JOHANNESBURG – South Africa’s economy is – to borrow from Hamlet’s chat to his father’s ghost – out of joint.
Hamlet gave this expression trying to explain that his world was not sane and that things were not as they should be.
The expression is true for South Africa, where unemployment is a plight faced by too many and inequality is a perpetual reality – the unfolding tragedy of our times.
At the heart of our socio-economic ills is poor and unaccountable leadership, in both the private and public sectors, better enveloped in two letters – one from a certain swindler called Markus Jooste and the other from former social development minister, Bathabile Dlamini.
In his farewell letter to Steinhoff’s employees Jooste, whose fraudulent ways put their livelihoods at risk, referred to the multibillion-rand skulduggery he actively engaged in over many years, simply as mistakes.
These mistakes entailed elaborate and fraudulent transactions with eight firms not tied to the Steinhoff Group from 2009 to 2017, that amounted to 6.5 billion (R108.38bn). Poor Markus!
But trust Dlamini to give any quack a run for their money. She was in her element this week as she tried to turn the hands of time and cleanse her battered public image.
In her final (and hopefully last) salvo at our intelligence, Dlamini spewed bile on everyone and everything but what transpired in her time in the Cabinet from 2014 – state capture.
While she correctly berated the patriarchy that exists in society and in her political home, Dlamini exhibited an extraordinary inability to grasp how state capture has suffocated the economy and rendered the state-owned entities ineffective.
No mention is made of the capture of the South African Revenue Service, which saw a widening shortfall in revenue collection.
She also made no mention of the capture of crime-fighting institutions that undermined the rule of law, a prerequisite for any foreign investment. The billions of rand lost in state capture is money that could have been used to invest in productive sectors of the economy and to uplift the poor.
This should matter to her; she was, after all, at the helm of social development for nearly five years.
But her love letter to the ANC read like it was penned by someone who had just come back from a long sojourn and was appraising herself with the current socio-economic issues in South Africa.
The line that perhaps captures Dlamini’s leadership flaws is when she absolves herself of any blame in the CPS/Sassa saga.
“ My experience with Judge Ngoepe’s finding based on the evidence I gave was disputed. The truth is that, in that environment there were adversarial other parties like Freedom Under Law, and the Black Sash. Their approach was very aggressive, and I had to be defensive. This did not come across well with the judge, coupled with lack of understanding of my language,” bemoaned Dlamini.
This was in reaction to Judge Ngoepe’s stinging criticism of her testimony last year in an inquiry into her role in the 2017 social grants crisis.
Judge Ngoepe had said: “She (Dlamini) would simply not answer some of the questions. Instead of answering the questions, she told counsel to proceed to the next one. She gave long answers, which did not speak to the question asked.”
Leaders of the ilk of Dlamini and Jooste are the types both corporate and public South Africa should shun.
Their letters should be used by business schools and governance institutions to teach future leaders of how not to lead. The two and the plethora of others like them, who stubbornly refuse to take responsibility, will do well to heed Polonius’s counsel to his son Laertes in Hamlet that ethical decisions should be seasoned like wine and that self-reflection goes a long way.