THE state is continuing to seek ways of ameliorating possible future job losses which may or may not result from Walmart’s investment in Massmart.
It would like the R100m set aside for this purpose increased to R300m. This newspaper has in the past questioned the wisdom of the state taking its own regulatory authority to court because this will make South Africa even less of a global destination for real investment.
But there is a secondary effect which this tinkering will cause — the distortion of the business environment for retail.
Just last month Pick n Pay — a direct competitor of Walmart’s — announced it was cutting 3000 jobs without a murmur of dissent from government.
There was no demand for the creation of a fund to ameliorate the results of this decision. Apparently job shedding by wholesome South African companies is not frowned on by the anti-imperialist lobby.
What this in effect means is that Walmart is paying a penalty for a possible future transgression while actual job-shedding goes unpunished.
No company should make a decision to shed jobs lightly and the state is entitled to ask serious questions when thousands are to lose their jobs.
But legislating against this or imposing fines in anticipation of it happening is not the way forward. All this does is make South Africa’s labour market less competitive, causing us to lose out on the jobs that further foreign investment would bring.
Distorting the market with piecemeal interventions smacks of ignorance and arrogance.
*This is a draft leader for the Sunday Times
PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma’s decision to abstain from public discussion on matters of great public importance is reinforcing the view that South Africa has no decisive leadership.
Over the past several weeks, devastating criticisms have been levelled at several of the government’s most senior leaders.
The public protector, Thuli Madonsela, has released her final report on how key leaders wrongly consented to the signing of two dodgy leases to the tune of R1.78-billion for police buildings in Pretoria and Durban.
Her report makes it plain that, between them, the Minister of Public Works, Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde, and police commissioner General Bheki Cele flouted regulations, ignored tender rules and seriously abused the trust placed in them to use public money wisely.
In Mahlangu-Nkabinde’s case, Madonsela specifically directed the president to take action. In Cele’s case, she called on the Minister of Police, Nathi Mthethwa, to act.
Zuma has not only failed to act, but has offered no explanation of how he intends to deal with this matter, showing contempt for Madonsela and for the public.
There are other signs that Zuma is failing to exercise presidential authority.
Three of his ministers have decided to challenge the ruling of the Competition Commission on Walmart in what can only be described as an act of immature political defiance against a government structure.
That a foreign investor can one week be allowed by a regulator appointed and regulated by the government to invest, only to find that the government challenging its own decision the next, is deeply perplexing.
That the Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, is not part of this action suggests that it does not enjoy the support of Zuma’s entire cabinet.
It is worth asking if the absence of leadership has become so grave that Zuma no longer has authority over all his ministers.
Zuma’s strength is his ability to bring together those who disagree. His weakness is that he is unable to take a position which might alienate one or another member of the coalition that brought him to power in Polokwane.
Thus the ANC’s youth leader, Julius Malema, is able to say or do almost anything without consequences.
Left-leaning ministers who see foreign investors as evil imperialists are allowed to go to court to challenge decisions made by government bodies.
And appalling financial decisions such as those made by Cele and Mahlangu-Nkabinde go unpunished.
Zuma had better wake up to the fact that he is putting his weakness on display. He will not survive as leader unless he shows he has the mettle for the job.
@This is a draft leader for the Sunday Times