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The Zupta chickens have come home to roost



South Africa has been in the grips of a well-publicised growing crisis ever since Jacob Zuma, Julius Malema, and their co-conspirators unseated President Thabo Mbeki.

Under Mbeki, our economy was growing at more than 3% per annum, and unemployment levels were about 23% and declining.

The rand-dollar exchange rate was R6.94, so imports were far cheaper and companies, countries, and individuals were investing in South Africa.

We then got someone with enumerable corruption charges against him as our “president”, and we all know how that unfolded with him, his kids, the Guptas, Bell Pottinger, and the entire state capture tragedy and rampant kleptocracy.

Unemployment has soared (youth unemployment is now more than 70%) and many more have been pushed into abject poverty and crushing hopelessness.

I, like many others, have written many articles and provided tangible suggestions and solutions to help create and build a far more equal society.

The most unpopular article I ever wrote was that we could all have more by having a bit less. It spoke to creating far more of a sharing culture, and how to build an inclusive economy.

Many people pushed back – rightfully to an extent – highlighting rampant corruption as a major issue. Why should they pay more tax and give more if those who actually needed it most wouldn’t receive it?

You just need to look at the auditor general’s annual report of “fruitless and wasteful expenditure” – buying property for R180 million in New York City that simply doesn’t exist, or the missing PPE (personal protective equipment), COVID-19 funds, and Digital Vibes to understand the level of frustration.

And the very man who directly and deliberately took South Africa into unprecedented levels of poverty was locked up last week, not for corruption, but for contempt of court.

His corruption trials are yet to begin.

We then have his son, Duduzane, a presidential hopeful according to himself, saying, “It’s a declaration of war”. His other son, Edward, and a few supporters defend Nkandla from the police, and his daughter, Duduzile, fans the flames of anarchy and insurrection on social media.

And then, naturally, Jimmy Mzwanele Manyi (of ANN7 Gupta fame) creates an alternate reality and sows his unique seeds of division and unrest under the auspices of something called The Jacob Zuma Foundation. I wonder what else it does.

If the Zuma kids were the flame – and they were – poverty through unemployment was the firewood.

Our people are desperate. They have no jobs and few prospects. These looters aren’t Zuma supporters. They are now opportunistic thieves who, because they have no income, see a real and live opportunity to get a whole lot of stuff they can’t afford for free.

It makes me angry, frustrated, and upset, but a part of me also understands it. They have nothing and little hope of getting something unless our economy grows and they can land a job. But what are we doing to grow our economy?

Again, I like many others – some more qualified than me – have written articles on this and provided hard and accessible solutions and suggestions, but none of it seems to be taken into account. Perhaps until now.

This is the moment for the government to dig deep, and start looking at fresh and innovative solutions to drive investment and growth in solving unemployment.

To look towards developed countries who will actually partner us in growth, as opposed to thinking they’re buying South Africa cheap and seeking to hollow us out of our many valuable resources. We have seen this.

We need real partners, not opportunists.

We see riots and looting all around the world. Not just here. Cuba this past weekend, in America, even after things like sport losses.

People behave badly when they’re angry, but particularly when they’re desperate. And we have a perfect storm here because after Zuma’s “lost decade”, our economy had no give, and then a year or so later, the tsunami of COVID-19 hit.

I’m not excusing theft. It’s inexcusable. But also, to an extent, understandable. It cannot be allowed, and law and order must prevail. Always.

We need to distinguish between looting and the insurrection actively being driven by the Zuma kids and his political faction, who have tried to undermine President Cyril Ramaphosa at every turn since he won at Nasrec. This has been a well-coordinated effort since 2018.

This is a time for us to reflect on the role each one of us can play in building our country, big or small, in protecting our constitutional democracy, and strengthening the state.

Don’t give into the madness. Try and keep a calm head if you can. I feel for all those who have lost so much already through COVID-19. Lives and livelihoods. This is the very last thing South Africa needed – and those whose businesses are being looted and burnt right now.

Let’s all see how we can be part of the solution rather than the problem. South Africa is, by and large, mostly a country of good, hardworking people, sound values, people who want to pull together to make it work for everyone.

It’s time for the silent majority to find its voice, to muck-in, however possible, and help to rebuild.

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika?

  • Mike Abel is the founding partner and chief executive of MC Saatchi Abel.

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