Big Read: Barefoot on a hot tin roof
Poor, poor Nhlanhla Nene. What a fix he is in. Those who watch his mini-budget speech on Wednesday afternoon will witness one of the good men of the Jacob Zuma cabinet paddling furiously to make the books balance - and failing miserably. The finance minister is in an impossible job, made worse by the weakness and recklessness of many of his colleagues. They have failed over the past six years to implement policies and have preferred to debate rather than do. The result is that Nene is driving an economy that has failed to grow since Zuma took over in 2009 and which is slowing down by the day.There is no money in the kitty. It's gone. They have frittered it away on vanity projects such as that ugly monstrosity in the veld, Nkandla, and given it to civil servants.Remember that Treasury officials revealed earlier this year that the public-sector wage deal struck with unions in May would cost R66.2-billion more than had been budgeted for over the medium term. This will wipe out the government's R65-billion contingency reserve.What that means is that your tax money has been passed on to members of the SA Democratic Teachers' Union - the same people who refuse to give pupils the Annual National Assessment tests or to be held accountable for not arriving on time for school - and other civil servants.Meanwhile, students at Wits and other institutions are protesting about high fees. At the end of the day this is not a Wits problem. It is the government's problem. Money is needed to run all these institutions. From where is Nene going to get it?He is a barefoot man on a very hot tin roof as he approaches this mini-budget.He will not be helped by his colleagues in the ANC, either. Last weekend Nene and his colleagues must have felt sick to their stomachs as delegates at the ANC national general council declared that the Treasury must find ways to fund the National Health Insurance and begin its implementation quickly. The NHI is an admirable programme, but its implementation requires billions of rands. Where will that come from?The NGC delegates also called for faster land reform and implementation of the 50-50 land policy. Now, Zuma has announced that 104000 new land claims have been lodged with the government since the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Act was passed last year. An estimated 300000 more land claims are expected.There is no policy of expropriation without compensation in South Africa so these land transfers will have to be funded from the national purse. Where is the money going to come from?There is no money. There is unlikely to be any in the near future, either. The economy is projected to grow by only about 1.5% this year, according to the Reserve Bank and the World Bank.This is the dilemma of South Africa's policy-making. Every cabinet minister is looking at Nene with an outstretched hand, yet not one is saying a word about what effect they are having on economic growth and the creation of jobs. For that one needs courage.Zuma, for example, has not had the courage to instruct his home affairs minister to fix the visa regulations that are killing tourism jobs and bleeding the economy. This is the sort of weak leadership for which the man is notorious.We need clever ideas to stimulate economic growth, make education better and create jobs. The government will not create jobs. Entrepreneurs, people who start businesses, will create jobs. More than 8million people in South Africa are unemployed. They will not get jobs merely because Zuma used the words "job creation" in his speeches. No sir. They will have jobs if entrepreneurs can start businesses and want people to work in them.This is not rocket science. It is in the National Development Plan. Education and entrepreneurship are key parts of that plan.If economic growth, education and entrepreneurship are not regarded as emergency items by this administration then Nene will, when he delivers the Budget speech in February, be forced to increase taxes on the rich and the poor. He will be forced to increase VAT, which will punish the very poor he is supposed to be helping.Our leaders should help Nene this week. Each and every member of our bloated cabinet - from the useless Communications Minister Faith Muthambi to the obstinate Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba - should ask themselves one question: what have I done to stimulate economic growth, to improve education and make the environment better for entrepreneurs? In Muthambi's case, the answer is nothing. Zero.And that's an example of our - and Nene's - problem right there.