It is increasingly hard to imagine anyone in mainstream South African business who doesn’t know a businessperson – either directly or through friends and family – who has left or is planning to leave South Africa.
I had coffee with yet another friend – we’ll call her Minnie – the other day, whose family has been mulling the idea of shutting down shop (their family business directly employs 35 people and, indirectly through their value chain, several dozen others) in the luxury goods sector.
Now they’ve begun the slow process of leaving.
Minnie, too, once had ‘Ramaphoria‘. Listening to her at one point before the 2019 elections, one could have sworn she was being paid to campaign for President Cyril Ramaphosa.
That has since changed. Their final departure, once they have shut down and wrapped-up their business and personal lives, finalized schooling and university arrangements for their children, is scheduled for April 2020.
The growing burden of ‘black tax’
Now, the story of Minnie’s family is not unique, but we should wish that it were. Those of us who look at these things unemotionally, devoid of misplaced pride, should keep connecting the dots, understanding that each departure, especially a departure by skilled and enterprising South Africans, leaves us poorer as a country.
We can deny it all we want, but each small and medium enterprise that shuts its doors results, amongst others, in a heavier ‘Black Tax’ burden on many poor and ‘missing-middle’ class South Africans.
The burden grows to feed more mouths, educate more children of relatives, provide various forms of other support for increasing numbers of unemployed siblings, young graduates, etc. And its ripple effects do not end there, as disposable income levels shrink and disappear, and debt levels rise.
The only winners in all of this is the growing community of opportunistic reckless lenders, some of whom use unethical, even illegal, methods to ensure that their debtors remain indebted to them for long periods at unaffordable interest rates. The vicious cycle is dizzying.
Hope flows from the top
It was refreshing to hear President Ramaphosa reference the toxic impact of political meddling in the operations of state-owned entities, earlier this week.
Some might say, with reason, that his call comes too late, but it is important that he said it. We know that he cannot – and he must not – instruct the justice system whom to investigate, arrest, prosecute, and convict, but it would be good if he were to also publicly express a wish to see signs of life in that area, and make a public undertaking that there would be no political interference if people implicated in crimes against the interests of our country – notably in state capture and other forms of corruption – were accordingly pursued, irrespective of their identity.
The ANC’s so-called “integrity commission” is no replacement for our criminal justice system.
There are a whole lot of other things that the president should say in his capacity as State President of the Republic of South Africa. He should say these things to set the tone from the top and, where the vast powers allocated to his office allow, follow up with action.
As things stand, many know him as a president who is personally likable, warm, speaks well, is easy on the eye, and makes a lot of promises. But his utterances do not seem to be taken seriously, especially by those who should; often individuals in his party or deployed by it into state organs; people who are used to a world where there are no consequences for the madness of their ways.
The absence of decisive leadership, clarity on tone, and action against wrongdoing make our ship seem painfully rudderless. South Africans are tired of political poetry. They want to hear a firm voice from the top condemning wrong, accompanied by a firm hand against anyone who goes on as if they have the license to go about abusing public resources, making threats, and sowing disunity in our fragile country.
Confidence at home cannot be nurtured and guaranteed in the absence of clear, firm, leadership informed only by the values of our constitution and the rule of law.
In the continued absence of confidence in the short-to-medium-term future of our country, where people lack needed levels of clarity to see where South Africa is going, in terms of economic and political policies, we can be sure to expect more skilled and enterprising South Africans to pack up and seek safer shores, around the world, to invest in.
The silent impact of all this is on our shrinking tax base; the only thing we can now be sure of. As things stand, no one can say with a straight face, not even Ramaphosa and, certainly, not Mboweni, that tax collection targets will be met.