SA unrest: now’s the time to take the shackles off private initiative

By Jacques Moolman

Whether the orgy of looting and destruction of the last week in Kwa-Zulu Natal and Gauteng was planned that way or simply took on a life of its own due to massive youth unemployment and simple mob behaviour and common criminality, doesn’t matter.

The damage has been done. Now we must rebuild.

Let the socialist academics, point-making politicians and other moralists add their pennyworths to the background noises of social media. Nothing they can say will remove the thunderous shout of common sense: Only the private sector can get us out of the morass of incompetence and inefficiency that we have driven into during the last two decades.

We had a marvellous start in 1994, with a genuinely democratic Constitution, plus all the checks and balances the world experts applauded – our Bill of Rights, our independent judiciary, our legal system, our functioning modern economic sector, and so much more.

We were hailed as a Rainbow Nation—a lesson to the world of how multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-lingual societies could succeed – the hope of an African continent that had seen so much fail.

Less than 20 years later what do we have? An almost bankrupt state. A hopelessly corrupt and inept political elite bent on a socialist experiment along lines that have failed everywhere in the world it has been attempted.

We have an epic failure of local government and a country ranked among the lowest in the world on any number of surveys ranging from the performance of our ports, our railways, our airways, our economic growth rate, our levels of over-regulation of business, our sad excuse for public safety, clearly evident in our crime and murder rate, our unemployment – a list too long and too sad to continue here.

And now in KZN and Gauteng the inevitable result – an outbreak of anarchy on a scale not seen since the dawn of our hard-won democracy; an orgy of looting, some targeted at doing the maximum damage to the economy and key infrastructure, possibly carefully planned and stoked for political reasons, but descending into mindless criminality and edging towards racial and even tribal animosity.

But in this dark picture that horrifies all clear-thinking South Africans, there are glimmers of light. Among the brightest of these is the way communities in the affected provinces have banded together, often across racial lines, to protect each other’s premises and neighbourhoods to stop the looting from spreading further. In places among the hardest hit, there have even been spontaneous collection and return of looted items.

Perhaps best of all there is a greater understanding of the interrelationships that bind together the provision of essential food, goods and services, and appreciation that the blocking of roads and attacking and burning supply vehicles creates hunger, it does not solve it.

What we are seeing is true community spirit, not the manufactured solidarity of the political mob or the common objective of looters. This, plus the entrepreneurial spirit for which South Africans of all colours, shapes and sizes are known the world over, is what we need to harness for the task of recovery that we face.

There is no mystery as to how it can be done. The solution does not rest in the ivory towers of university sociology departments where utopian theories rule over common sense. It rests in unleashing the human mind, giving it the liberty to make and sell things, to trade and construct, to make a future for its owner and its offspring, secure in the knowledge that an honest day’s work will not be taxed to feed a gargantuan unproductive bureaucracy or be stolen by criminals.

Growing wealth does not need endless additional government rules to exist. It needs less. We can and must make the pie bigger. And we shall, whether it takes a State of Emergency to calm the waters or not, the solution to a better future is an unshackled private sector.

We need now more than ever the protection and strengthening of private property rights; a repeated demonstration of and emphasis that no one is above the law, especially corrupt politicians and civil servants.

We need to be seen to be stripping away regulatory burdens on small to medium businesses like the licensing overload. We must end labour laws that protect the few at the expense of the many willing to work even for less than the national minimum wage.

We must end threats of expropriation of private property without compensation, strip out taxes on business that only end in higher prices, and finally we must have a complete re-set of government thinking on a par with that which wrenched China out of poverty enforced by ideology into the first league of world economies.

We have the people. We know how to do it. We need to give full rein to the entrepreneurial spirit South Africans have in abundance. It will be the quickest way to haul ourselves out of the historical and economic dead-end we have been corralled into.

Now we need to review the role of socialist utopian theories as well. If we do that we can win the new battle that drew its lines in recent weeks – the fight between a free economy to create and spread the wealth on one side and the other – the forces of outdated social manipulation, and traditions that however noble they were centuries ago, now stand in the way of a growing population that must be fed and educated to compete in a highly competitive modern world of which our ancestors could never have predicted.

Jacques Moolman is President of the Cape Chamber of Commerce & Industry

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South African riots and food security: why there’s an urgent need to restore stability

Fuel storage tanks at South Africa’s Durban harbour. Blocking the transport of fuel will stop the transport of food. Photo by Hoberman Collection/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Wandile Sihlobo, University of the Witwatersrand

When South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, addressed the nation on July 12 amid violence and destruction of property in parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces, he warned of several risks if the situation was not resolved swiftly. One of them was food security.

A lot has been written about the acts of criminality and the disregard for the rule of law that’s swept parts of the country. Attention has also been given to the underlying factors that make the South African society so fragile. These include rising unemployment, inequality, corruption and poor service delivery.

In light of the ongoing state of turbulence it’s important to take a closer look at food security issues.

South Africa is generally a secure food country at a national level. On top of this it is a net exporter of agricultural and processed food products. Last year agricultural exports reached the second-highest level on record of US$10.2 billion following a favourable production season.

But food security is about more than just having sufficient supplies. It also requires food accessibility, affordability, nutrition and stability over time.

This is where the challenge lies.

Continued disruption will affect supplies given the specifics of South Africa’s food supply chains. KwaZulu-Natal, the epicentre of rioting and looting, is a major producer of various agricultural products such as sugar, milk and poultry products. The province also serves as an entry for imported food products, including wheat, rice, poultry products, and palm oils. Gauteng, the other province also most affected, is one of the major food processing hubs.

However, South Africa’s food supply chains are not concentrated in one particular province. The biggest risk in the short term is the free movement of goods, including food and agricultural produce on the roads, specifically to and from the Durban port, the entry and exit point for agricultural imports and exports.

The other risk relates to increased income poverty because of the destruction of businesses.

Food production and consumption

In the same year as record production figures, the country experienced an increase in hunger, as identified in the National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM).. But this wasn’t necessarily an issue of food shortage or a rapid increase in food prices. It was mostly because people were out of work and had reduced means to buy food.

In 2021, South Africa again enjoyed another season of an abundant harvest following favourable summer rainfalls. This means that there are unlikely to be food shortages this year, but rather ample supplies for local consumption and export markets. This will be true for major grains, fruits, meat and various products.

Still, this doesn’t mean everyone in the country is food secure. Or that prices won’t rise rapidly.

There are long-standing challenges with income poverty in South Africa and the extent to which the poorest people are able to afford nutritious food. Still, food prices have only risen negligibly. South Africa’s consumer food price inflation was at 6.8% year on year in May 2021, from 6.7% year on year in April, according to data from Statistics South Africa. This is not an alarmist rate as we have seen double-digit inflation rates in years of drought such as 2016, where consumer food price inflation averaged 10.8% year on year.

The expectation is that consumer food price inflation could in fact soften in the second half of 2021.

Therefore, Ramaphosa’s emphasis on the risks to food security in his address on July 12 was primarily focused on KwaZulu-Natal.

The main challenge is a disruption due to the looting spree, forcing companies to avoid volatile areas so as not to expose their property and employees to danger. It is far from clear how long the unrest in KwaZulu-Natal will last.

Menacingly, no one can tell with certainty if waves of protest will not spill over to other provinces in ways that disrupt business and supply chains and affect livelihoods. If the wave of violent protests continues unabated, it could pose a risk to food security, with the poorest people most affected as their employment and livelihoods will suffer. Small businesses in particular might be forced to close given the scale of the continuing violence.

But South Africans in other parts of the country that have not seen outbreaks of looting and violence should not panic about possible food shortages.

Production patterns

KwaZulu-Natal has been the most affected by the violence. But the province isn’t the epicentre of agriculture in the country. It isn’t an anchor to the South African food system. Provinces in central South Africa – the Free State, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, North West and Limpopo – hold far more key positions. This is because of their abundant agricultural production and food processing capacity.

Maize meal and wheat flour – both staple to most South African diets – are primarily produced in the Free State, Mpumalanga, North West and the Western Cape. These provinces account for over 60% of production of each of these grains, and process over 50% of them.

KwaZulu-Natal processes roughly 8% of the 11.5 million tonnes of maize consumed in South Africa each year. In wheat, KwaZulu-Natal processes roughly 21% of the annual consumption. The numbers vary per product, but the point here is that food supply chains are not concentrated in one particular province.

There is no risk of food shortage currently from other anchor provinces. But the risk comes when there is no fuel for transport within the country, given the force majeure that the refinery in Durban has declared. It is South Africa’s largest refinery, accounting for 35% of the country’s refining capacity.

I highlight this because a large share of South Africa’s food is transported by road.

In the case of trade, the current disruptions weigh even more heavily on businesses and farmers in agriculture. On average, 75% of the country’s grains are transported by road annually. These are largely exported through the Durban harbour. The same is true for imported food products such as rice, wheat and palm oil, among other products. The volumes are also large for horticulture, specifically citrus, a leading exportable agricultural product in South Africa.

The burning of trucks on the roads and the blocked routes to the ports will prove costly to businesses and harm South Africa’s reputation as a global supplier in various value chains. This will also negatively affect the province’s food supply chains.

This needs urgent intervention, especially as agricultural products are perishable and the country is entering an export period for citrus in a year of a record harvest.

As South African authorities grapple with achieving stability, there needs to be a deeper introspection about ensuring that the country creates an environment conducive for businesses to thrive. And that it addresses the social ills that underlie instability and disregard for the rule of law.

In the near term, South Africans should not panic about the food system. But authorities will need to act swiftly and assertively to restore stability.

Wandile Sihlobo, Visiting Research Fellow, Wits School of Governance, University of the Witwatersrand

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

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SA looting: It’s politics, stupid

Dawie Roodt

By Dawie Roodt

The phrase “(t)he economy, stupid” was allegedly coined by James Carville, a strategist in Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. And whilst the economy is the proximate cause of the current wave of destruction and looting in the country and its first line casualty, the real cause is politics – the politics of the ruling party.

Nothing justifies the looting, destruction, and plunder that we have seen in the past few days. Behaviour like this is exacerbated by deteriorating economic conditions, and we have had these conditions for many years: an economy that is in freefall, not because of the pandemic, nor the financial crisis, nor any other reason, but because of a destructive political force that goes by the name of the ANC-coalition government.

Politics is the reason for our woes, and it is our politics that we must remedy if we are ever able to transform these woes into wealth.

For many decades, the ANC-coalition government has used its position as the dominant political party in South Africa (SA) to establish its own patronage network, and to facilitate the wholesale industrial-scale looting of the state. Today:
– the state’s finances are unsustainable,
– most local authorities (especially ANC-ruled ones) have collapsed, and
– the SOEs have been operationally and financially run into the ground.

All of this happened because the ANC allowed it to happen.

Little consequence or sanctions were suffered by those who participated in the looting. It was not just Zuma. It was the ANC.

Additionally, those institutions that were created to protect us from a destructive government – the judiciary, the public protector, the prosecution authorities – have been undermined. And the list of the ANC’s destruction goes on.

It’s only luck that a few of these institutions have survived to do their jobs. It was the relentless pressure from a free press and the judiciary that eventually forced Zuma to appoint the Zondo commission. It was the same press that piled so much pressure on Ramaphosa that he had very little alternative but to send Mkize on “leave”. It was the Zondo commission that started the process to ensure Zuma went to jail, which was originally initiated by the public protector (when we still had a competent one) and her reports. It was a trade union that forced Gordhan to put SAA under business rescue. And the list goes on.

Point is, the few good things that happened in SA happened not because of the good quality of our political leaders, but it happened because a few remaining institutions did their jobs.

Inevitably the ANC’s mismanagement led us to where we are today. We are quickly running out of taxpayers, out of capital, out of savings, out of jobs, and out of an economy. On a per-capita basis, we have lost a decade of wealth creation, and our wealth continues to decline. Unemployment is the highest it has ever been, and the rate keeps on increasing. The consequence of this is that people are going to bed hungry.

Since last year, the economy has been hit by another catastrophe: the lockdown. The impact of the lockdown was exacerbated by an incompetent government and the flagrant violation of the human rights to trade and to earn a living. The result: even more misery.

Inevitably things will get worse before there is any chance of them getting better. Mboweni (the best finance minister the ANC has to offer and an enthusiastic cook) had no choice but to present a fiscal framework that will cut state spending. Either that or there would be a total collapse of the fiscal accounts.

Unavoidably, this means spending less on people, particularly the 21 million who receive an income from the state every month (grant recipients and civil “servants”).

When Mboweni presented his framework, I warned that it would have the unavoidable effect of cutting in real terms the income of 21 million people over several years, and I warned that they would get angry, and I warned we could expect heightened unrest. And I was right.

Fixing the fiscal accounts must lead to more pain and conflict, and it will inevitably continue to do so. Many other “fixes” need to happen:
– fixing Eskom and the other SOEs,
– fixing the local governments,
– fixing education,
– fixing health, and
– fixing everything the ANC has touched in the past.

Why could the police not see what is so obvious to see? Why weren’t they ready for this?

The scene was thus set for the conflagration of the past few days, Zuma was only the spark that lit the fire.

People are hungry, unemployed, and without hope. Obviously, this is also an opportunity to score some political points by a few. Unfortunately, what we see today is the economic consequences of a destructive government. People see, people do. What people see is a political elite that plunders with impunity. They are the leading looters and the destitute opportunists on the streets are the followers.

Our only hope now is politics. And I believe the only person that can do what is needed to be done is President Ramaphosa. So far, he has been a president of consensus, we now need a president with conviction.

First thing is to lead by example. He must reshuffle those around him and only keep those that are squeaky clean. No more “innocent until proven guilty”. No more special leave. Only by proving that he himself will not tolerate any form of lawlessness, or even a hint of lawlessness, will he be able to regain the moral high ground that the country needs to rebuild the economy.

I am not holding my breath.

In the meantime, the effect of the turmoil will affect the livelihoods of all of us, and most tragically the poor. Massive destruction in infrastructure and property, as well as the loss of lives, will continue to undermine the economy. It will add to unemployment, hunger, and poverty. But by far the most damage to the economy will be our tainted image as a country. This damage is incalculable.

For now, the rand is set for further weakness, and capital will continue to flee. We maintain that a prudent approach to investing is to have a significant portion of a portfolio abroad. Certain local stocks like mining may offer excellent value and speculative portfolio flows may find our very high yields attractive for a short while. However, if this anarchy remains, SA will mostly be a no-go zone.

My view is that the current wave of unrest will mostly calm down over the next couple of days and a degree of normality may return.

But we will all know that the volcano of poverty and dissatisfaction is bubbling just underneath the surface, and next time it will be worse.

Either Ramaphosa uses his political capital now, at the risk of alienating many others within the patronage, or this country could politically disintegrate.

Dawie Roodt is Chief Economist of the Efficient Group

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Fish hooked on meth – the consequences of freshwater pollution


Matt Parker, University of Portsmouth and Alex Ford, University of Portsmouth

Around 269 million people worldwide use drugs each year. Often forgotten in this story is a problem of basic biology. What goes in must come out. Sewers are inundated with drugs that are excreted from the body, along with the broken down chemical components that have similar effects to the drugs themselves.

Sewage treatment plants don’t filter these things out – they were never designed for it. A lot of sewage also finds its way into rivers and coastal waters untreated. Once in the environment, drugs and their byproducts can affect wildlife. In a recent study, researchers in the Czech Republic investigated how methamphetamine – a stimulant with a growing number of users worldwide – might be affecting wild brown trout.

They examined whether concentrations of methamphetamine and one of its byproducts, amphetamine, which were estimated from other studies that have measured illicit drug concentrations in waterways, could be detected in the brains of brown trout. They also looked at whether these concentrations were enough to cause the animals to become addicted.

White methamphetamine crystals on a black background with a glass meth pipe.
Recreational methamphetamine users often smoke crystal meth. AMF Photography/Shutterstock

The trout were exposed to the drug in large tanks over eight weeks and then put into withdrawal, going “cold turkey” in drug-free tanks for ten days. During that time, the researchers tested the fish’s preference for fresh water or water containing methamphetamine and compared this with the responses of fish that had never been exposed to the drug.

Their findings were intriguing. The methamphetamine-exposed fish preferred the water containing the drug, while no such preference was shown for the untreated fish. The researchers also found that during their withdrawal period, the methamphetamine-exposed trout moved less. The researchers interpreted this as a sign of anxiety or stress – typical signs of drug withdrawal in humans.

The brain chemistry of the exposed fish differed from the unexposed, too, with several detected changes in brain chemicals that correspond to what is seen in cases of human addiction. Even after the behavioural effects had waned after ten days of withdrawal, these markers in the brain were still present. This suggests that methamphetamine exposure could have long-lasting effects, similar to what is seen in people.

How drugs affect ecosystems and fish biology

Why should we care if trout are becoming addicted to drugs? There are several reasons.

If the trout are “enjoying” the drugs, as they appear to be in the recent study, they may be inclined to hang around pipes where effluent is discharged. We know that fish can behave similarly to what is seen in humans suffering from addiction, not only from this trial, but from several studies on different fish species. One of the hallmarks of drug addiction is a loss of interest in other activities – even those that are usually highly motivated, such as eating or reproducing. It’s possible that the fish might start to change their natural behaviour, causing problems with their feeding, breeding and, ultimately, their survival. They may, for instance, be less likely to evade predators.

Exposure to drugs not only affects the fish themselves, but their offspring. In fish, addiction can be inherited over several generations. This could have long-lasting implications for ecosystems, even if the problem was fixed now.

This is not the first study to find illicit drugs in wildlife. In 2019, scientists in the UK reported cocaine in freshwater shrimp in all 15 rivers they sampled. Interestingly, they detected illicit drugs more often than some common pharmaceuticals.

But the wider effects of those drugs remain largely unknown. There have, however, been comprehensive studies into the effects of pharmaceuticals in rivers.

Read more: Five ways fish are more like humans than you realise

Pharmaceutical pollution

Medicines do not fully break down in our bodies either and arrive at wastewater treatment plants in faeces and urine. Most are discharged with wastewater effluent, but some enter rivers by seeping from landfills or farm fields where human sewage is used as fertiliser. Wildlife living in rivers and coastal waters where effluent is discharged are exposed to cocktails of medicines, from painkillers to antidepressants.

Caged fish downstream of some water treatment plants changed sex from male to female within a few weeks due to exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals found in contraceptive pills. Recent studies have shown that antidepressants can cause a wide range of behavioural changes in aquatic organisms from aggression, attraction to light and increasing boldness.

Drug addiction is a global health concern that can devastate communities, and tackling its environmental consequences will be expensive. One study has estimated it would cost over US$50 billion (£36 billion) to upgrade wastewater treatment plants in England and Wales so that they can remove these chemicals.

Water flowing out of a concrete grate into a river.
Drugs can’t be filtered from sewage without significant upgrades to existing infrastructure. Marekuliasz/Shutterstock

It might seem obvious that prescribed and illegal drugs designed to change behaviour in humans also change the behaviour of wildlife. But this problem is potentially far more widespread and complex. We don’t even know if synthetic chemicals in everyday household products, such as cosmetics, clothes and cleaning agents, can affect the behaviour of people and other species. An international group of scientists has urged companies and regulating bodies to check their toxic effect on behaviour as part of risk assessments of new chemicals.

We must get to grips with the amount of pharmaceuticals in our waterways. The world is some way from fixing the problems of addiction and illicit drug use. But, at the very least, more should be done to improve filtration in sewage treatment plants, and to force water companies to take more responsibility for ensuring effluent doesn’t affect wildlife.

Matt Parker, Senior Lecturer in Neuroscience and Psychopharmacology, University of Portsmouth and Alex Ford, Professor of Biology, University of Portsmouth

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

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