OPINION

Bruce Whitfield
  • There has been plenty of criticism of the new cabinet and its ability to get the economy moving.
  • Politicians need to create the environment in which growth can happen.
  • And South Africans need to stop taking them so seriously
  • For more, go to Business Insider SA.


Two teams of South Africans today carry the hopes, dreams and aspirations of an entire country on their backs.

One team is made up of dedicated individuals selected on merit for their skill, determination and tenacity to go up against the best the world has to offer in their World Cup campaign.

The other is the new cabinet.

Both have their critics. Both will perform their country duty in the public domain and both are made up of people who, despite their very best efforts, are hardly bookies' favourites to succeed.

The cabinet is far from perfect.

It’s made up of a broad array of career politicians largely chosen for their loyalty or connections - rather than their exceptional management ability.

There are some strong characters who could hold their own against the best in the world, but as a team there are serious questions about their ability to deliver on the lofty election promises that got them to their positions of power.

That’s half the problem.

We think it’s their job to grow the economy and create jobs. It’s not. They keep telling us it’s their job and they keep failing at doing it, so perhaps we should stop pretending they can or will do so.

What they can do is scrap stupid, restrictive laws, cut red tape and simplify boring administrative processes that take the joy out of building businesses that create jobs.

If that is all they do, and keep their colleagues honest, then the rest of us can set about growing our economy with a spirit of confidence that the country has our backs. We will have trust that laws will be enforced to create a safe and healthy environment in which we and our kids can thrive in a vibrant and successful society.

Read: What we need to learn from Telkom fast, to save South Africa

 The president has promised there will be performance contracts and regular reviews of politicians, but as a friend of mine quipped today: “As a CEO I couldn’t manage more than 14 direct reports, the president has 28.”

If there is a criticism of the new cabinet, it is that it did not go far enough in weeding out those compromised in the previous administration, and nor has it reduced the size of government nearly enough.

Rather than cut the often superfluous deputy roles in government, some departments now have two.

Unlike the cricket squad that can field no more than 11 players at a time, government is a political creation of a multiplicity of interests, not all of which are always aligned.

That’s the nature of politics.

And armchair critics in politics, as in sport, are unlikely to ever be wholly satisfied about who is on the team and out of it.

Ahead of the election, one start-up CEO told me he wished for a coalition arrangement so that the politicians would be so busy fighting amongst themselves that a new generation of start-ups would be able to focus on growing their enterprises, unhindered by meddling.

That’s wishful thinking, but his point is well made.

The president appears to have managed much of what needed to be done.

Gone are most of those tainted by corruption and ineptitude from the Zuma administration.

He stuck to his guns in keeping Pravin Gordhan and Tito Mboweni at the centre of power. Both will have to make unpopular choices in this administration, but with more of their political careers behind than ahead of them, both will be more concerned with legacy than popularity.

Ramaphosa’s refusal to bow to EFF pressure on Gordhan’s appointment is also a very clear signal that he will not be bullied from a noisy opposition constituency.

There is also a new cohort of promising, vibrant, younger players with plenty to prove.

The politicians will do what they believe they must do. Some of it will be good. Some counter-productive and some downright frustrating.

The SA environment seldom provides perfect conditions to start and grow businesses.

What it does offer plenty of, however, is opportunity.

It’s up to the opportunists to step forward and seize those opportunities. Waiting will achieve nothing.

Bruce Whitfield is a multi-platform award-winning financial journalist and broadcaster.

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