Someone once said that you can tell a lot about a country by the quality of the letters pages in that country's newspapers. Hopefully the same doesn't apply to web pages because, with some notable exceptions, last week's comments following the Black Business Council column were lamentable. We on-line columnists get quite excited when our scribblings stir up enough discussion to provoke responses.
However, my 130 comments last week is hardly going to stand me in good stead when I next meet my fellow Politicsweb columnist Jeremy Gordin for a nice kosher English breakfast and our usual moan about the state of modern journalism. Not wishing to unduly hurt my feelings he will probably mumble something about quality versus quantity into his sunny side up fried egg.
Following the publication of the column I was courteously invited to discuss the topic on SAfm by their morning presenter Siki Mgabadeli. The Black Business Council declined the invitation to participate in the discussion leaving the impression with many listeners that they had something to hide. However, in fairness to them they did phone into the programme and manage to salvage a little bit of credibility.
The calls to the radio station were as depressing in some ways as the comments following the column; many of them hysterical and displaying a deep lack of knowledge when it came to basic economics. A recurring theme from black callers was that the whites still owned too much of the wealth of the country and should go back to where they came from and leave the country's economy in the capable hands of the black majority.
Quite how this would work from a compensation point of view I'm not sure but since organisations like the ANCYL enjoy promoting the myth that all the land was "stolen" by whites in the first place the argument is largely academic. The Black Business Council might do well by promoting a basic course in economic understanding for their new members including a module called "Basic Common Sense 101" which would point out to the lunatic fringe that if you remove a large portion of the tax payers because you don't like their skin tone then you won't have any money to spend.
Three major points emerged from what I will generously call our on air discussion. The first was that there is this amorphous word "transformation" which is trotted out with monotonous regularity in these discussions. Nobody seems quite sure how it is to be implemented but they do know that we must have it whether it's in sport or in business.
Transformation is the Harry Potter magic spell that will finally make South Africa a really great place to live for the majority. It will painlessly transfer all the wealth from whites to blacks and will finally give us an all black national rugby/cricket team that will be unbeatable. The problem is that sensible folk know that just isn't possible.
Short of seizing all white owned assets without compensation and passing laws that national teams must only be made up of the dominant demographic, transformation is and will remain a buzz word to keep the mass's spirits up. And on a cynical note, if white owned assets are to be seized you can be sure that they won't be shared with the sort of people phoning in to SAfm that morning. Look north if you don't believe me.
The second point that emerged is that many people still seem to think that the government is rich enough to call the shots. I've pointed out on previous occasions that the government has no money other than what it raises in taxes and borrows in loans. If it happened to be running highly successful state owned industries then it could conceivably benefit from the profits of that industry but since everything run by government is a commercial disaster that argument doesn't apply. So calls for the government to punish the economically active in favour of the economically inactive makes no sense and, for the moment, our politicians seem to understand that.
The reality is that a relatively small percentage of tax payers are supporting the majority of the population. Government waffles on about creating jobs but all a government can hope to do is to create an environment in which the private sector feels confident enough to expand businesses and create labour opportunities.
No government can force a company to do business so unless there is a good working relationship between government and business then no jobs will be created. And when it comes to running a successful business the issue of transformation is well down the list of priorities, way behind the need to compete and make profits in a global economy. If we aren't happy with the way the global economy operates we could presumably become like North Korea and just not play.
The third point that came up was the matter of foreign investment. When I mentioned it on air a very animated gentleman said that foreign investment was always used against the black majority by the whites to keep them in line. We should take our foreign investment threats and stick them where the sun don't shine was the gist of his comment. It was a comment of monumental stupidity but fairly typical of our national chip on the shoulder inferiority complex in which the perception is that everything that happens in the Western world only happens to demean black people.
One only needs to look to Greece to see that even whiteys can suck life's hind tit. In fact there are growing similarities between South Africa and Greece; a bloated civil service, a dwindling tax base, massive corruption, unreasonable trade unions and a lack of competitiveness (particularly with our BRIC partners).
It's impossible to even imagine how Greece can emerge from its current financial woes unless there is an unprecedented demand for ouzo from China. At the moment South Africa is in far better shape but the writing is on the wall. And it's coming to you from the same people that bought you democracy all those years ago.
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