Run on Numbers: Before the elections, its time to polish old promises

Voters must choose whether a political party that promises something, has the political will/desire and capability to implement and fulfil that promise. Picture: Timothy Bernard/ Independent Newspapers.

Voters must choose whether a political party that promises something, has the political will/desire and capability to implement and fulfil that promise. Picture: Timothy Bernard/ Independent Newspapers.

Published Feb 25, 2024


During the apartheid era, Piet Koornhof served as a Cabinet minister under prime minister PW Botha and president F.W. de Klerk. Koornhof held various ministerial positions, including minister of cooperation and development (1979-1984) and minister of mineral and energy affairs (1984-1989). He soon became known by the nickname Piet Promises. It was Koornhof who declared to an audience in Washington in 1979, as PW Botha was settling into power, that” apartheid as you know it is dead”.

1. Promises

The current political parties have a host of promises. In February 2024, EFF leader Julius Malema said: “This is not a manifesto of promises; it’s a manifesto of commitments.” He announced the party's slogan for the coming elections as “Jobs and land now! Stop load shedding”. The party said the EFF would stop the power blackouts that were impacting the country’s economy and would create jobs through, among other things, the creation of social housing and road infrastructure.

In his State of the Nation address, President Cyril Ramaphosa promised a new dawn, promising to be the new broom that swept clean, promising to address major constraints in the economy, unlock job opportunities and clean up the state of crime and corruption. The only problem is that the broom is not that new, Mr President. It has been around for an exceedingly long time.

The DA party covers a wide angle and a focused one. “We will start fixing what is broken in government by abolishing cadre deployment, firing corrupt officials and appointing competent people with the skills to deliver services. We will build a capable state to partner with the private sector and civil society to rescue South Africa.”

Rodger Jardine promises to deliver a “Marshall Plan because (South Africa) … is in a post-war-like condition. And that Marshall Plan must be funded by what Jardine calls a “Social Solidarity Fund” of R500 billion to kick-start the economy and plough resources into the poorest communities to close South Africa’s yawning inequality gap. The R500bn funding is to be achieved through a wealth tax for three years, with the following increases:

A corporate income tax increase of 4.2 percentage points for three years (from 28% to 32.2%).

A tax increase for top earners (more than R1.8 million a year) from 45% to 49.5%.

A 1%-a-year charge on retirement funds for three years.

An initial reaction to the proposal is that it sounds like a promise to a child that they will get a hiding. On second thought, painful for many as it might be, it could be the answer, provided we add some of the other promises into the mix. In the mix must be cutting government salaries, getting rid of duplication of functions, privatising state-owned entities, getting more dishonest politicians in jail, fixing what is broken – Transnet and the harbours, the SANDF and the school system.

2. Forces at Play

Politicians, like governments, have no money of their own. They inevitably take money from someone who has money and hand it to those who do not have it. When those who do not have outnumber those who do have, they will vote for what they believe is right for them. The more enlightened they are about issues, the better for all. Does it sound right to people that there is free tertiary education and on graduation, they earn more than R20 000 a month and the minimum wage for those left earns R4 500, and that is for the rest of their careers?

There might be many promises of grants, social, old age and various others, but this does not replace the dignity that comes with a job in the formal sector. Other mega trends in the world require the re-skilling of workers following digitisation and other demographic changes. Every party talks about job creation but they do not offer one word about the “just transition” dilemma. What about the poor communities that will be affected as the coal mines close?

The following citation comes from “OECD (2023), Job Creation and Local Economic Development 2023: Bridging the Great Green Divide, OECD Publishing, Paris. Climate change and environmental degradation has become a world task involving all of us.” The transition goes along with the lack of workers with relevant skills and brings with it the threat of certain jobs becoming obsolete, such as filling station attendants, coal workers and various other workers, such as diesel and petrol mechanics, in the automotive repair industries. Our whole car manufacturing sector needs to upskill dramatically to remain relevant in the switch to electric vehicles and even hydrogen-powered vehicles.

3. Elephant in the room

Research published in the international journal Mining by a UCT academic, Dr Megan Cole, has shown that 48 of South Africa’s 230 operating mines could close in the next 10 years. The findings also showed that social risks were highest in the most vulnerable communities, particularly rural villages in Limpopo and North West. In a research paper, titled “University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, South Africa.”, the following disturbing facts are revealed. “Our research shows that five coal-fired power plants (8.9GW) and fifteen coal mines (29.5 Mt/a) will probably close by 2030, and a further four plants (14 GW) and 23 mines (106 Mt/a) by 2040. In light of this one must put it in context in 2022, the industry directly employed 90 977 people who earned R31.7 billion, had total sales of R252.3 billion, and paid R1.97 billion in royalties (Minerals Council South Africa, 2023). In 2021 the coal industry spent R61 billion procuring goods and services (Minerals Council South Africa, 2022). The median wage of mineworkers is double that of other formal sector workers in South Africa (Pai et al., 2021). There are an estimated 170 000 indirect jobs linked to the coal mining industry (Chamber of Mines of South Africa, 2018).”

In the light of the above, hiding one’s head in the sand is not an option. The country’s dependence on coal for electricity is the highest in the world (IEA, 2021). Another fact is that South Africa is the world’s 17th biggest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter, with 1.13% of global emissions in 2020 (Climate Watch, 2023), despite being the 39th biggest economy (IMF, 2023), and therefore faces international pressure to reduce its emissions.

4. Other variables

Technological advancements have become a “new” driver of structural transformation, offering opportunities to create new jobs and increase productivity. Digital technology has enhanced the growing role of the service sectors in the generation of better jobs at an earlier stage of development. Digitisation also opens important new avenues for sustainable inclusive agricultural value chain development and increasing smallholder productivity. Digital technology also generates new "gig jobs” through digital platforms and could lead to new employment opportunities that could prove particularly attractive and accessible for the young labour force. Yet, the digital divide remains wide, in access and in capability, in our country that impedes economic transformation.

The International Development Association (IDA) is a division of the World Bank Group. It recently stated: “Before the Covid-19 and overlapping crises, IDA countries needed to create twenty million jobs a year for a decade to keep pace with youth entering the labour markets. But during the Covid-19 period, millions of jobs were lost resulting in ninety-seven million people falling into poverty.”

IDA20 supports the Jobs and Economic Transformation (Jet) agenda by creating jobs, addressing the immediate needs of minimising job losses and mitigating risks, while helping countries capture longer-term job creation opportunities.

Based on eight Jet policy commitments, IDA20 identifies and prioritises high-potential sectors that can drive job creation in a post-Covid-19 world. Such sectors include those that are climate and environmentally friendly and those that are inclusive. Jet focuses on adopting digital technology and expanding broadband access, investing in agriculture and food security, delivering quality infrastructure investments, and addressing constraints to micro, small, and medium enterprises.

The World Bank also has other projects such as The Human Capital Project which is a global effort to accelerate more and better investments in people to build, protect and use human capital. The Human Capital Project Network brings together World Bank clients and partners to close the global human capital gap, which is especially critical as countries face multiple crises. We hope South Africa will consider this initiative as we may just learn from research elsewhere.

5. Constitutional Democracy

All the major political parties have been part of our landscape for the past few decades. We have a democracy in which the people of the country vote for their representatives in government to ensure democratic rule and a Parliament that must hold the party to account. The people of South Africa will lose their faith in democracy if the state of government in South Africa remains so poor.

There is not sufficient transparency, not enough accountability and, most of all, no consequences for wrongdoing. Only certain crimes are punished with jail time. Politicians who steal from the people are to be treated as traitors of the country because in the end, we all suffer but the poorest suffer the most.

A democratic system is the opposite of a monarchy, a dictatorship or military rule. There should be no place in our politics that references military-style rhetoric. A term such as “commander in chief” is inappropriate as there is no one to be commanded in a democracy, quite the opposite. We have a bill of rights that must be upheld. The same goes for the term “cadre”, which has a connotation (as quoted by the Merriam Webster dictionary) “a cell of indoctrinated leaders active in promoting the interests of a revolutionary party”.

Voters must choose whether a political party that promises something, has the political will/desire and capability to implement and fulfil that promise.

* Kruger is an independent analyst.