South Africa’s leaders are failing to recognise the serious problems facing the country, says former JSE CEO and former South African Airways (SAA) board member Russell Loubser, listing the Marikana killings and the Limpopo textbook debacle as two such crises that could have been avoided.
Mr Loubser, in a public lecture at Wits University on Wednesday, had withering criticism for former African National Congress (ANC) Youth League leader Julius Malema, whom he called an arrogant racist with no work ethic. Mr Malema — who is facing money-laundering charges — is a leading proponent of the nationalisation of South Africa’s mines.
Mr Loubser also lambasted "constant, brainless talk about nationalisation".
Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu this week called on the ANC to put the controversial topic on ice at its December conference, but Mr Malema jumped on the nationalisation bandwagon again in Harare at the weekend. He said whites should "surrender" their land and mineral resources — through bloodshed if necessary.
Mr Loubser singled out Mr Malema when he spoke about a general "dropping of standards" and the rise of a poor work ethic that hinged on redistribution rather than value creation.
"Today’s youth league is not what it was under the likes of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo," he said.
Mr Malema said on Wednesday he was not going to respond to people "trying to be important" and seeking "cheap publicity".
Rolivhuwa Nelwamondo, ANC Youth League Limpopo chairman and an activist in the Economic Freedom Fighters group with Mr Malema, said Mr Loubser was just "a mouthpiece for capitalism".
"He has a direct interest in exploiting our people in South Africa. He is a disgrace to this country," Mr Nelwamondo said.
In the wake of ratings downgrades by Moody’s two weeks ago and by Standard & Poor’s on Friday, Mr Loubser said confidence in South Africa could not be built in a climate of corruption, violent industrial action, the undermining of the judiciary and regulatory and tax uncertainty.
But he believed that the lowering of standards went beyond the youth league and Mr Malema. "Our leaders seem unable to recognise a crisis," he said.
The fact that some schools still did not have textbooks this year was not a problem, but a crisis.
Mr Loubser said the strike at Lonmin’s Marikana mine in August, where more than 40 people were killed by strikers and the police, did not seem to have been recognised by South Africa’s leaders as a crisis. He said the massacre "should come as no surprise to anyone and won’t be the last".
"Many of these issues could have been avoided if we had leadership in South Africa. But we have lacked leadership for decades."
Apartheid leaders did not see the crisis that would erupt when they ruined education, he said.
With the strike action affecting sentiment badly, Mr Loubser said that while everyone had the right to strike, marchers should not "destroy everything in their paths" or carry weapons.
Mr Loubser, who led a wave of resignations from the SAA board last month, said the R5bn guarantee provided by the government to the ailing national carrier would not help as it was "not cash".
"SAA was never capitalised properly during the three years I served on its board," he said.
He questioned why the government — with taxpayers’ money — had three airline stakes, in SAA, SA Express and Mango, yet did not appear to support them financially or morally. "Warren Buffett would never put his money there (in an airline like SAA). It’s the last place he would probably put his money," Mr Loubser said.
He said there was nothing wrong with SAA and all it needed was support due to its tight 2% margin on R23bn turnover amid the ever-present threat of oil price rises — which made up a third of input costs.
Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s cited concerns over institutional capacity and the five weeks of strikes affecting the economic policy framework. The downgrades will raise the cost of financing for public enterprises such as SAA and Eskom.
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