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Judge X: South Africa’s dire situation

The recent civil unrest that rocked parts of Gauteng and the KwaZulu-Natal province has put a spotlight on the myriad issues that face South Africa. Accelerated by Covid-19 and the resultant lockdowns, the already struggling economy has had to contend with numerous issues. The looting and violent protests alone has cost an estimated R50 billion in damage and stolen property. On this issue, there are many viewpoints. While the arrest and subsequent imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma certainly acted as the spark to an almighty fire, many argue that this was bound to happen. The outgoing CEO of the Institute of Race Relations, Frans Cronje, has been saying for years that this was a ticking timebomb. In an interview with BizNews (listen here or watch below), Cronje remarks that what happened [was] “straightforward. More than half of young people do not have a job. They wake up every morning, not sure of what the day is going to hold for them. They don’t have the dignity of labour and earning something. That’s a very powerful social force. Our schools are rubbish, frankly. About four in 100 kids will pass maths in high school – with a grade of 50% or higher.” Of course, there are others, like GG Alcock, who believe that this wasn’t necessarily a matter of the desperately poor seeing an opportunity to obtain essentials for survival. “Is the cause of our unrest poverty and unemployment and inequality? Maybe, but I believe that the biggest issue is a culture of lawlessness. This lawlessness is epitomised by corruption without consequence or trial by the rich.” Both viewpoints highlight a common trait – something is desperately wrong with South African governance. Below, the author (known only as Judge X) runs through numerous policies used in South Africa that is preventing the people of this country from obtaining employment and making sorely-needed money – Jarryd Neves

By Judge X*

These are the policies which are stopping our people from making money:


Only an elite well-connected few have benefitted from BEE while many remain poor and unemployed. This is because BEE pays insufficient regard to efficiency – since it focuses on appearances – so the best people, black or white, are often not given the job. The job may not be well done, the business may collapse – or those who work for the business may earn less or lose their jobs  If the business doesn’t grow, no new jobs are created.  The administration of BEE is a costly waste.


If there is a man, black or white, better suited to a job than a particular woman, she may get the job. But because he was better suited the job may not be as well done and the business may fail, or not do as well, and then there may be less jobs. 


When the government makes BEE and Gender appointments it tends to concentrate on the interests of the prospective appointee, and tends to overlook the people he or she has to serve, control and take care of. The question should always be: how many of our people could be adversely or beneficially affected by this appointment?  For example, the head of a large hospital will affect many of our people but the cleaner, important though his or her work may be, may only affect a small number of our people in a tiny  area of the hospital. A similar mistake is made when it comes to dealing with trade unions – the interests of the members become central and the interests of our country, our economy and our people take second place.​ 


If it is very hard to fire a worker, employers will be slow to employ. 


If there is a family of five, parents and adult children, and they can get a job  for R1000 a month each, they can bring home R5000 monthly, and they can learn a skill. But R1000 is below the minimum wage and so none can be employed.


Anyone with money to invest to buy a property and build on it may decide not to because it may be taken away, and those who could have worked there get nothing. Subject to existing  property rights, people should be empowered by full ownership of the land they live on, enabling them to use their land to borrow money  to fund new business. But to give  city dwellers a piece of farmland serves no purpose. You need a tractor, a plough, diesel, and fertiliser, and you are far from the towns where there are jobs and business opportunities.


Many of our SOEs are failing which means fewer jobs in the future. It’s not surprising. Most governments cannot run businesses. The solution is to entrust SOEs to new owners, who, whilst pursuing profit for themselves, working as hard as they can, including enduring sleepless nights, create real ever-increasing wealth, and with it real ever-increasing jobs. People trying to make profit for themselves work much much harder than they otherwise would. And from the higher profit made the government  collects more tax and can provide better for those who need help.


To make money for our people we need huge investments of foreign money.  We need rich countries to invest in South Africa to provide jobs and money in our people’s pockets. We need to concentrate all our attention on the richest countries of the world where enormous amounts of wealth are constantly searching for exciting new developing countries with enormous potential for growth.  We need to look at the present reality facing our people now.  Life is short.  Each generation must make its own decisions based on the facts as they are now and not on the facts as they were long ago. But instead of doing all of that we glorify nations and groups which helped us decades ago to end the terrible crime against humanity perpetrated by a minority of our people on the majority of our people. 

We have had 26 years of freedom in South Africa – why are our people still so poor?  Why have our schools still got pit latrines?  There are many more questions.   

Our opposition to these policies must be based on the fact that, however well-intentioned, they simply don’t work.

Judges should only speak through their judgments, and not otherwise publicly on anything controversial, and even retired judges like me should be reticent. But this is a time of such poverty that I must speak, but anonymously, mitigating to some extent the effect of the breach of my duty, and leaving it to you to decide, without regard to my identity, the validity of the above.   

  • ​Judge X is a pseudonym used to protect the identity of the writer

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