Go for impact

My favorite tweet this week was by Shakespeare, or an impostor, commenting on a new BBC series about the Trojan War. The bard was not a fan. “Cassandra gave me her review of #TroyFallOfACity a week ago. I should have listened.”

My second favourite social media post was from Brian Levy, a friend on Facebook and also in real life. He was worried by an editorial in Monday’s Business Day subheaded, online at least, “What Ramaphosa can get cracking on with urgency is reconfiguring and co-ordinating the government.” It bought out the Cassandra in him, and remember, Cassandra spoke the truth.

Levy, a veteran World Banker who now divides his time between the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington and the Graduate School of Development Policy and Practice at the University of Cape Town, is author, most recently, of “Working with the Grain: Integrating Governance and Growth in Development Strategies”. He knows how governments function in settings such as SA, of which he remains a proud and engaged son.

“I am hugely wary of the swamp of “reconfiguring and co-ordinating government”,” he writes. “I led the World Bank’s Africa public sector team for five years. I know first hand that gains on this path come slowly at best — and all too often lead nowhere…It’s a recipe for inaction.”

Instead, Levy argues, the focus should be on a limited number of “high impact” initiatives, say four to six, that can yield tangible near-term results, “build positive momentum” and “deepen optimism”. Sorting out the mining charter would be be a good example and Levy is pleased that President Ramaphosa has it high on his agenda.

Don’t misunderstand, Levy is all for thinning out the bloated herd of ministers and deputies Zuma left in his baleful wake. Cull, he says, but don’t “get overly preoccupied with the micro-details of reorganising.” Playing with the deckchairs is super tempting for politicians who want to be seen doing something. But the temptation must be resisted by those, and Ramaphosa is clearly one of them, who want to get real stuff done. Government is messy at the best of times. Live with it, for now at least.

Says Levy:””Reconfiguring and co-ordinating” is a marvelous agenda for large teams of highly-paid consultants. It offers them an endless work stream — and when the process turns out to be slow and doesn’t show results, they then call for patience (and more contracts), arguing that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”

I can relate to that after my years with Brand SA, an organisation in a constant state of reinvention after its first CEO, Yvonne Johnson, was given the heave-ho by Essop Pahad for knowing what she was doing. Enter then the armies of consultants and facilitators with felt pens and white boards, the constant decamping to the Midrand conference centre archipelago, the orgies of organograms, matrices and flowcharts, and finally the complete triumph of process over action, process being what organisations use to convince themselves and those to whom they answer that they are making an actual contribution.

Talking of which, what is (italics is) Brand SA doing these days? They have blocked me on Twitter, I think for correcting their spelling, and I haven’t heard or seen mention of them in ages, unless you count the odd sighting of the logo. Is one of the Gupta brothers still on their board? If they are still around and Ramaphosa is in reconfiguring and co-ordinating mode, why not hand them back to the Government Communications and Information Service? Then turn over the reputation management and investment promotion side of things to credible third party endorsers and explainers in the private sector. They’d have more impact. Might be a lot more cost effective too.

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Trump and Zuma

South Africa at long last seems about to put Jacob Zuma out of its national misery. Would that America was about do the same with its own extraordinarily Zuma-oid president, Donald Trump.

From sexual predation — with ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa, I believe Khwezi, and on the subject of crotch-grabbing, I take Trump’s own word for it — to a predatory contempt for the rule of law and the constitutions of their respective nations, they have so much in common. But not, sadly, the date of their departures from office.

Assuming this week’s market swoon is not a harbinger of things to come for the hot US real economy, I’ll wager Trump is going to be tweeting from the White House at least through January 2021. His Republicans, as servile toward him as the ANC has been towards Zuma, will likely keep Congress in November, thanks to full employment, rising wages and the ineptitude of the Democratic opposition. So long as the Republicans have the House of Representatives, impeachment is out.

Both men owe debts to dodgy strangers, one of whom they share. Vladimir Putin. Had the Russian nuclear deal gone as planned, Zuma and his cronies would likely be in clover for the rest of their days. We cannot say for sure that Putin’s meddling was decisive in throwing the the 2016 election to Trump, but the ex-KGB man certainly had his cyber thieves and agitprop artists giving it their best shot.

On the social media front, Zuma’s help came from another set of foreign friends, the Guptas, and the lizards they retained at Bell Pottinger to fuel a racially-charged meme:  the thieving Zuptacrats were really the good guys, battling white monopoly capital on behalf of the dispossessed.

Stoking racial hate is a Trump speciality, too. He uses bigotry to rev up his base, constantly giving his fans permission, even encouragement, to join him in fear and loathing for people of colour. From his crusade to prove that Barack Obama was not born in the US, to his equivocation about neo-Nazis and Klansmen, to his scatological references to African countries, the record in beyond contest.

If Zuma was gatvol with “clever blacks”, Trump is constantly reassuring his supporters that he has no time for clever whites (other than the cleverest and stablest of them all, himself). He is champion of the stupid kind.

For the two leaders, the line between what belongs to them and what belongs to the public is fuzzy indeed. Zuma had no qualms about using public funds for his private home at Nkandla. Trump bills the US taxpayer for outings to his own golf courses and his stays at Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach palace and private club, membership fees for which he jacked up as soon as he was elected. He has stated for the record that conflict of interest laws to prevent officials using office for personal gain do not apply to him as president.

Zuma would like Trump’s infrastructure plan now taking shape: public subsidies for private investors to cherry pick projects from which they can extract monopoly rents in the form of bloated user fees. Billionaire economic empowerment, in other words.

But it is in their machinations to save their respective hides from the law that Zuma and Trump are full peers in chutzpah and lack of respect for the oaths they took when they were sworn in. Zuma’s efforts to create a state that would let him get away with anything have failed. Trump is still trying, using Fox News, his very own ANN7, and his army of Jimmy Manyis like Tony Leon’s former speechwriter Joel Pollak, to convince his people there’s a secret cabal in the Justice Department that’s out to get him.