The Big Stick
….playing with fire
President Cyril Ramaphosa is currently informing business via his Minister of Labour, Thulas Nxesi, that in the eyes of the governing party, there is a general failure in the application of black empowerment and the targets agreed are not being respected by business. The President added that he wants to sign into law, in the shortest possible time, an Employment Equity Amendment Bill which imposes on business the equivalent of a quota of black persons to be reached for each business sector.
This Bill has now been powered through Parliament by using the ANC majority vote, disregarding opposition and business voices that such a Bill is not good for investment.
Then within weeks, the President has again told business, in fact the whole world this time, that it is ANC intention to acquire land and property for no compensation. He has called for a vote in Parliament to support a much re-drafted Eighteenth Constitution Amendment Bill, thus highlighting the fact that ANC have been unable to implement fully their land reform programme by conventional and reasonable means.
For such a change in the Constitution it requires a two thirds majority and the whole thing, writing after a sad Ad-Hoc Committee meeting, still appears to be a self-serving exercise just to hold the inevitable off until after a maybe or maybe not election. Or was it deception from the beginning, the ANC being forced into a situation by the EFF?
But the damage has been done. The intention to carry out such a threat is now hanging around like a bad smell. The fact is that it has now been clearly established that it is governing party policy to acquire somebody’s else’s property for nothing in return, remains with us. People will say that it is only a matter of time before this happens in law and this fact will have to be worn like an albatross around the necks of any Treasury officials or state envoys in search of funding.
But was President Ramaphosa ever in a position to make any of these demands upon the business community, already tired and weary of constant public sector failure, governing party malfeasance and outdated idealogical thinking? Surely the President must know what kind of label he gets by trying the strongman stuff when it obviously won’t work?
Some years ago, I was privileged enough to visit the bridge of USS Theodore Roosevelt when she was anchored off Robben Island and before she sailed on a mission for the Hormuz Straits.
It was a stormy night and she had paused at Cape Town for victualing, with busy boats ferrying back and forth in the blackness with cargo as ordered by US navy authorities. Her mission was to pass a clear message to the Ayatollah. The White House at that time in October 2008 was asking him to cease threatening Red Sea shipping lanes.
When a US Nimitz-class aircraft carrier arrives in a conflict area, things tend to go very quiet. Military advisors around the world know they are now looking down the barrel of the world’s biggest gun. At the time, the US Navy had ten such carriers, each with its own support fleet. Mostly they lie in wait on the US Eastern seaboard awaiting instructions.
Call to arms
USS Theodore Roosevelt’s nickname is “Big Stick” and heavy clout is what it delivers. In fact, it is one big city at sea – a self-contained world with shopping malls, gyms and two newspapers. It is armed to the teeth. To my small ferry boat that night in a heaving sea, she appeared like an enormous galactic starship with millions of lights blazing in the blackness.
A pier hinged out of her side against which we moored and then clambered aboard before being lifted some fifty meters in some sort of cage to an entrance portal further up on her side. Navy marines welcomed us aboard, but It felt like being back on land. No movement. Just a hum, as we were sheltered from the South Easter on the vessels port side, all protected by a displacement of 102,000 t of metal as a shield against the Atlantic weather
Still going up and up we reached flight deck level and then I was told I was being taken to the tiny cabin ten further floors up in the command tower, the massive superstructure that is the feature of an aircraft carrier. Could I take photographs? Of course, you can, I was told. That surprised me.
Higher and higher
I clambered up some fifteen ladders through hatch after hatch to reach the command centre, since there are no lifts and which I suppose is how any navy keeps fit. The only lifts are the four enormous platforms, much bigger than double squash courts, that bring up aircraft from the belly to their allocated places to the flight deck.
Indeed, in the Admirals cabin there is a red telephone, old fashioned style, and there is also a big button with a flap guard. I got gooseflesh. I was looking at the ultimate weapon. Below me were well over 6,000 crew busy at their duties on the seven decks of the vessel body, ready to release a hurricane of 90 fully armed fixed-wing strikers on a moment’ s notice.
The heart of things
Talking later to the Flight Deck Controller in the blue light of the command centre down a few levels, I had to know one thing. He was busy moving tiny aircraft on a sort of see-through glass three-dimensional chess board and I asked him what if missiles landed on his flight deck. What happens then, I queried.
He looked at me oddly. You don’t understand the game, he said. There is no plan B aboard this vessel. Those missiles you imagined coming. They never reached us. They are all gone, including the people who fired them and the city they fired them from. Nothing. All gone.
Lesson for all is, of course, only threaten with a big stick if you have one. And taking photographs is just telling more people that the stick you have is a mighty big one. Perhaps all of this is a lesson which the ANC Executive and President Cyril Ramaphosa could learn when imposing something on people that they don’t want.
To knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses is essential We doubt that that the Employment Equity Bill will bring about the results that the ANC wants, but one just hopes that President Ramaphosa did not just drive the whole exercise of constitutional change through Parliament as gimmickry for the next ANC elective conference.
The show goes on
Insofar as the business of Parliament is concerned and with the ANC in shambles on their home front, the parliamentary permanent staff have risen to the occasion and we are pleased to report that issues of national importance seem to be receiving attention timeously.
Meetings go ahead as planned, whether they be cut down gatherings in the National Assembly or virtual or webinar style meetings, but they happen. Documents relevant are usual ready and the virtual meetings always seem to just get enough faces present to meet quorum requirements.
Parliament has come to live with Covid 19. Now, with such a topsy turvy political scene, you can’t ask for more.