Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi
Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi

Government’s plan to destroy looted goods is devoid of moral logic

By Pali Lehohla Time of article published Jul 25, 2021

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ACTING Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni’s statement regarding the treatment of looted goods bears no political, economic, social or moral logic.

That perhaps the government has decided to destroy the goods is devoid of any comparator and the circumstances pertinent in South Africa.

The statement said the goods, if left to circulate, will collapse the price of marketable goods. The stolen goods are as though they are equivalent to the gold that the 14th century Mansa Musa of Mali distributed and thus collapsed the price of gold. His Mali empire was the largest producer of gold in the world.

Ntshavheni, argues that the quantum of the loot will collapse the prices of goods and services and therefore they should be destroyed in order to keep the price level.

This is the logic of capitalist overproduction and speculative conduct to keep prices high.

It is what we observed when 27 000 litres of milk had to be spilled by the milk producers side by side with the hungry and poor.

Yes, the poor and hungry could have well been part of the looting, but the uncaring and unconscionable retaliatory conduct by milk producers was just equally reprehensible.

There are goods that are worthy of destroying – top among these are guns, narcotics and ivory. Other goods are those reminiscent of conspicuous consumption, such as laundered sports cars.

From any angle, I have not heard the economic logic of this. Destroying the items reduces overall social utility and therefore overall economic value, irrespective of source of access to the goods.

Even stolen cars get auctioned once recovered and do not get destroyed.

Ivory gets destroyed, for purposes of saving the elephant population for posterity, so do rhino horns.

This is not done for impacting the price of ivory or rhino horn.

Throwing away milk or dumping grain in the ocean is an economic act of keeping prices stable, yet in humane-based systems prices can be kept stable by still consuming the product through carefully considered and socially desirable pathways to disposing of the surplus.

It is only under raw capitalist economic logic that senseless actions of dumping are undertaken.

Destroying looted goods could well be an important political statement relative to an economic one that looting will not be tolerated, but this certainly does not apply here, given the circumstances where all and sundry agree that the looting was in large part a consequence of a long-standing moral and economic problems of an unemployment, poverty and inequality pandemic.

Certainly the goods cannot be returned to those who looted for their consumption, but there are good cause institutions who can make a considered deployment of the loot.

Busani Nngcaweni in the Daily Maverick addresses the issue of the rich and the lumpen looters. Following that theme, will the loot of senior looters be destroyed because it reduces overall economic value? Will the money returned by the senior looters be destroyed? No, that will return to the fiscus of the state. So by the same logic goods returned should go to the state and be allocated to more just causes.

If these get destroyed for making an economic statement to the poor, it will beget a repugnant moral dilemma.

This is that when people argued about unemployment, the government insensitively behaved like market fundamentalists, who would dump grain in the sea in order to keep market prices. This reaction is politically bankrupt, economically reprehensible, illogical and morally unjust.

The looted items are not Mansa Musa’s trove of gold.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa.

*The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL or of title sites.

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