Discordant notes over prescribed assets will fuel exodus of rich - Businesslive

29 July 2019 - The very wealthy – whom, however indifferent they may sometimes seem, we can’t afford to lose – are mobile and don’t have to play anyone’s tune. But millions of South Africans will cease to play along, too, if, despite the plain words of the president, the government tampers with their assets instead of curbing spending, firing incompetents and introducing policies that will grow the economy.

Michael Morris

The ideal metaphor for the constitutional state, Palestinian-American intellectual Edward Said once noted with customary insight, is the orchestra and its defining requirement of ‘voluntary submission to the ensemble’.

Without it, in either case, discord is guaranteed.

In music making, departing from the compact might produce at most a fleeting jarring mismatch of tones and timing were strings or woodwind to go their separate ways.

But the absence of voluntary submission in the political and economic arrangements of a free society can have lasting and compounding impacts.

Moralising about what citizens ought to do to keep the nation in unison misses the point.

Choice is the essential element in Said’s conception, and the hard truth is that citizens are free to act independently without having to care particularly about the ensemble if the benefit or virtue of voluntary submission to it is contaminated by coercion, hostility or unwanted subjection.

The evidence in South Africa is not encouraging, and could not have been better expressed than in the words of Cyril Ramaphosa himself in his address to last week’s 25 Years of Democracy Conference.

South Africans ‘must acknowledge,’ he said, ‘that current conditions militate against rapid progress…’.

The economy was ‘in a crisis’; the ‘optimism that characterised the early years of our democracy has been steadily eroded by disaffection and disillusionment’; and the ‘pressures of urbanisation, uneven development, the contest for resources and widespread joblessness and poverty have contributed to an increase in community protests and have weakened social cohesion’.

He went on: ‘Violence and crime continue to undermine the rights of citizens and their sense of personal security. Corruption has steadily eroded the state’s capacity to meet people’s needs, and is worsening a trust deficit between government and the citizenry. Local government, the coalface of service delivery, is debilitated by inefficiency, mismanagement and poor resource allocation and management.’

Thus, he added, South Africa had reached ‘a tipping point, where worsening economic conditions threaten to erode our hard-won gains’.

Ramaphosa’s candour does him credit – and so, too, his invitation to civil society to engage, criticize, and offer alternatives.

This is a new kind of language for the African National Congress, but it is still talk.

What the country, the ensemble, is waiting for is direction from the conductor himself, and more especially an indication of whether he is still insisting that the score in front of him is the one we are going to have to play, like it or not.

A month ago, AfrAsia Bank’s South Africa Wealth Report 2019 showed that the sum of dollar millionaires across South Africa has fallen over the past year from 43 600 to 39 200, and that the country had lost 130 residents with $10 million or more over the same period. No voluntary submission, there. And that’s how it works.

Which is why the most pressing question on the minds of South Africans today is whether or not their pensions and savings are going to be syphoned away at their considerable personal cost to save the State’s bacon.

As my colleague Anthea Jeffery wrote last week: ‘The practical impetus for prescribed assets is now expanding …for the simple reason that the government is rapidly running out of other people’s money.’

The very wealthy – whom, however indifferent they may sometimes seem, we can’t afford to lose – are mobile and don’t have to play anyone’s tune.

But millions of South Africans will cease to play along, too, if, despite the plain words of the president, the government tampers with their assets instead of curbing spending, firing incompetents and introducing policies that will grow the economy.

Morris is head of the media at the Institute of Race Relations

https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/columnists/2019-07-29-michael-morris-discordant-notes-over-prescribed-assets-will-fuel-exodus-of-rich/

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