Last Thursday (October 14), through Minister in The Presidency Mondli Gungubele, Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure Patricia De Lille and Minister of Employment and Labour Thulas Nxesi, the Presidency announced the second phase of the Presidential Employment Stimulus (PES).
Believers in the ‘New Dawn’ and ‘Thuma Mina’ catchphrases will tell us there is a good story in “550 000 jobs and livelihoods that have [been] supported as part of Phase 1”.
However, delve a little deeper and the facts emerge, such as that most of the job opportunities are in the public sector.
For example, a Report on Phase 1 of the Presidential Employment Stimulus posted on the State Of The Nation website, shows the Department of Basic Education accounted for 319 482 jobs while the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment created 39 631 jobs. Furthermore, the 117 770 livelihoods supported and 40 399 retained jobs were also in the public sector.
Seen this way, the PES is in a real sense a public sector employment project that is packaged as a new stimulus to job creation.
We should be worried that with local government elections a month away, our government leaders have been building up a grand narrative about progress, recovery and building a new economy.
Fixing the decay trap?
The economic and political realities that facilitated Cyril Ramaphosa presidency were alluring, replacing the alleged corrupt, incompetent and self-enriching leaders with the supposed opposite.
The past three years have made the preceding observation abundantly clear, and those economic and political pressures ensnared the incumbent and his administration in fixing the decay trap.
The ANC of Ramaphosa is the ANC of Zuma. Unfortunately, its favoured tool – resource mobilisation through an investment drive that raised R109 billion, shaped partially by Ramaphoria, is losing its efficacy because a leopard never changes its spots.
Although slightly different, there are clear continuities such as (i) the inability or reluctance to get the country and its economy out of crisis, and (ii) the economic decline. In the context of the current administration, before Covid-19, a decline in the economy had already begun.
Much has been expected from this administration; South Africans had hope that by enduring the crisis their situation might change for the better.
Instead, we have seen a country not on autopilot but one where the steering mechanism has wholly failed as the fires of unrest, violent protest and looting in July illustrated.
Same old, same old – but with new names
What cannot be stressed enough is that over time (here, I mean since the pandemic outbreak), the most disturbing aspect of the Ramaphosa-led government is it continuously disguising old ‘solutions’ as new ideas.
For example, on employment, the 2018 Job Summit and its framework agreement meant to create 275 000 a year by retaining current jobs, developing new ones and availing job opportunities.
Fast-forward to 2021, the government, as shown at the onset of this article, is doing the same thing, only calling it PES.
The Economic Recovery Plan (ERP) also harps on job creation and work opportunities.
As such, one of the greatest weaknesses of the current group of government leaders is in failing to look back and assess what has been done or achieved.
Additionally, the pronouncement with macro and micro implications is not accompanied by real action on the ground. The lockdown restrictions bear evidence to this.
How about a different approach?
A leader might take stock of, say, one project intended to aid the youth regarding assessing progress.
Such a leader with the nose on the ground might update the nation on the work carried out by the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA), what has been achieved and its role in helping the youth.
How have its programmes contributed to reducing graduate and youth unemployment?
First, by updating the public, that leader explains why a specific project failed or succeeded, and in so doing, explains why it is vital to support the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention and how NYDA activities fit into the intervention.
Second, since this administration’s constant preoccupation is with promises of job creation, why not explain how revitalising the National Youth Service can tackle youth unemployment – instead of being short on how, in what way, and when it will occur.
According to Gungubele, unemployment is the “single greatest challenge” South Africa is grappling with, therefore I don’t see why a confluence between projects and programmes aimed at tackling unemployment is a problem.
History repeating itself
As such, pardon my lack of excitement on the announcement of Phase 2 of the Presidential Employment Stimulus, which is clearly out of touch with the lived reality of South Africans.
For example, the R11 billion availed by National Treasury for PES2 will – if past experience is anything to go by – probably remain inaccessible to the intended recipients.
Ultimately, the pandemic has revealed or made more apparent that the government has no plan of getting South Africa out of the crisis.
Instead, our leaders’ response to Covid-19 shows the terrible and senseless economic pain they cause.
Disconcertingly, ERP and PES require a capable state. Ours is stripped bare of such capacity.