Trevor Manuel, like Barbara Hogan, must be lauded for their frankness and disregard for political correctness, which they proved during the Dalai Lama fiasco and now on labour and privatisation issues. By speaking out, hey have proven that anyone can, like the Vavis, Mantashes and Nzimandis say what they want about sensitive issues, with total disregard for political correctness. All people should feel free to put their opinions of, and feelings about holy cows across in plain and understandable language.
As for Manuel, he has to be lauded for his stance on the behaviour of unions and business. Labour for their economic sabotage and the unholy fear of confrontation shown by business. His views, not unexpectedly, raised the ire of both business and labour. Labour has not had a very good relationship with Manuel and we have not forgotten Vavi’s threat to take a nutcracker to Manuel’s family jewels, much to Maria’s consternation I’m sure. With Manuel adding “cowardly business” to his list of enemies will soon leave him totally isolated, unloved and even shunned by Maria who, by implication, are one of the cowards.
The sabotage and destruction of our economy by unions with unreasonable demands are not in question. However, the underlying cause of the behaviour of the unions must be equally shared by the ruling party who, for two decades, have given tacit approval and, in some cases even incited unacceptable behaviour by Unions. The attitude of Ministers and government leaders in most instances laid the blame for strikes and misbehaviour squarely at the feet of the employer. Good examples are recent SATAWU strikes and the Johannesburg Metro Police strike a year ago. Union members in these strikes behaved boorishly with violence, destruction and intimidation rife (JMPD actually firing at SAPS members). Guilty parties have, to date, not been disciplined or brought before court.
Business probably deserves the label of “cowards”. Like many in South Africa, they will blame their dilemma with labour on all manner of things, ranging from Apartheid, past injustice, the government and labour. Truth is, because of their fear for being branded exploiters, oppressors and racists, they remain quiet or at least, should they risk commenting, politically correct and take it on the chin. In their minds, they make the decision not to invest another cent. They express their discontent with the situation to their friends, peers locally an abroad. Very few speak out and the government, ruling party and its labour partners can go away and tell the proletariat things are great. Political and labour leaders can point to a lousy growth rate of 5% during the minerals super cycle and say, “We are doing great” without fear of contradiction from cowardly business. When things do go wrong everybody blames somebody else. As for business leaders, as much as Mbeki was famous for “quiet diplomacy”, they are famous for “silent disinvestment”.
As for Manual, the way he approached this issue is out of line. In effect, he distances one of the biggest contributors, the government and ANC, from the problem. They now become spectators and business have no inclination which way they will jump when push comes to shove. For those who has had dealings with Gwede Mantashe and understand his duplicity, you cannot be blamed for wondering if this is typical “Mantashe divide and rule” tactics at play. Having been one of the first to tell the Unions to moderate their attitude it looks increasingly like Mantashe could be “His Masters Voice”, as serious obstacle because he is hard to trust. The biggest fear for business, is making a stand in the best interest of the economy, only to find themselves on the receiving end of attacks by the joint forces of Government, labour and the ANC.
The answer to the dilemma facing South Africa lies in the brutal truth, trust and a shift away from the blame culture. A big ask, but to expect things to change in the light of our current performance is expecting too much. We will see a broken economy long before the much treasured and celebrated “pain” from the “wounds” caused by our “troubled past” has subsided.