🔒 Premium – RW Johnson: How ANC behaviour shows SA almost at “End of an Era”

A rare pleasure for us to provide you with a second RW Johnson contribution this week.

Our star columnist, a Rhodes Scholar, Oxford Don and certifiable genius, doesn’t work to a formal schedule, at least not for BizNews. He writes when moved to. From my own experience of having tapped millions of keys, this is always when a writer’s best work is produced.  

On top of that, Johnson goes into overdrive when he’s outraged by the arrogance or complacency of those whom power has corrupted. Right now, he has plenty of material in South Africa, where the former liberation movement turned dominant political party is imploding as a direct result of its greed and incompetence.  


Johnson’s piece below is a tour de force with a powerful, indisputable message. Brilliantly fulfilling our tagline – Get context. Know more. – Alec Hogg

Erratic ANC’s crazy laws shows SA approaching “end of an era”

By RW Johnson*

RW Johnson on the end of an ANC era
RW Johnson

We are almost at the end of an era. Quite clearly, the entire African nationalist project has failed. Nobody in government says this, of course, but the truth must be as obvious to ministers and civil servants as it is to the rest of us. You can take your pick of the multiple crises affecting South Africa – the railways, the ports, the roads, water, electricity, law and order, education, public health, unemployment, whatever – and in every case government corruption and mismanagement are patent. 

More than that, the government has simply failed. There is a comprehensive sense of the ANC never having been equal to the task, of having way over-reached itself, of being far, far out of its depth. South Africa is a complex, sophisticated, urbanised society and running it competently requires all manner of skills, aptitudes and capacities which the ANC simply doesn’t have. Moreover, ANC policies are actively counter-productive in many respects. 

The resulting sense of failure is comprehensive. You can, quite indifferently, sit down with a group of old Lefties or Freedom Fronters and they all equally know that government has failed.

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After all, how can you not know when so many things don’t work  ?

Geordin Hill-Lewis, the mayor of Cape Town, talks of “building hope”. What he means is that hope has pretty much vanished in the rest of South Africa but Cape Town works and is getting better: unemployment is falling, soon it will have its own electricity and people want to invest there. This sense of a positive future is now rare in South Africa – it’s as gloomy as that – and the only reason that Hill-Lewis can promise it is that Cape Town has a non-ANC future. The equivalence between the ANC and failure is so complete that it’s literally impossible to imagine a successful future under ANC governance. 

One can only guess at what this is doing to the ANC’s psyche. Even those with their hand in the till must have a sense of “apres moi le deluge”. But such a situation plays funny games with the mind. It must be easy for ANC ministers and cadres to imagine a future in which people they don’t like will be in power. This can easily breed an extreme, fantastical and defiant response, a sort of I-may-be-going-down-with-the-ship-but-I-can still-make -it-nasty-for-my-opponents spirit. Anyone who’s read about the last days in Hitler’s bunker knows all about that.

This seems to be the only way to understand the current spate of crazy, unworkable legislation being proposed by the ANC. Take the Employment Equity Amendment Act, which threatens every private employer with the closing down of his business if he fails to employ a workforce exactly mirroring the racial demography of the population. 

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This would have the effect of throwing large numbers of qualified whites, Coloureds and Indians out of work, substituting them with people unqualified to do their jobs. It is almost certainly unconstitutional and, if allowed, would ruin many productive companies on which the economy depends. It would be a catastrophe for the economy and the fiscus and it would require many international companies to break the laws of their own countries. It would also drive away all foreign investment. It is simply preposterous. 

Or again, the government is pressing ahead with legislation for its National Health Insurance scheme. Not only is this unworkable and unaffordable but Judge Thembi Bokako has already struck down the key legislation about doctors requiring Certificates of Need in order to practise, which is crucial if NHI is to work. Moreover, Judge Bokako struck it down on no less than six different constitutional grounds – and she warned that constitutionally the state may not deprive anyone currently enjoying rights of access to healthcare services. This means that those currently enjoying access to private health care may not be deprived of it. With that NHI is stone dead.

On top of that, of course, the government has all but promised a Basic Income Grant. This is unaffordable. But one thing is certain: if the state persists with a BIG there will be no money at all for NHI. Yet, crazily, the government legislates for NHI.

Then again, there is the new provision for race-based water rights. Unless farms can suddenly acquire a black shareholding of 25%-75% they will lose their water rights. In effect this would require all farms held by white individuals or companies to give away up to 75% of their equity, for there is no queue of would-be black shareholders with the necessary money to buy such shares. That in turn would ruin or close most farms, creating a major famine. It would also undermine the value of all existing farms, creating a banking crisis. It is completely unworkable and crazy.

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Or there is the ban on private hospitals training nurses – of which they’re desperately short. How can it be right amidst a real effective unemployment rate of 44.1% to prevent people being trained for jobs which are badly needed ? A ban which deliberately increases the rate of unemployment ? This measure  too could not be devised by anyone of sound mind. 

The only way to understand such initiatives is that they are products of the Last Days, of the Gotterdammerung of the ANC system, of fevered minds in a state of angry despair. Happily, the government has lost almost all power to enforce such mad laws. Any sensible private hospital will just go ahead and train nurses. What is the government going to do – sue them for the crime of creating jobs ? 

The same applies to the other laws cited above: they cry out for civil disobedience. At a time of rip-roaring food inflation would the state really dare to close down productive farms, increasing food shortages and food prices ? Would it really dare to close down productive businesses because they employed too many Coloureds or Indians, groups that suffered under apartheid ? With an election looming that would be suicidal. Clearly the people who came up with these crazy laws are not thinking straight. But if businesses and voters – and judges – are thinking straight, they won’t put up with them.

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*RW Johnson is a British journalist, political scientist, and historian who lives in South Africa and has been a citizen and passport holder of the country for almost thirty years. Born in England, he was educated at Natal University and Oxford University, as a Rhodes Scholar. He was a fellow in politics at Magdalen College, Oxford, for 26 years and remains an emeritus fellow.