ANC dug itself into this hole
THERE is a lovely little list of economic data that is published every week at the back of The Economist magazine. It lists about 43 countries and compares their gross domestic products, interest rates and consumer prices.
It is a list that looks at how we are all doing. The numbers that interested me this week are the unemployment rates and how we compare with others.
We have the worst unemployment rate of all the listed countries and we lag countries on the brink of collapse. Greece, which is going through one of the toughest times a country could find itself in, and which was on the brink of collapse just weeks ago, has an unemployment rate of 21.9%. This nearly brought it to its knees. In Spain, wracked by riots this past week, the unemployment rate is 24.6%.
These are countries that are being spoken of in Europe as being virtually collapsed. Their people are up in arms against their leaders. We in South Africa are listed by The Economist as having an unemployment rate of 25.2%.
This is a disaster. A quarter of the country's work-capable population is sitting idle. We know that, among the young, the unemployment rate is double this figure.
Now consider how our friends in the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China) bloc are doing. China has an unemployment rate of 4.1%, India is at 9.8% and Brazil is at a mere 5.8%. Russia's unemployment rate is 5.4%.
Egypt, a country that has been wracked by war and revolution in recent times, has an unemployment rate of 12.6%.
Let's break this down. South Africa is a country that is in deep crisis. We have a population of young and old people who are unemployed, largely unemployable and are unlikely to be employed if we continue on the pathetic path we have followed so far as a country. Anywhere else in the world, we would be on the brink of social and political upheaval.
The real tragedy is that our leaders have their heads in the sand. President Jacob Zuma told the ANC's policy conference a few weeks ago that he has sleepless nights about the poverty in this country. However, after four days and nights of deliberations, he delivered a speech devoid of any plan to eradicate unemployment in South Africa swiftly.
Speaking to 3500 conference delegates, some of them the leading brains in this country, Zuma instead gave a speech that did not say a word about small business, entrepreneurship or even big business.
A grand opportunity to deliver a new, brave vision for our country was frittered away.
What has been done instead?
Zuma, cowering before the conference, announced that the ANC insists on nothing less than "decent work" for the unemployed, a concept that protects the employed and inhibits the opening up of the labour market.
He also humiliatingly backtracked from the youth wage subsidy, his own initiative, and a good one at that, and announced a useless and dependency-encouraging job-seeker's subsidy.
I am sure the National Youth Development Agency will have as much fun abusing that one as it did R100-million of taxpayers' money it spent on its "kissing conference".
It is not all Zuma's fault, poor thing. He is out of his depth. It is the ANC's fault. After 18 years in power, the party has achieved a lot but has failed miserably on unemployment. It has become captive to trade union federation Cosatu and refuses to liberalise - without discarding human rights - the labour market so as to encourage business to hire more people.
This is an organisation that is trapped in its own archaic practices and does not know how to confront and vanquish the very forces that are holding it and the country back. For example, why does the ANC continue to believe that governments can create jobs?
Why does it continue to erect so many obstacles to thwart its own citizens' attempts to start and run their own businesses?
I have just returned from Turkey, a country that is similar to ours but does remarkably better. It is a country in which shoemakers churn out shoes, ordinary men and women run bars and restaurants and young people are acquiring skills. All successful countries are like this. Governments in these countries are enablers, not obstacles, to business.
If, after 18 years, we want a new beginning in South Africa, then we need to make space for more of our people to start their own business unhindered by a government that wants to meddle in everything. That is how we will create jobs and stop being the laggards of the world.