SA’s red tape is keeping away vital skills

By John Fraser

party glass architecture windows
Photo by Negative Space on

Top global talent is willing to help close SA’s chronic skills gap, but is it often impossible for international executives to move and work here.

This is the claim of Debbie Goodman-Bhyat, CEO of Jack Hammer, Africa’s largest independent executive search firm.

“Internationally-based executives and entrepreneurs continue to inquire about career opportunities in South Africa, despite the challenges facing the country, including political uncertainty and crime,” she stated.

“South Africa remains a very attractive destination for global talent

“But even though these high-level leaders are in a position to drive growth and job creation locally, the current policy environment makes it almost impossible for them to do so.”

Goodman-Bhyat said that since the expansion of her operations into the US, they have been approached by highly-qualified and experienced executives and entrepreneurs about a potential move or expansion into South Africa.

“Unfortunately, they come back to earth really quickly when we share the realities of attempting such a move, because even once they have gone through the arduous process of applying for a work permit, the chances of them securing one are minuscule,” she warned.

jack Hammers says that in 2016, the Department of Home Affairs noted that “South Africa has not yet put in place adequate policies, strategies, institutions and capacity for attracting, recruiting and retaining international migrants with the necessary skills and resources”.

However, it fears that the situation remains the same today, with a recent report from the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC, June 2018), noting that South Africa is unable to find the critical skills which are desperately needed.

“Note here that we are talking specifically about people who bring scarce skills, resources and capital, who will, in fact, grow the economy, create jobs, and contribute to the fiscus by way of taxes,” said Goodman-Bhyat.

“These are people who are motivated to invest their resources in the country, and have the potential to balance the impact of the brain drain, that continues to flow offshore.”

Goodman-Bhyat noted that top talent is global – meaning that the best talent is very mobile – and that the most competitive companies will secure this talent, from wherever they may be in the world.

“The ability of companies to do this is, however, completely dependent on whether the relevant policies are enabling or dis-enabling. In the case of South Africa, attracting global talent is a very long, steep, uphill battle.”

The recent enquiries from abroad are further evidence that South Africa is losing out on high-quality talent.

“Despite our challenges, the grass is still pretty green this side. Our cost of living, quality and cost of education, access to some of the best lifestyle-related assets in the world – these are very attractive factors to some of the best intellectual capital out there. If you had to compare all of this to working and living in San Francisco, for example, it’s an absolute no-brainer to want to work in SA.,” Goodman-Bhyat argued.

“We have to start looking at the big picture. Addressing transformation and employment equity can happen alongside a willingness to be open-minded and attract great talent – the two are not mutually exclusive. Yet at the moment, we are ignoring – even actively shunning – the intellectual capital that can contribute to the growth of the country.

“South Africa must realise that it is losing out to other countries seeking to attract critical skills, and understand the impact of doing so. Yes, the country finds itself at a difficult junction right now, and this might not seem like the most pressing issue.

“But if stabilising the economy, and ensuring future economic growth and job creation really is a priority, then getting the brightest brains to join the project will be a help, not a hindrance.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa has routinely said that SA wants to make it easier to do business in this country.  However, the government’s actions have yet to match the rhetoric.

Like this article? Subscribe for free to ZA Confidential to receive our newsletters: Click here

Pravin: Human error or sabotage accounts for half of Eskom’s plant breakdowns


Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan

By John Fraser

The systemic and ruthless destruction of state utility Eskom on Jacob Zuma’s watch was laid bare this week by Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, who claims as many as half of all breakdowns are related to human failures, and therefore not to mechanical factors.

He was addressing a business forum in Johannesburg, organised by Business Unity South Africa (BUSA).

Gordhan told a panel discussion that the crisis at Eskom means that it needs funding of R420bn.

“SOEs (State-Owned Enterprises) are in difficulty, particularly those at heart of state capture.  They became operationally weak,” he noted, referring back to Jacob Zuma’s kleptocratic reign.

“Incompetent people were put in place, for example at Eskom power stations,” Gordhan stated.

He said he has been told 40% of Eskom breakdowns are a result of the human factor. “I believe it is 50%,” he warned.   And he speculated that some of the actions may be deliberate.

He said of the state-owned enterprises that in SA, following the Zuma years we “are left with a bit of a disaster.  We need governance, the right management.  We might need outsiders to give us the technical input we require.”

“We need to get them generating more revenue, to make them more viable.”

He confirmed a major restructuring of Eskom is underway, and the question of whether Eskom is unbundled into three is being discussed.

“We need very fast movement.”

In a later BUSA conference session, President Cyril Ramaphosa hit out at Zuma.

“Our SOEs are not behaving as they should be.  We are in a messy situation,” he stated.

“We have a mechanism which is ferreting (corruption) out.  After that, there has to be real, serious action.”

Without naming Zuma, he said: “there is a notion there are people who will fight back, as they will.  They are going to resist.  And so must we.

“We should not be defined by acts of corruption which have gone out of kilter with our values.

“Transparency International says (in a recent report) we are one of the most corrupt countries in the world.    This is the last time.”

He said of the Zuma years that “unfortunately in the last 9 years or so, policy was almost done on the hoof.  This led to policy uncertainty and inconsistency.

“The state has been denuded of good people, who gave it all up and left.  Some have been hounded out.  The state has been weakened severely.

“That is why we need to cooperate between business and the state.  We need to put all hands of South Africans on deck.”

It was reported, Wednesday, that Zuma had hit back at Ramaphosa, which confirms the mammoth task facing the new-broom regime which is now attempting to turn around the economy.

Ramaphosa also met business leaders in a separate engagement, and there was agreement on a sector-by-sector approach to reviving economic growth.

“Business people and ministers are beginning to imagine a South Africa which will have a 5% and a 7% growth,” the President cheered.

“They are looking at sectors, which for me is the holy grail we should all aspire to touch.  That is where we want to be.

“They tell me: we want the government to deal with the inhibitors.  I found that enormously uplifting.

“This is a no-brainer.  We must remove the inhibitors for growth.  South Africa must go and grasp that high growth.  South Africa is on the runway.  Let’s take off. ”

Like this article? Subscribe for free to ZA Confidential to receive our newsletters: Click here









What needs to be done to stop Zimbabwe’s violent meltdown

File 20190121 100285 374wg5.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

Tapiwa Chagonda, University of Johannesburg

Zimbabwe is sliding into a violent meltdown, which is expected to worsen unless there are some serious interventions.

Days of mass protests have been characterised by violence, looting and heavy-handedness by the police and army. It has led to the deaths and injury of many people, largely in Harare and Bulawayo’s high-density areas. According to the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, at least 12 people have been killed and thousands injured.

In addition to placing many urban areas under military siege, the government has also shut down social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook. These are viewed as the avenue through which the opposition and other civil society bodies have been communicating messages of “anarchy”. The internet has been shut down twice on separate occasions.

The deadly violence was triggered by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s announcement of steep fuel price hikes on Saturday 9 January. Made in the dead of night, the announcement proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for a largely peaceful, if not somewhat passive, populace that has borne the brunt of two decades of an economic meltdown. Mnangagwa’s regime increased the prices of fuel by a staggering 150%, making Zimbabwe’s fuel the most expensive in the world.

The sharp fuel hike prompted the country’s largest trade union body, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, and other civil society bodies such as the Crisis Coalition, to call for a three-day mass stay away from work.

The reaction was hardly surprising. Conditions have become fertile for a massive militant mass revolt. Shortages of a lot of goods have become the order of the day. Long fuel queues, and incessant electricity and water cuts have not helped the situation for poverty-weary Zimbabweans.

Mnangagwa, and those he can rally behind him in the ruling Zanu-PF, need urgently to take steps towards forming a government of national unity, as has been done before in the country. This will require the opposition Movement for Democratic Change Alliance (MDC-Alliance) to get its act together by behaving maturely. Another urgent step that’s needed is that the country’s chaotic currency situation needs immediate resolution.

Read more:
Bold steps Mnangagwa should be taking instead of fiddling with the petrol price

Currency crunch

Prior to the deadly protests, Zimbabweans endured a tumultuous few months economically as the country’s cash crunch worsened.

Just before Professor Mthuli Ncube was appointed Minister of Finance in September 2018, he said he wanted to phase out the country’s quasi-currency, the bond note, nicknamed “bollars” by the market. The rationale behind scrapping the bond note was that it was promoting the black market, as individuals were using this quasi-currency to mop up scarce US dollars.

Ncube also argued that Zimbabwe needed to come up with its own proper currency, which could be recognised as legal tender.

The bond note was introduced in the second half of 2016 in a bid to ease the cash squeeze the country was facing as a consequence of using a multiple currency regime which was anchored by the US dollar. But a lack of investment in Zimbabwe, combined with few exports, meant that the US dollar was not readily available on the market.

The bond note was meant to fill the cash gap on the market. Instead, it spawned a flourishing black market last witnessed during Zimbabwe’s dark days of hyperinflation in 2008. Dealers, including top government officials, used the quasi-currency to mop up scarce US dollars on the market.

The Zimbabwean government has consistently argued that the bond note is equivalent to the US dollar. But the market has suggested otherwise. Most retailers have a three-tier pricing system – US$, bond notes or Ecocash, the country’s PayPal like service that is making transactions possible. The reason for providing these options is the shortage of US dollars and the bond notes. Those that are available are largely in the hands of currency speculators.

The bond note’s death knell, which was sounded by Ncube, has sparked panic and led to a devaluation of the quasi-currency. This, in turn, led to retailers increasing their prices of goods and services for people using bond notes.

The knock-on effect is that doctors, teachers and other civil servants are demanding that they be paid in dollars – not bond notes.

Shortages of foreign currency have also led to companies like Delta, the country’s largest brewer, failing to import adequate raw materials for alcohol and soft drinks.

Zimbabwe’s largest cooking oil producer, Olivine, has also closed shop, citing a lack of foreign currency to import raw materials for their products.

What needs to be done

To stem the tide of the current crisis, before it totally overwhelms Mnangagwa and the ruling Zanu-PF, the president needs to immediately cease the brutal onslaught on civilians. In addition, Mnangagwa and his officials have to get off their high horse and facilitate talks that can lead to a government of national unity with the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance (MDC-Alliance).

This has proved to be successful before. A government of national unity was formed in the wake of the violent elections in 2008 that plunged the country into chaos. The 2009-2013 government of national unity helped to stabilise the Zimbabwean economy and brought the country back from the brink.

The MDC-Alliance also has to stop fomenting acts of violence that have become the party’s hallmark since its leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s death in February 2018.

Lastly, Zimbabwe needs to introduce its own currency so the cancerous black market that’s been wreaking havoc on the economy can be eliminated.

Tapiwa Chagonda, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Johannesburg

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Like this article? Subscribe for free to ZA Confidential to receive our newsletters: Click here


Comment from economist Dawie Roodt:

I disagree with this article!

For one, a new Zim currency will not work because nobody will trust it. Best they can do is to use the ZAR, which they must earn first! That means a CA (current account) surplus!

But the major issue is that there are too many civil servants. First step must be to get rid of them – politically difficult.

What South Africa’s matric pass rate means for universities

File 20190107 32142 znnkea.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
South African universities aren’t doing justice even to top-performing high school graduates. Shutterstock

Suellen Shay, University of Cape Town

South Africa’s Minister of Basic Education announced a 2018 matric pass rate of 78.2% in the first week of January as well as a number of other significant achievements. These are academic results of students in their final year of high school. The results are used to gauge the state of the country’s education system. Based on this performance, the argument is that South Africa’s education system is on the right track and making steady, if slow, progress.

Whether the country accepts this or not, the question that needs to be asked is what these matric results mean for higher education, and more importantly, for the future professions that top matriculants aspire to.

One of the purposes of the National Senior Certificate – South Africa’s main school-leaving certificate – is to identify students who are sufficiently prepared for tertiary study. While tertiary education is not for everyone, the country needs a pool of talented matriculants to provide the high-level skills it needs for its economy and broader society.

So how is South Africa doing? I illustrate the progress by looking at the subject of mathematics. Mathematics develops logical reasoning and problem-solving and hence a “gateway” subject for many of the professions such as engineering, commerce and health sciences.

What do the final exam results say about the size and quality of the pool of matriculants who passed mathematics? What does their performance at tertiary level demonstrate about the pool of graduates ready to enter a workforce affected by changing work environments, particularly the rise of technology?

Small pool

The data suggest that the pool of matriculants who wrote mathematics is small and not strong. Over the past five years, significantly less than 50% of the matric final exam writers wrote mathematics as a subject. Of the 11 top subjects, mathematics is consistently the lowest performing. In 2018, out of a total of 270,516 mathematics writers, 37% passed with 40% and above. The percentage pass has been consistently between 30 and 35%.

From the point of view of selective universities who require 80% and above for programmes in commerce, engineering, science, health sciences and quantitative social sciences, the pool is extremely small. Out of the total mathematics writers, 5828 passed with distinction (80% or above) which is only 2.6% of mathematics writers.

From this very small pool, universities then compete to attract and retain these highly talented students. How well are they doing? Data collected on the past three years performance (2015-2017) of an entry-level mathematics course in one of South Africa’s selective universities shows a sobering reality: those who come in with a National Senior Certificate mathematics mark of 90% and above pass the course (with an average mean of 64%). Those who entered with a score below 90%, fail the course.

This is a course convened and taught by award-winning, highly committed teaching staff, where significant resources have been allocated to provide additional support for students, including an extended degree taught by highly experienced teaching staff.

Failure of higher education

South Africa can draw two conclusions from this data: firstly, although growing and strengthening this pool will require efforts at the primary and secondary level, the onus for growing the pool of qualified graduates lies with higher education. This underscores the argument made in 2013 by the Council on Higher Education which pointed to a systemic failure of universities because they were failing to graduate the strongest pool of students that the schooling system had to offer.

Even if the schooling system is able to enlarge the pool of matriculates passing mathematics, the data suggests that this will not inevitably result in a larger pool of students who succeed in mathematics as a gateway to their chosen field of study. There is a great deal of work to be done at the university level to grow and strengthen the pool from the existing talented school leavers.

Secondly, the problem of the “gap” between schooling completion and university preparedness is not new. Nor are solutions: South Africa has 30 years of interventions aimed at addressing this problem. However, a critical look at the high failure rates in these gateway courses (such as mathematics, physics, statistics, economics) despite a wide range of interventions would suggest that the sector is not doing as well as it should.

Perhaps some of the persistent educational problems, in part due to gross educational inequalities, require a different way of thinking. Perhaps the higher education sector needs to shift its resources from interventions for those deemed “at risk” (thereby leaving the rest unchanged) and to focus on systemic change. This means focusing on structural changes and the core business of teaching and learning itself –- curriculum that is flexible to accommodate diversity, teaching that actively engages students, an assessment that not only tests but promotes learning.

Contrary to the perception that this constitutes a “lowering of standards”, these systemic changes will profoundly raise the quality of teaching for all.

Higher education has no choice but to work with the pool of talent it receives. The challenge is how.

Like this article? Subscribe for free to ZA Confidential to receive our newsletters: Click here