Best of 2022: Niemoller is back with another blistering Open Letter to Ramaphosa

This article was first published on the 22 of March 2022

In the immediate aftermath of last July’s riots and looting, a BizNews community member whom I’ve known and respected for decades, penned a powerful Open Letter to president Cyril Ramaphosa. The author’s name was withheld to avoid unnecessary retaliation against themselves or their organisation. It struck a chord, with 300 000 people reading it and over 180 000 watching the YouTube version (and over 1 000 commenting on it). The author, whose nom de plume honours the anti-Nazi pastor/activist Martin Niemöller, is back with a bang. Warning: not for the politically correct wokies. – Alec Hogg

By Niemöller*

I’ve been silent for a bit, mainly distracted by trying to keep my head above water in this abysmal economy, and keep everyone gainfully employed. But like Freddy Krueger, I’m back.

So, not a bad SONA speech. It was definitely cobbled together by numerous authors given the change in tone and pace throughout. But it said the right things. At last.

The problem is, we now want to see some action. Real action. Your legacy, if you don’t get up off your backside, will reflect an indecisive leader who fiddled while Rome burnt, trying to keep the pitifully few honest brokers and abundant outright thieves in his party on some kind of even keel.

It can’t be done.

So what are you waiting for? To be re-elected at the end of the year? Will you then do what you have to? Is that your end game? Wait for your second term? This country and its people are alive and kicking despite you. Not because of you.

You’re a lot of things, but you’re not stupid, Mr President. You have to know that without action to restore the regulatory, policy and institutional weaknesses that have all but destroyed the public sector, we can’t move forward at all, only backward. Without the private sector in poll position, taking management of certain services away from you, you’re just condemning your own people to corruption, inefficiency and incompetence.

Yet all you can do is invoke the perpetually useful bogeyman, apartheid. Nearly three decades, Mr President. Nearly 30 years. You’re running out of road.

Have you recently visited Home Affairs? Do that. Go in disguise. Wear a mask and a balaclava. Try and get an unabridged birth certificate, for example. Just try. Do you have a whole day to stand in a queue? No? Nor do most people. And when you get to the front, you’re greeted by surly, unhelpful bureaucrats who abuse their power over you, because they can. They are psychopaths.

Have you worked out what the loss is to the economy from government inefficiency? All those hard working, taxpaying citizens standing in queues for days on end at public service points. Think about it. In fact, why don’t you commission an economist to run the numbers. I’ll bet it will shock you.

Come to think of it, why are there queues at any Home Affairs office anyway? Are staff sitting at home pretending to socially distance? Put more staff on duty for pity’s sake! We have 45% unemployment. Surely it doesn’t take a lot to train a drone behind a desk?

Most people I know go to Standard Bank to do passport renewals – I mean why on earth would you do anything else? There’s the private sector, to the rescue.

You wait more than five minutes in a queue at Pick ‘n Pay and you start complaining loudly. At Home Affairs you don’t even complain after four hours. Why? Because people have given up, Mr President. They know that no one is coming to help, or is remotely interested. You’re a monopoly. Mostly, there is no other choice.

Pick up the phone, Mr President, and tell Aaron to get a move on – he’s full of bluster, fake outrage, and, dare we say it, is frequently ‘shocked’ but doesn’t actually do anything.

And OMG could you please, for the love of God, get someone with a brain to look again at work visas for foreigners?

Your people are instituting policy that’s about three decades out of date. Skilled foreigners don’t come here – it’s just too much hassle. What on earth are you thinking? Here’s Cape Town, trying to stay ahead of the game by attracting skilled foreigners to work here (because, you know, they can now work from anywhere as a by-product of Covid) and you’re tying an anvil to their ankles. Get with the programme for goodness sake!

So, from the ridiculous to the outrageous on our labour ministry’s medieval new rules on foreign business ownership. As Business Day pointed out, not even Elon Musk would be able to start a business in SA thanks to these new rules. Just what are you thinking? Or aren’t you thinking?

While I’m on the subject of being clueless, if you wanted a more certain indication that the leaders of SOEs haven’t the foggiest idea about their jobs or the enterprises they’re supposedly running, just listen to the geniuses at Prasa.

They say they will have Cape Town’s central line operating by July. That’s a howler, Mr President. The infrastructure is completely destroyed thanks to their incompetence. 900,000 Capetonians use the railway network – or used to. We’ll be lucky if we see the beginnings of a return to service by 2025.

Go on then, Mr President. Pick up the phone. Tell the guys at Prasa to get a life. And that’s before we even get to the state of disaster in the Port of Cape Town. Hand it over to someone else to manage. Please. We need to move stuff faster in and out.

Why do you insist on taking one step forward and three back?

You do good stuff with Zondo, and then you defend cadre deployment. We now know, thanks to the DA (and Lord knows I’m not a praise-singer), that your Deployment Committee supra-structure overrides public appointment processes and lurks in the shadows. This is parallel state stuff. This is the provenance of corruption. Get rid of it. It doesn’t earn you any votes. Do the research; it probably loses you votes. Black South Africans want to compete based on their own skills levels, underpinned by the dreaded M word – merit. Try it. It’ll be a vote-winner.

So the main thing your party faithful can’t seem to understand is the difference between party and state – kind of a basic of any functioning democracy.

They just don’t see it – at all. Cadre deployment is an obvious one, but here’s another howler that went virtually unnoticed – the SABC wanted to move its news division in Pretoria to GCIS. They really did. They genuinely didn’t see anything wrong with that. Pick up the phone, Mr President. The SABC chairman is Bongomusa Makhatini. I have his number if you need it. Give him a civics lesson.

And then you also mess it up monumentally on Ukraine. I mean seriously. Let’s assume for a nanosecond that you feel some kind of legacy loyalty. OK. But your assistance was provided by the Soviet Union, not Russia, and at least 30% of your exiles were actually placed in Ukraine.

A country invaded another sovereign nation unprovoked. Setting aside the moral consideration, this really is a matter of common sense. Despite your protestations, there just isn’t another side to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Or if you insist on always having two sides to a story, perhaps let us know what the other side to apartheid was.

Here we have an international hero, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a Jew whose grandfather fought the Nazis and who lost many relatives to the Holocaust. He’s standing up to a dictator. Because he knows what happens when you don’t. You of all people should identify with that.

And then you mess it up again extending the State of Disaster.

This has to mean that your team don’t have the faintest idea of what’s going on. So bad, that Professor Madhi has said that this decision is “indicative of the NCCC being devoid of any understanding of the pandemic ”. We’re done, Mr President, We’re just done with yet another opaque governing process displacing public policy-making. This is just a cabinet power play. Tell NDZ to get back in her box. It’s over. Enough.

Oh yes, I need to remind you about telling the truth.

During the lead up to the elections, you told a porky pie. You told voters that they’d lose their SASSA grant if they didn’t vote ANC. Now, now, Mr President. That’s not just a lie. That is clear dishonesty, and you know it. How desperate you must be to hold on to these votes of the unemployed and those who live in rural areas. Because they’re kinda the only people voting for your party right now.

OK so now we know. The Rand is about 56% weaker than it should be according to the Big Mac Index. Do you think this is an accident?

Think about it – our country could be demonstrably more wealthy if our Rand just behaved the way it should without your party’s Sword of Damocles effect. Does this kind of thing bother you at all? Or are you too busy fighting off Ace to give it any thought? Stop obsessing about the fringe RET minority. They’re an irrelevance. Most of the country is behind you (but not the ANC).

But hey, you’re not the only one to blame.

The business sector’s Uriah Heep impersonation has much to answer for. For example, why would business offer its support for your Economic Reconstruction and Recovery plan, which a commentator has said is neither a plan nor a strategy, and has absolutely zero chance of getting us to grow or increase employment? Because they’re scared of something.

Now what could it be? Retaliation in terms of punishing public policy? Possibly. Being called disloyal? Maybe. Scared of being called racist? Very probably. People accuse you of not having a backbone, but frankly with few exceptions, the business community is completely lacking a spine. It’s a disgrace.

I mean really, business has to know that SA is spending just under R1-billion A DAY servicing our debt. Surely more pressure being brought to bear on reducing government spending is called for? But what do we see from them? Nada. Soft criticism that’s almost apologetic in nature. Absurd.

Well I suppose many of them must feel like they’re living in a bunker – I mean our tax base is shrinking at an alarming rate and the Laffer Curve has already been breached, let alone reached.

Fifteen years ago, I paid my tax without issue. Now? I look for every micro-cent I can claim, every loophole, every opportunity. I don’t want to pay tax at all, let alone 45%. Because I get nothing for it. And you steal it anyway. Pravin Gordhan was once quoted as saying that the highest taxpayers should pay willingly so they “can sleep at night”. I sleep just fine.

Speaking of full speed ahead emigration, just think about this for a second.

The richest man on the planet is South African. The world’s richest doctor is South African. The top tech billionaires in Silicon Valley are South African. Not ‘ex-South African’ as we are wont to call emigres, but just South African.

Doesn’t that make you stop and think for a minute? What grit, ingenuity, self-confidence, resilience, intellect, entrepreneurship and sheer determination created these people? Don’t you – just for a second – think about how many future Musks and Soon-Shiongs are just getting up and leaving becau

se they feel they have no choice? Doesn’t that keep you up at night? It should.

And what the hell were you doing lifting the sugar tax, when you had agreed – by signature – in the Sugar Masterplan not to do that? Why should business trust you when you lie? That was blatant. And every time you do it, it’s self-defeating. Who did the financial and economic impact study on the increase? Anyone? I’ll bet no one. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

The JSC hearings were appalling.

There can’t be a South African with an IQ above a potplant who thinks this was OK. It wasn’t OK. It was far from OK. It was a disgusting show of thuggery. And what made it even worse, in a way, was the howling and shouting that went on in reaction to the interviews of the last four, when the initial applicants were treated with racism, anti-semitism and the most outrageous insult.

The media don’t escape criticism either – and here’s just one example. We have a full page in City Press on 13 February on the treatment of Judge Maya and ‘toxic masculinity’ – fine. But where was the writer when David Unterhalter – who everyone knows should be the guy who really got the job – was having anti-Semitic remarks thrown at him? Pick up the phone, Mr President. Make them read Niemoller.

And you are responsible at least in part for racism. I mean honestly, you appoint a chief of the Air Force who can’t fly a plane? What do you expect people to think? That he’s uniquely qualified and got there on his own merit? Only 21% of the SA Air Force fleet is operational. Do you think he can fix that? Can anyone? Disgraceful.

It was very sad to see the passing of Michael Spicer, not least for his outstanding past contribution to our democracy, but because of his single minded and focused attention on the economy of the Western Cape in his most recent his role at Wesgro.

Opening up our skies to get more planes to Cape Town (Lord knows they don’t want to go to your preferred “hub” in Johannesburg) was a key part of this. But hang on a minute – is ACSA playing ball? I don’t think so. A whisper in my ear said they’re being obstructive.

Pick up the phone to Dali Mpofu’s wife and tell her to start signing agreements with more airlines to land in Cape Town. It kinda benefits everyone, Mr President, not just the opposition-run Western Cape. I mean honestly, I shouldn’t have to tell you this.

Oy. So many problems. So many obstacles. So much destruction. So much wasted potential. But you don’t ask for help. You think that your party can fix things. You’re fixated on a “developmental state” when your guys can’t even fix potholes.

Come on, Mr President. Ask for help. Make it happen. Get us involved. Ask. Trust us. I still think you can do it.

  • Niemöller is the nom de plume of a BizNews community member who is well known to the editor.

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