Dear GovernmentGareth Cliff

How time flies! It’s been seven years since I wrote my infamous Letter to Government, on the 12th October, 2010. That letter, which almost got me fired from 5FM, pops up on social media every few months and people think it’s just been written!

Maybe it’s time to reflect? Seven years isn’t a long time in terms of the ups and downs of human history, but it’s an epoch politically. Back in 2010 we were in the infancy of the Jacob Zuma administration, and things didn’t look so bad to the untrained eye; at least the Football World Cup kept the untrained eyes distracted.

Here’s how it went:

Dear Government

OK, I get it, the President isn’t the only one in charge. The ANC believes in “collective responsibility” (So that nobody has to get blamed when things get screwed up), so I address this to everyone in government – the whole lot of you – good, bad and ugly (That’s you, Blade).

Actually, it turned out the President (Atul, that is, not Jacob) was the only one in charge. Also, Blade was already cretinous and now seven years later he has been fired from cabinet and alone in the wilderness. Nobody will defend him, and it couldn’t have happened to a better-looking  guy.

We were all so pleased with your renewed promises to deliver services (we’ll forgive the fact that in some places people are worse off than in 1994); to root out corruption (so far your record is worse than under Mbeki, Mandela or the Apartheid regime – what with family members becoming overnight millionaires); and build infrastructure (State tenders going disgustingly awry and pretty stadia standing empty notwithstanding) – and with the good job you did when FIFA were telling you what to do for a few months this year. Give yourselves half a pat on the back. Since President Sepp went off with his billions I’m afraid we have less to be proud of – Public Servants Strikes, more Presidential bastard children, increasing unemployment and a lack of leadership that allowed the Unions to make the elected government it’s bitch.

Well, you can decide how right I was there. The Unions I speak of came a cropper all on their own, as they were bound to do. Zwelinzima Vavi was the first ally to be cast into the fire; Julius and the rest would follow. To imagine any of the unions exerting their authority over government now would be fantasy.

You should be more than a little worried – but you’re not. Hence my letter. Here are some things that might have passed you by:

1. You have to stop corruption. Don’t stop it because rich people moan about it and because it makes poor people feel that you are self-enriching parasites of state resources, but because it is a disease that will kill us all. It’s simple – there is only so much money left to be plundered. When that money runs out, the plunderers will raise taxes, chase and drain all the remaining cash out of the country and be left with nothing but the rotting remains of what could have been the greatest success story of post-colonial Africa. It’s called corruption because it decomposes the fabric of society. When someone is found guilty of corruption, don’t go near them – it’s catchy. Making yourself rich at the country’s expense is what colonialists do.

There’s no way that any of us could have known the scale of the state capture that was being planned in Saxonwold when I wrote those words. What has taken place since then is a level of crass greed and theft that beggars belief. State-owned Enterprises have become vehicles for plunder and nest-feathering. GuptaLeaks including revelations about Dubai property, mines bought and sold, military airports used for civilian wedding guests and the appointment of cabinet ministers by an unelected Indian family show just how brazen this corruption became.

2. Stop complaining about the media. You’re only complaining about them because they show you up for how little you really do or care. If you were trying really hard, and you didn’t drive the most expensive car in the land, or have a nephew who suddenly went from modesty to ostentatious opulence, we’d have only positive things to report. Think of Jay Naidoo, Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi and Zwelinzima Vavi – they come under a lot of fire, but it’s never embarrassing – always about their ideas, their positions, and is perfectly acceptable criticism for people in power to put up with. When the media go after Blade Nzimande, Siphiwe Nyanda and the President, they say we need a new piece of legislation to “make the media responsible”. That’s because they’re being humiliated by the facts we uncover about them daily, not because there is an agenda in some newsroom. If there had been a free press during the reigns of Henry VIII, Idi Amin or Hitler, their regimes might just have been kept a little less destructive, and certainly would have been less brazen and unchecked.

It’s thanks to the media that we even found out about the Guptas, or Duduzane. We knew about Nkandla and Khulubuse back then, but they were the tip of the iceberg. Since then many other stalwarts and veterans have shunned the corruption and disregard of the ANC under Jacob Zuma. It’s almost a barometer for their inherent morality to evaluate ANC members on how early they smelled the rot. Those who only jumped ship by 2016 or 2017 wouldn’t know bad from good if it hit them squarely in the face, and cannot be trusted.

3. Education is a disaster. We’re the least literate and numerate country in Africa. Zimbabwe produces better school results and turns out smarter kids than we do. Our youth aren’t unemployed, they’re unemployable. Outcomes-based-education, Teachers’ Unions and an attitude of mediocrity that discourages excellence have reduced us to a laughing stock. Our learners can’t spell, read, add or subtract. What are all these people going to do? Become President? There’s only one job like that. We need clever people, not average or stupid ones. The failure of the Education Department happened under your watch. Someone who writes Matric now hadn’t even started school under the Apartheid regime, so you cannot blame anyone but yourselves for this colossal cock-up. Fix it before three-quarters of our matrics end up begging on Oxford Road. Reward schools and teachers who deliver great pass rates and clever students into the system. Fire the teachers who march and neglect their classrooms.

Well this is pretty depressing and I take no joy in being right. Since this letter, the education department has split in two, Limpopo went without textbooks, children continue to learn under trees, teachers have molested pupils, Fees Must Fall boiled over and thousands of qualified students have found themselves unemployable. SADTU hasn’t made education better for even one child. In short, we’re even worse off than we were seven years ago. Angie Motshekga and Blade Nzimande have shown themselves to be nothing but shills for other politicians, and motivated by nothing but personal ambition and greed. It will serve them right when they are forgotten by history and despised by the generation they have let down.   

4. Give up on BEE. It isn’t working. Free shares for new black partnerships in old white companies has made everyone poorer except for Tokyo Sexwale. Giving people control of existing business won’t make more jobs either. In fact, big companies aren’t growing, they’re reducing staff and costs. The key is entrepreneurship. People with initiative, creative ideas and small companies must be given tax breaks and assistance. Young black professionals must be encouraged to start their own businesses rather than join a big corporation’s board as their token black shareholder or director. Government must also stop thinking that state employment is a way to decrease unemployment – it isn’t – it’s a tax burden. India and China are churning out new, brilliant, qualified people at a rate that makes us look like losers. South Africa has a proud history of innovation, pioneering and genius. This is the only way we can advance our society and economy beyond merely coping.

Well that hasn’t happened and the tenderpreneurs are nothing to be proud of. In fact, the corruption, bribery and fronting have only deepened. Much of the “inclusiveness” and “transformation” we have seen has had the opposite effect of growing the economy and now that our SOEs are junk, we can see that advancing cadres beyond their capabilities has been detrimental to all business, private and public sector. More, not less, interference in the economy by the state has resulted in complicated labour laws that have done nothing but enrich specialist lawyers, reams and reams of unnecessary paperwork and less actual trading and service delivery. The more a government involves itself in the economy, the less that economy grows. This is a fact that is beyond dispute.

5. Stop squabbling over power. Offices are not there for you to occupy (or be deployed to) and aggrandise yourself. Offices in government are there to provide a service. If you think outrageous salaries, big German cars, first-class travel and state housing are the reasons to aspire to leadership, you’re in the wrong business – you should be working for a dysfunctional, tumbledown parastatal (or Glenn Agliotti). We don’t care who the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces is if we don’t have running water, electricity, schools and clean streets. You work for us. Do your job, don’t imagine you ARE your job.

The cabinet makes up fully a third of the ANC in parliament. Over 70 ministers and deputy ministers occupy important portfolios like the Ministry of Sport and Recreation, and the Ministry of Women, Children and those with Disabilities. There is a Ministry of Small Business, which does nothing whatsoever for small businesses. People who are demonstrably ineffective, stubborn, grossly incompetent and hopelessly without merit occupy offices that are essential to the public good.

6. Stop renaming things. Build new things to name. If I live in a street down which the sewage runs, I don’t care if it’s called Hans Strijdom or Malibongwe. Calling it something nice and new won’t make it smell nice and new. Re-branding is something Cell C do with Trevor Noah, not something you can whitewash your lack of delivery with.

The renaming has happened and there is no evidence that it has improved anything in those places, with the possible exception that the ANC has lost the renamed Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay municipalities to the DA and EFF. It would seem, in fact, that the renaming has rather an adverse effect on the ANC in elections. It’s also worth noting that Trevor Noah has since also got the hell out of South Africa to make a career in a country where he can earn a currency that isn’t worth a lot less than it was when I wrote this letter.

7. Don’t think you’ll be in power forever. People aren’t as stupid as you think we are. We know you sit around laughing about how much you get away with. We’ll take you down, either at the polls – or if it comes down to the wire – by revolution (Yes, Julius, the real kind, not the one you imagine happened in 2008). Careless, wasteful and wanton government is a thing of the past. The days of thin propaganda and idealised struggle are over. The people put you in power – they will take you out of it. Africa is tired of tin-pot dictators, one-party states and banana republics. We know who we are now, we care about our future – and so should you.

The President was observed in Limpopo last week with about 15 bodyguards as well as members of the Special Task Force in full fatigues. In other words, he’s not sure the people won’t try to kill him. The ANC are more unpopular than they have ever been; they’ve lost Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth and many smaller municipalities. The most powerful province – Gauteng, is likely to drop out of their control soon. The 2019 election looks like it will be a near-run thing. I hate to say I told you so, but this is all coming to pass, much as predicted. Filthy Gupta money; Bell Pottinger; sly and complicit auditing firms – the whole State Capture experiment is coming undone – and it will end in tears for this administration. Here’s my next prediction – there are a lot of people who will go to jail.

Thanks to the freedom of the Internet, the resilience of civil society, the eventual return of the business community to the discourse and the solid, stoic men and women who represent the backbone of working South Africa, all is not lost. We’ve won against tyrants before, we’ll win again!



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