Investors, CEOs and analysts can sometimes be lazy. In the deluge of information and options a small spark, some pizazz (maybe some jazz hands) from those one is having to deal with can go a long way to substitute hard graft or sussing out the winners and losers.
A lustful infatuation to make things different, to build, to change and to improve.
One needs to combine this with a healthy “bullshit-o-meter” to detect false prophets of change. Pizazz from the political class, especially in the run-up to elections — and from all parties — can fall foul of the most basic hygiene checks on the realism of claims. Energy policy at the moment on various fronts often sets off alarm bells of what is or is not going on.
What we are really talking about is genuine passion. In the policy space one can politely call it geekery — the love of getting stuck into complex and knotty policy problems, particularly with challenging political overlays, to make the country better.
This crops up elsewhere, and perhaps more obviously in the space of charities and wine (two of my great passions). In the past two weeks the informal SA wine expo was held in London, on which a huge number of SA winemakers descended to ply their wares.
Large tastings with numbers of people jostling about are a common occurrence in London, and I always find that the SA winemakers stand out with a gritty spark of passion versus some of their stuffier old-world counterparts.
This was on display at a range of events hosted by the Cape Winemakers Guild (CWG) to show off the top SA winemakers’ contributions to the annual auction, which is due in just under two weeks’ time.
Moreover, the level of passion crescendos when discussing the CWG’s excellent Protégé programme, which in 2023 is taking seven passionate, diverse young woman graduate winemakers through their paces and into the industry.
Passion like this is addictive and explains why the auction has managed to command increasingly lofty prices while keeping a reputation for quality (and so a rare secondary market in SA wine terms), as well as giving back.
While sitting at a dinner discussing a particularly good chardonnay with two esteemed winemakers, I wondered why it is so hard to find anyone similar in the department of home affairs with whom to discuss skilled visa reform.
The point struck home recently when the London director of a charity of which I am a trustee, Breadline Africa, met with donors, and again there was a level of passion from someone who is so dedicated to solving a particular problem — in this case early childhood development infrastructure.
Why is such pizazz in the policymaking space so important? For exactly the same reason as it is in winemaking or the charity space — because the workload required is long and hard, contested and uncertain.
A realistic assessment of the electricity reforms means it is likely to be halfway through the next administration before load-shedding is substantively solved (although it can be reduced earlier). Logistics will take longer still. It might well be into the election after 2024 before deep and meaningful reforms being undertaken now actually start to bear fruit in the macro outcomes of productivity and growth.
Crime and security reforms require far deeper institutional changes that might not come to fruition until the start of the next administration.
A very small group of people has this oomph in government now, and a lot of them sit in one place in Operation Vulindlela (or are alumni of it), which straddles the presidency and the Treasury, or in advisory roles in the presidency. This has led to accusations of a superpresidency, but the reverse argument, perhaps not often aired, is that people who have such drive naturally flock together.
The markets were quite late to pick up on the levels of passion in Operation Vulindlela — it was really only the quarterly update at the start of June that caused ears to prick up. So jaded is the market that it has become blind to some of the positives emerging from such a passionate ground.
Similarly, the Reserve Bank has been too negative on growth and is underestimating the impact of reforms — even if we are talking about a few pips here and there in growth in 2023.
Passion is a hard trait to find in the departments of mineral resources & energy or trade, industry & competition. Indeed, one wonders for all the talk of gas where the oomph is behind a pro-gas policy, and, similarly, in exports, when so much focus is on import substitution and autarky.
Yet, perhaps something that splits the notional (hackneyed terms that they are) “right and left” of the debate on many economic issues is the willingness of those who cannot see the magic money trees to at least see the passion of many in advocating their ideas. You have to give it to some proponents of a basic income grant and National Health Insurance for their tenacity, even if we fundamentally disagree. This generosity of spirit seems rarer the other way around.
The mayors of Cape Town and uMngeni have garnered more (grudging) cross-party nods of approval perhaps precisely because they have a degree of passion to get things done one struggles to find in other mayors (when was there last a mayor of eThekwini, for instance, who was that excited about anything?)
This is ultimately mainly what we are looking for through to the elections in 2024, regardless of the party. There is far too much po-facedness in the dance between parties and the electorate.
The ANC’s manifesto updates have become questionable bean-counting exercises that fail to grab some of the passion exuded by some of those implementing policy in the government, and the DA is still struggling to land the same passion at national level that it shows in local government.
For all the serious words written about coalitions and their dramas, the one missing ingredient, perhaps more important even than ideological compatibility, is simply the ability to take people who disagree, but with a shared passion for making a difference (rather than positions), and lock them up together.
The lack of this oomph could be what has driven voter turnout lower, and will again in 2023 if it is not urgently corrected by all parties.
So, we need politicians and policymakers who are more like directors of charities and winemakers. There’s a thought. Jazz hands optional.
• Peter Attard Montalto leads on political economy, markets and the just energy transition at Krutham.
This article first appeared in Business Day.