon banks and shops who facilitate the sale and advertising of lotteries to similarly put pressure on the NLC with their own consumer power.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that we should think twice before providing any funds for the activities of the NLC, on principle and to avoid our own small-scale complicity in such wrongdoing. This may seem a little hopeless or even problematically self-righteous in a context where so much more is needed in our deeply unjust society. Yet we should not forget our collective power to put pressure on the government, both with our voices, and in this case, with our wallets.

This article was first published in the Daily Maverick.

 

Ruling elites are depriving African countries of innovation and dynamic leadership

- Associate Professor William Gumede

And these leaders are fuelling hopelessness.

Many countries in Africa have been stagnating and backsliding because their leaders have failed to include the talents and new ideas of all ethnic, religious, regional and political groups when making nation-building plans.

The development potential of African countries is being hampered by the rulership of small elites – whether ethnic, military or struggle families – for their own self-interest.

These countries exclude women, young people and minorities from leadership positions in society, the economy and culture, depriving these countries of dynamic leadership, ideas and innovation. Yet all great transformations over the past 100 years have changed the position of women. Africa operates at under 50% capacity because the leadership, ideas and energy of women are not productively used.

African countries have been stagnating, backsliding and falling deeper into poverty – because they exclude so many talents, new ideas and energy, solely based on ethnicity, gender and outsider status. African ruling elites often do not include all society stakeholders, opposition parties, the non-state, business, civil society and community groups, together with the state, to cobble together long-term industrial, national-building and peace plans. The lack of bringing all of society together to co-create industrialisation, nation-building and peace is one of the reasons many African countries have stagnated and will continue to do so.

Being inclusive of all ethnic, religious, regional, political and demographic groups generates continual innovation, new ideas and energy in a country’s politics, economy and society – so critical for transformation. Lacking these makes the politics, economies and societies of so many African countries devoid of dynamism, energy and vibrancy – and is the cause of a lot of hopelessness in countries.

Since independence from colonialism, African industrialisation, development and growth have been stunted because most governments have either actively discouraged or been indifferent to entrepreneurs, and rarely fostered supporting institutions, policies and environments for entrepreneurship.

Given that most African countries after independence inherit economies without much advanced industry, skills and financial resources, entrepreneurs – who could add value to raw materials, come up with new methods of production and introduce new industry sectors and manufacturing products – were desperately needed.

In many African countries, genuine entrepreneurs who made it thanks to their own efforts and money, and by taking risks, are often not only outside the inner circle of the ruling parties, military or ethnic groups, they are also often viewed with suspicion by political leaders, citizens and civil society. 

Many African governments nationalised local and foreign companies or introduced indigenisation or empowerment programmes where the state or local political capitalists close to governing parties get slices of local or foreign companies.

Many African leaders and governments oppose merit as a guiding principle in government, society and the economy. Most African liberation and independence movements appoint only cadres of their own parties or in other cases members of the ruling ethnic, language or regional group. 

Many African countries lack the rule of law. The collapse of the rule of law often starts when governing African liberation and independence movement governments exempt party members and leaders from the rule of law, while they police ordinary citizens not connected to the liberation or independence movement leaders. This unequal treatment of citizens depending on their connectedness to the leaders of the governing party undermines the establishment of a culture of rule of law – crucial for industrialisation, growth and development.

In many African countries corruption has become everyday: the allocation of public money, appointments to public institutions and policy-making are done by clientelistic and corrupt means. Governing parties and leaders are themselves often deeply corrupt, which makes it impossible in many cases to eradicate corruption.

Very few African countries prioritised industry-relevant education as the tool for the empowerment of society. Getting the best global education for citizens, with curriculums containing the best from all over the world, to become as competitive as possible, has sadly not been a priority for most African countries. Developing human capital, through genuinely and determinedly giving all citizens the best-quality education, is not only the greatest empowerment policy but also the greatest economic growth driver.

A question of human value

The prerequisite for successful African development is for governments and leaders to value African lives. Colonialism and apartheid dehumanised and reduced the value of Africans, compared with whites. In the postcolonial period, new African leaders, governments and elites have continued to bestow less value on their fellow Africans, seeing them also as “subjects”, or voting fodder. Sadly, in many instances African elites appear to be only outraged when Westerners, whites and non-Africans violate Africans. However, they appear not to care if Africans violate Africans in whatever form – corruption, violence and gender crimes.

Since the end of colonialism and more recently apartheid, democracy has always been contested in Africa, with many liberation and independence movements of the postcolonial antidemocracy school arguing that democracy should be shelved to focus on development first. Key arguments in the African postcolonial antidemocracy school are that democracy is allegedly “unAfrican”; and those countries need “strong” leaders who should be in power for long periods to supposedly embed “transformation”. All the countries with so-called “strong” leaders in Africa have collapsed into failed states, ethnic violence and breakdowns.

Another argument against democracy made by antidemocratic groups is that democracy allegedly increases divisions in ethnically diverse societies because election campaigning in Africa has become so ethnically divisive. Yet it is not democracy that causes ethnic divisions; it is selfish leaders who campaign based on ethnicity. African countries that pursued development without democracy in the period after World War 2 have mostly plunged into civil war, country breakdown and failed states, and the few African countries that did try to pursue democracy and development together have done better. The African countries that have, since the end of colonialism, pursued democracy, such as Botswana, Mauritius, Cape Verde and Tunisia, have done comparatively better than all the undemocratic African countries.

Narcissists and psychopaths

Good leadership is crucial for development. Leaders can either foster development, inclusive nationhood and peace, or undermine these. Societies that have emerged from traumatic experiences such as colonialism, apartheid and civil war need leadership that is more caring, has greater self-awareness and is less inclined to seek refuge in victimhood. Leadership is at a higher premium in societies that are ethnically diverse and have high levels of inequality, and where democratic rules, institutions and governance are not fully embraced by all.

In failing African countries there is always a gulf between the interests of leaders and the interests of the societies they lead. Leaders often act and make decisions and policies that are in direct opposition to the underlying values, laws and public interest as set out in country constitutions.

African countries are fertile ground for psychopathic and narcissistic liberation leaders. Psychopathic leaders suffer from abnormally violent intimate, social and political behaviour. For narcissists, grabbing, holding on to and defending power at all costs becomes more important than compassion, reason or communal interests.

All these types of leaders in many cases focus on their own self-aggrandisement, often deliberately sowing societal or ethnic divisions for self-enrichment and looting public resources. In power, they also deliberately cause chaos and uncertainty – to perpetuate their rule. Such societies often vote for autocratic figures: either father figures or strong men who can supposedly defend them against perceived threats, such as former colonial powers, “enemy” groups and hostile former elites from the ancien régime.

Traumatised African societies often support autocratic, corrupt and incompetent leaders because they are “one of us”. This can also lead to misplaced racial, ethnic and community solidarity – someone will be supported, no matter how corrupt or incompetent they are, because “they are one of us”.

Honesty is crucial for transformative leadership. And they must refrain from seeking refuge in victimhood. The character of leaders matters and should be built on values such as compassion, social justice and forgiveness. The measurement of self-worth should not be based on money, material trappings or power. Leaders should not make decisions based on ethnic, racial and community solidarity, but on ethical values. Harmful beliefs and traditions should be discarded.

Leaders should never strive for popularity when it compromises constitutional values, human rights and dignity.

 

South Africa's healthcare warzone

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South Africa's healthcare system was in the ICU long before a deadly virus came our way.

Adjunct Professor Alex van den Heever contributes to a report on the state of South Africa's healthcare system.  Céline Tshika presented this piece on Politically Aweh.

Watch the interview here

Measuring economic activity in Africa

- Odile Mackett, WSG lecturer

‘Time over money’ approach includes women and unemployed youth

Studying how people in Africa spend their time on nonleisure activities is a better guide to policy development than relying on the traditional money measure of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Drawing on recent research on the measurement of economic activity to challenge the way economists – and all of us – decide which work is the most valuable to society.

Read the full article here New Agenda (Page 36) 

Measuring economic activity

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Studying how people in Africa spend their time on nonleisure activities is a better guide to policy development, argues Odile Mackett

Mackett, a lecturer at the Wits School of Governance, said that a focus on nonleisure activities is better than relying on the traditional money measure of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

She elaborated on her research in an article published in the South African Journal of Social and Economic Policy. 

Read the article here: Measuring economic activity

The problem of funding SA students can be solved

- Associate Professor William Gumede

SA’s private financial sector should fund all students, no matter their means, with loans underwritten by the state.

The current model of student funding is unsustainable and needs a new one that is centered on providing loans, rather than grants, to every student, no matter their income status, at tertiary institutions. The National Student Financial Aid Scheme, currently mired in red tape, inefficiency and poor decision-making, just like many other government agencies, should be abolished and be replaced by a private sector fund supported by government.

According to Universities South Africa student debt stood at R16.5bn in March this year. This year 120 000 students may not be able to graduate because they owe higher education institutions – collectively this group owes universities around R7bn.

Student funding policy should be based on honesty, affordability and pragmatism. Up to now, student funding policy, like most ANC government policy has either been based on ideology, wishful thinking and not on financial realities.

Former President Jacob Zuma had insisted for populist, ideological and cheap politicking campaigning reasons ahead of the ANC’s 2017 national elective conference and the 2018 national elections, insisted that all education should be free in the form of grants. The post-Zuma ANC leadership has continued with the current unsustainable model for a combination of ideological, wishful thinking and political expediency – to secure populist votes.

South Africa’s tattered public finances are unable to finance a student funding model that is based on grants. This is not to dismiss that over R4 trillion of public money has been lost over the past decade and a half, through government corruption, mismanagement and ideological projects.  Another R1 trillion had been given by the private sector as handouts to a handful of politically connected black economic tycoons, who have not added value in terms of new manufacturing, employment and ideas to the economy. Off course, such a waste of money makes it difficult to argue that there is no financial capacity in the state to finance higher education or any other need. Nevertheless, a loan-based funding scheme is the most pragmatic solution.

The Heher Commission into the Feasibility of Fee-Free Higher Education and Training, chaired by Justice Jonathan Heher, established in 2016, proposed an income-contingent loan scheme – which was rejected for political expediency by former President Zuma and the ANC government. The rejection of the Heher commission’s practical recommendations has been typical of the ANC government whose approach to policymaking has been to establish commissions to essentially kick for touch difficult policy decisions to placate public criticisms, but then reject the recommendations of such commissions if these are not populist or ideologically acceptable to the ANC.

In a more pragmatic approach, free education should be every student having the right to get a loan, without any means-testing. Many of the recent student debtors are those who belong to the “missing middle”, those students too poor to pay for higher education, but not poor enough to qualify for funding from the NSFAS. There should be no exclusions from student loans, such has been the case of the current system where the “missing middle” group are excluded from NSFAS funding.

New loan-based funding should include post-graduate studies. Currently, funding for post-graduate studies is limited. Any new loan-based funding model must be integrated to include technical and the vocational sector.

Repayment of a new loan-based funding scheme should be structured over the lifetime of the recipients, tailored to their income after graduating. No current student with outstanding debts should be prevented from getting their academic results, graduating or seeking employment.

All current outstanding student debt should be restructured to be paid over the life of recipients. Students’ debts should be scrapped at death, critical illness and disability. Parents, children and families of recipients should not be settled with the responsibility of the debts that students incurred.

NSFAS should be abolished – or drastically overhauled, to become more commercially orientated. NSFAS has been run as a typical state-owned company, with red tape, incompetency and influence-peddling by politically connected businesses to secure procurement contracts, which have driven up administrative costs, slow delivery of services.

The NSFAS racked up R5billion in irregular expenditure during the 2019/2020 financial year, and R3.2bn during the 2018/2019 financial year. A R3.2bn tender to issue laptops to NSFAS funding recipients was drawn out because of the insistence on narrowly defined BEE criteria, rather than on quality, competency and value-for-money.

The current model is dependent on NSFAS existing. A new system should be a combined public-private financial system. Either the banks should provide the loans – underwritten by the state; or the current NSFAS should be put into a commercial fund that would be jointly managed by the banks. The banks would then distribute the loans and the state will guarantee the loans.

South Africa has a large private financial sector, so from a pragmatic point of view, they should be involved in financing student studies, their participation should be opposed to, as is the case with many ANC policymakers currently being ideologically opposed to involving the private financial sector in student funding.  

Former education director-general Itumeleng Mosala has said that the ANC government was offered a US$5bn loan at low interest by the Japanese government in 1994 to establish a student fund to fund the higher education poor students but that the government rejected it at the time. The ANC government has made many of such decision blunders, because they base decisions on ideology, lack of expertise or wishful thinking or lack of imagination.  

Companies implicated in corruption should contribute to a new loan-scheme fund as part of the reparations. Dodgy BEE deals to small politically connected ANC elites should be stopped and companies should rather contribute to education as a form of BEE.  

Universities have seen declines in subsidies from government. Funding for research in public and private institutions have shrunk across all sectors – under the competitiveness of the economy, and thus the creation of jobs, attracting new investments and fostering development.

It is important that the government set aside at least 2% of GDP for higher education and training. Furthermore, large private companies must also be compelled to set aside a proportion of their profits to fund research, education and innovation – not only to make themselves and the country competitive. Finally, recipients of a new loan scheme must also be compelled to do community work in return for getting public money. All recipients of funding must also attend democracy and civic education – to learn the values of the Constitution, such as gender equality and ethical behaviour. It will also be useful if recipients if attending a personal finance management course becomes compulsory. Learning the values of the Constitution and personal finance is something that should become compulsory for all higher education students. 

This is an extract from Gumede’s remarks made at the meeting of university principals and chancellors at the Chancellors’ Forum to discuss ways of tackling South Africa’s ballooning student debt, convened by Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe, the Chancellor of the University of Cape Town.

This article was first published on the TimesLive website

A BIG alone may not solve SA’s inequality problem, but it does improve individual agency

- Tamsin Metelerkamp

A basic income grant is not only a matter of welfarism, but also a developmental project.

*Adjunct Professor Alex van den Heever was quoted in this article 

Administered progressively, it can improve the agency of individuals and allow them to participate meaningfully in society. Without it, many are forced to exist in survival mode.

The debate around the institution of a basic income grant (BIG) in South Africa is not new. In the past two years — since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the rollout of the R350 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant – the idea of a BIG has gained traction in many circles, with experts in economics and civil society weighing in on its value.

At a roundtable discussion on the issue hosted by the Helen Suzman Foundation on Thursday, 9 June, Leigh Schaller of Fine Print News emphasised one devastating statistic: that a quarter of South Africans are living in extreme poverty. This means that they do not have enough money to meet their basic nutritional needs each month.

Behind this statistic are individual human beings suffering very real indignities and harms in the absence of viable social support. There are young women suffering through their menstrual cycles without sustenance; mothers who cannot feed their children; elderly citizens forced to take medication on empty stomachs.

All these scenarios were put forward by Basetsana Meletse, member of the #PaytheGrants campaign, during Thursday’s discussion. Addressing government, she asked, “What are you taking us for?”

“Can you please go revisit your policies and stop calling us the ‘poorest of the poor’, because we are voters. You are there because of our votes, yet you are treating us like trash.”

The Helen Suzman Foundation discussion comes just one day after it was revealed that the government has failed to pay a single R350 SRD Grant in April or May 2022. Civil society organisations including #PayTheGrants, Amandla.mobi, Black Sash, the Institute for Economic Justice and the Social Policy Initiative released a joint statement on Wednesday, 8 June, calling the situation “a scandal and a national disgrace”.

Basic income grant

There is an urgent need for a basic income grant to be introduced following the expiry of the R350 SRD Grant in March 2023, according to Kelle Howson of the Institute for Economic Justice. The new grant should be pegged to one of the official national poverty lines, which are objective measures of living standards and need in South Africa.

“It can be funded through various progressive taxation mechanisms that ensure that the wealthy make a net contribution, and that the poorest receive a net benefit,” said Howson. “These mechanisms or options for such mechanisms go beyond the simple trio of income tax, corporate tax and value-added tax to include a plethora of options.”

The objective of the grant would be to shift real opportunities for consumption from an affluent elite to those who have a level of consumption that is unacceptably low, according to Michael Sachs of the Southern Centre for Inequality Studies.

“Taxes are not the only way of extracting real resources from one part of the population and transferring it to another… but taxes are certainly the most transparent, the most democratic, the most efficient way of doing this, [when] subjected to some kind of level of democratic accountability,” he said.

Howson advocated for a universal BIG that would be administered to all South Africans, rather than those below a certain income level. Grants that target a certain income level are “near impossible” to administer correctly, she said, referencing the recent scandal around the unpaid R350 SRD grants as an example of where a targeting framework failed.

“That comes down to the targeting framework that has been put in place as a result of the arbitrary budget threshold that has been allocated for the grant,” explained Howson.

“[The Department of Social Development] and [South African Social Security Agency] have been forced to introduce a means-testing system that has proved completely beyond the government’s capability to actually implement.”

However, Sachs argued that a universal system would be politically and fiscally ill-suited to a society where the poverty of the majority and the affluence of the minority are so extreme. Extending the grant to the affluent would result in more spending on the part of government, but no additional impact on poverty or hunger.

South Africa is not developing or growing, said Sachs, because it is a divided society. This division exists in the distribution of space, land, wealth and social services. The problem of inequality is one that needs to be addressed before the country can attain sustainable growth.

A BIG could be helpful in attaining equality within South Africa if the country had a clear path of transformation and development, continued Sachs. In the absence of such an overarching vision, however, he was sceptical as to whether the BIG alone would solve the problem.

Development and dependency

The BIG is not only a matter of welfarism, but also a developmental project, according to Howson. Used as a progressive policy platform, it can present real possibilities for helping the country achieve better outcomes, such as a more inclusive economy and more resilient communities.

“It’s absolutely not a silver bullet. But it can be part of a pioneering new deal and a new [possibility] for South Africa’s future,” said Howson.

Van den Heever of the Wits School of Governance, referenced a common argument against the grant: that giving people “something for nothing” will make them less inclined to work, creating an issue of dependency.

“We have large parts of our society, certainly at the sort of the top 1% of income earners, who don’t actually earn their income from work, they earn their income from assets,” said Van den Heever. “If that argument applied, it would apply to them as well as to everybody else.”

There is no evidence, however, that a BIG creates increased dependency for people at lower-income levels, he said.

“What you’re largely doing [by providing a BIG] is — if you’re doing it progressively — improving somebody’s agency to participate effectively within society,” explained Van Den Heever. “But remove them, place them under incredible stress, and they will not be able to exercise appropriate agency — they will just be in a survivalist mode.”

This article was first published on the Daily Maverick website. 

 

Ramaphosa will build trust if he opens up about the theft at his game farm

- Professor Mzukisi Qobo

In South Africa, leadership failures and the denigration of ethics have undermined our concept as a nation.

The sense of who we are, what we believe and what gives us collective pride is something that we can no longer grasp or imagine with confidence. 

The Irish political scientist, Benedict Anderson, talks about nations as “imagined communities”. Such collective imagination imbues nations with myths and a healthy dose of pride that fuels social and economic progress. 

Stirring collective imaginations and energies towards a positive end is one of the defining features of great leaders. 

What enables leaders to do this is their ability to cultivate connectedness based on trust and shared interests between them and those they lead. Citizens can only trust leaders when they feel a sense of proximity, real or imagined, with them. When societies perceive a divergence between their interests and that of their leaders, confidence erodes, and a chasm of mistrust opens up between the leaders and the public. 

Since the democratic change in South Africa, and especially at the end of the Mandela era, we have endured a series of leadership disappointments in ways that cut deep and scar our collective concept as a nation. 

In its more than 25 years of existence as a democracy, South Africa has had only fleeting moments of superb leadership, the kind of leadership that elevates the public spirit, enriches the ethical quality of society and flickers the hope of economic progress. 

Such moments were evident during the embracing of the constitutional order and nation-building during Nelson Mandela’s era, a period of high economic growth and the African Renaissance project under president Thabo Mbeki, and when President Cyril Ramaphosa stopped president Jacob Zuma’s state capture project in its track and pulled the country back from the brink. 

During those phases, when we saw a light of hope, there were also intractable tendencies that contained seeds of institutional decay. These tendencies included the arms deals corruption case that began under the watch of Mandela’s presidency and haunted the Mbeki presidency, an unfinished business because some of the politically powerful perpetrators are yet to be prosecuted. 

The Zuma era of state capture was particularly corrosive because it set a new — and much lower — standard of what is acceptable in public leadership and ethical conduct. At the end of Zuma’s tenure, the only credential for leadership was simply to be slightly better than Zuma, a dismally low bar. As long as you are not stealing from the public coffers, you are considered fit and proper for leadership, according to this fallen standard. Leadership is now a stampede of the average.

This erosion of standards has also filtered into the bureaucracy at various levels of government. 

At this rate, it will be much harder to establish a new framework of ethical leadership in the government, because many who, under normal circumstances, would judge themselves not qualified for leadership will now be convinced that they are worthy giants. 

This debasement of leadership virtue counts among the worst legacies the previous administration has left us with since the onset of democracy. 

But we have new challenges to leadership, such as the recent events of criminality on Ramaphosa’s farm and its implications for ethics and leadership in the country. 

It has been widely reported that there was a theft in the president’s property that the public did not know about for two years, which has raised a dizzying amount of speculation. 

There are unanswered questions about the source of the foreign currency stolen from the property and whether this was declared under the South African Reserve Bank regulations and speculation that various individuals may have used the president’s property as an avenue for laundering their money and that tax laws could have been breached either by the sellers or punters in the game industry or both. 

These are matters under investigation by law enforcement agencies, and the law can grind slowly as fragments of leads and evidence are painstakingly pieced together.

Aside from what the law enforcement authorities may conclude, the president has a social contract with the citizens. The public has a certain expectation of how he ought to conduct himself. They want to know that they can trust him. 

If the president has erred, they want him to be candid so they can find it in themselves to reconcile with him and have proper closure rather than tarry in suspense. The cloud of smoke and silence is not helping to rebuild trust and may instead risk creating an unnecessary blot on the legacy of the president.

There is a level of esteem with which Ramaphosa is held in society even outside the political office. Most people know that he was a businessman when he took office and that he is wealthy because of his commercial enterprises that are not entangled in the state. 

Very few people consider the unlikely possibility that the money on the president’s property is a result of proceeds from corruption. 

 It is not about the theft of public money that disturbs those who trust him and who are genuinely asking tough questions. 

Rather, what is of great concern is the ethics of his dual role as a businessman and president and his perceived lack of transparency and accountability on the more specific questions that the public has rightly raised about events that took place after his money was stolen. 

These incidents and how the president eventually responds to them — and not what the law enforcement agents find — will be one of the country’s significant tests of leadership and ethics.

He must choose whether he wants to be remembered by history as a cattle auctioneer or as one of the finest leaders who not only turned the country from the brink but set it on a path to prosperity. 

If the latter, he may need to use all his energies to run the country, especially given the difficult economic times it is going through, and work on honing his legacy. He must close the door to private auctions until the end of his term.

Where to from here? In search of new pathways to renewing leadership and values, we must hold on to radical pragmatism and not shirk our responsibility to squeeze the president hard for accountability and transparency by appealing to his conscience — but stopping short of taking the pressure to its logical conclusion, namely, to call for him to step down, precisely because we are facing a precipice as a country and many of those baying for his blood are vultures in the garb of radical economic transformation. 

Those implicated in state capture activities will be keen to weaken Ramaphosa or force him out prematurely. If they succeed, they will set the ground to further erode independent institutions in the same manner they did after the recall of Mbeki in 2007. 

These revelations about the theft that took place on the president’s farm have conveniently come at the time when the governing party is gearing itself up for its December conference and the Zondo commission is releasing its explosive reports on state capture. 

When leaders avoid public scrutiny, their actions negatively shape public ethics and conceptions of leadership. The president must rebuild public trust in his leadership. The best way to do so is by being candid about the events that took place on his farm two years ago. 

This article first appeared on the M&G website.

Statement: Role of universities as public interlocutors of dialogue

- Senior Executive Team

Universities have an important role to play in upholding democracy, in speaking truth to power, and in facilitating debate.

Institutions of higher learning are also crucial in providing a platform for diverse voices to be heard.

For 100 years, Wits has participated in the intellectual debates of the day which have enabled robust engagement between parties and entities with differing views, ideas, and ideologies.

As an institution, we remain committed to:

  • academic freedom, autonomy, accountability, tolerance of difference of opinion, and transparency,
  • democracy, justice, equality, and freedom from racism and sexism as enshrined in the Constitution,
  • promoting freedom of enquiry and the search for knowledge and truth,
  • fostering a culturally diverse, intellectually stimulating and harmonious environment within which there is vigorous critical exchange and communication, and
  • freedom of speech and public debate, through facilitating dialogue and interaction between different parties, with the goal of increasing mutual respect and trust, amongst others. 

It was in this context that we invited the Minister of Public Enterprises, Mr Pravin Gordhan to speak on campus at a public event on the Reform and Governance of State-Owned Enterprises, as part of its efforts to discuss critical issues around governance and public policy. The Minister completed his speech and was then regrettably heckled during the Q&A session. Rather than engaging constructively, a few attendees made derogatory remarks and began shouting and insulting the Minister, thus not allowing him to respond to questions, which led to the facilitator ending proceedings. Notwithstanding the frustrations that everyone feels regarding the current energy crisis, the nature of the engagement subsequent to the delivery of the speech was not constructive.

As this was a public event open to all, including students from other universities, the University is in the process of reviewing the video footage in order to determine the next course of action.

The University will continue to encourage critical debate and the tolerance of diverse views, whilst providing an opportunity for different voices to be heard in a respectful manner. 

Thank you

SENIOR EXECUTIVE TEAM

Can SA afford the Basic Income Grant?

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Adjunct Professor Alex van den Heever contributed to an ongoing debate on the Basic Income Grant.

Watch the interview here https://www.cnbcafrica.com/media/6309979976112/ that took place on CNBA Africa. 

Step-aside issue set to dominate policy conference and influence ANC leadership

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Associate Professor William Gumede talks about the ANC’s policy conference, which prepares for the organisation’s national conference in December.

Sunday Times podcast: In this episode host Mike Siluma spoke to Gumede and Sunday Times political reporter Kgothatso Madisa about the significance of the ANC’s policy conference in 2022.

Listen to the podcast:

https://www.timeslive.co.za/politics/2022-07-28-podcast-step-aside-issue-set-to-dominate-policy-conference-and-influence-anc-leadership/ 

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