The most dangerous men in SA

The country is awash with people who don't know when to keep their mouths closed.
Read time 5min 40sec

Part of the skill of being a leader is learning when to shut up.

But post the ANC vote in Polokwane for a new raft of leaders, we are awash with people who don't know when to keep their mouths closed, and it's this trait that threatens our economy and our stability. It is this trait that makes Gwede Mantashe, Zwelinzima Vavi and Julius Malema the most dangerous men in South Africa.

And I'm not talking so much here about their attacks on the judiciary, their threatening talk about fighting to the end of some imaginary war, or their rabble-rousing tendencies. I'm talking about their careless words that are thrown out to the masses with little thought of the consequences, and the fact that their statements are made without having the accountability of holding high office in the government of the day.

These men are wannabe leaders. By the end of next year they might well hold high office. But, right now they seem to think they are free to say anything without fear of reprisal. Sure, the Human Rights Commission, concerned citizens and the press may get apoplectic with rage at some of the reckless utterances coming out of their mouths, but their own leader in the form of Jacob Zuma will never publicly censure them, and the legal process, whereby they should and could have been challenged for their hate speech, seems entirely toothless.

This leaves us with a sense of unease - what idiotic comments will they make next? And how much will those comments hurt our economy and our financial markets?

In the past week we've had Gwede Mantashe waxing lyrical about inflation targeting. Why he thinks he's qualified to speak on the topic, I don't know. I have nothing against unionists getting involved with financial matters - finance minister Trevor Manuel was once part of the union movement. But Manuel is a careful and considered man with an innate sense of how to nurture an economy.

Nonetheless, Mantashe jumped in with both feet and said that while he agreed with inflation targeting, the level of the target itself would be up for debate so that poverty, unemployment and growth could be taken into account.

Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni, also a man who understands labour, has taught SA that if a central bank focuses on anything but inflation, conflicts arise and development is stymied. If Mboweni's team had tried to focus on growth and inflation, it would have kept rates on hold or even cut them. By this stage in our economic cycle the double exogenous shocks of food prices and oil prices would have had our inflation rate not sitting at around 11% - it would have probably been heading for 20% and more. And, as Mantashe does not seem to have grasped, there is no better way to destroy the wealth of rich and poor alike than to have inflation run amok. With his strict monetary policy, Mboweni is protecting us all from extreme pain in the future, even if the higher interest rates right now feel pretty painful.

As for Malema, well you've already heard a thousand arguments about why his irresponsible talk of killing detractors is a threat to the stability of this country. Goodness knows what he'll say next or what he'll feel compelled to say if he does become part of our government next year.

What idiotic comments will they make next? And how much will those comments hurt our economy and our financial markets?

Ren'ee Bonorchis, editor at large, Business

Then we've had Vavi not only threatening to kill for his "revolution", but also getting his mates at Cosatu to strike around the country in the past week about high electricity charges and the jobs that might now be at risk.

What an utter waste of time. When strikes shut down mines because of issues that the mines themselves cannot solve, no one wins. Productivity falls and our mines are already struggling with higher input costs and lower levels of productivity. Lower productivity means the mines make less money, which means they can't afford their large workforces, which means retrenchments become more likely. If there was ever a way to shoot yourself in the foot, it was shutting down vital businesses that have the highest employment rates in the country.

I am not against the union movement. I believe in the protection of labour and role that unions can play in a healthy economy. But when the protection of labour is out of kilter, with the need for business to make money, the economy grinds its way to a halt.

South Africa's union movement is old-fashioned in its thinking and this is being borne out by the antics we've had to put up with this year. They fight with their emotions and not with their heads or their bank balances. Our unions have huge pension funds and investment arms. And given that economics is what forced SA to change in the 90s, and economics is what will force Zimbabwe to change sometime in the future, it's those sums of cash that the unions should have been using to force companies to increase jobs and skills development and to put the reins on executive pay while increasing the minimum wage and narrowing the wage gap.

Instead, we've got ourselves three undisciplined and dangerous men who claim to be fighting for the poor and some imaginary revolution, but who are effectively threatening the poor with meaningless strikes, the menace of higher inflation and fewer social grants.

If I were to think like them, I would call for their wholesale removal from the system. But we are a democracy that allows freedom of speech and freedom of thought. So instead, I would wish they learnt to think before they speak; that their words were not an incitement to violence; that they only used their power when they actually hold government office; and that by the time they're in those positions, they will have learnt a whole lot more about what it is to lead a country with their heads rather than their hearts.

* Ren'ee Bonorchis is Business Day's editor at large

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