NEWS & ANALYSIS

A dam about to burst

David Bullard says the urgency of the situation has yet to dawn on our politicians

OUT TO LUNCH

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Last week the UK news was dominated by a story about a collapsing dam above the small town of Whaley Bridge in rural Derbyshire. Unseasonal heavy rains had put enormous pressure on the wall of the 180 year old Toddbrook reservoir which looms ominously over the town. That that had caused part of the dam wall to collapse. If the structure collapses any more 1.3 million tonnes of water would pour down into the town destroying all in its path.

The town of Whaley Bridge would cease to exist and 6500 people would have lost everything. When the damage became apparent the residents of the town were forced by the police to evacuate immediately with no time to gather personal belongings in many cases.

At the time of writing this column the authorities were busy pumping water out of the dam to lessen the stress on the wall and RAF Chinook helicopters were dropping 1 tonne sandbags into the damaged part of the dam in an attempt to temporarily strengthen it. For a very brief interval of time residents were allowed back by the emergency services into their threatened homes (possibly for a last visit) to collect essential documents, medicines and pets but that decision was reversed when the weather forecasters predicted more heavy rain on the way.

The new wave of torrential rain will undo all the good the water pumps have achieved thus far, will slow down emergency services and will increase the chance of the Toddbrook dam wiping out the town of Whaley Bridge. It’s like something out of a horror movie and it’s almost impossible to imagine the terror, emotions and stresses of the residents of Whaley Bridge who stand to lose everything if there is no happy ending to this story.

Or it was until it suddenly struck me that Whaley Bridge is not dissimilar from what is happening in South Africa right now. Our financial dam is about to burst and many South Africans will find themselves swept away and much the poorer when it happens. The difference between us and Whaley Bridge is that they have identified the problem and are doing something about it whereas our politicians seem to spend all their time squabbling with one another in court at our expense. The urgency of the situation has yet to dawn on many of them.

Last week’s article by Dawie Roodt (“SA’s fiscal death spiral”) had me reaching for the whisky bottle as I combed the article for apocalyptic hyperbole and unnecessary gloom but found myself nodding in agreement with everything there. I know Dawie and occasionally used to appear on a business show on Classic FM with him when we were both younger and full of hope for the country’s future. Unlike me, he’s not a man to weave fanciful stories and wing it. He’s a man who studies the numbers and then has a happy knack of explaining those numbers in language that those of us who barely scraped a pass in A-level economics can understand.

And, unlike many corporate economists who are instructed by their employers to remain close to the ANC’s rear end, he tells it like it is. He makes the point far more eloquently than I have done ad nauseam that we are going to run out of taxpayers. But Dawie does offer a solution and that is to cut the “tens of thousands of civil servants that are simply not needed”. Don’t hold your breath on that one.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, Dawie’s piece was hotly pursued by R W Johnson’s column “Our coming train crash” which meticulously laid out the country’s many failings and mentioned that the Chinese ambassador had hinted that there was no free money forthcoming from the People’s Republic of China. If I read the article correctly it seems that they have already been burnt on past Eskom loans and aren’t keen to compound the experience. If we think that China is just waiting for us to hit rock bottom before they swoop in and rescue us from the clutches of the International Monetary Fund then maybe we should think again. Perhaps Saudi Arabia can help.

Who would have imagined back in 1994 that in only 25 years South Africa would be reduced to the international equivalent of a beggar at an inter-section. Whoever would have guessed that a country that was hailed as an exciting “emerging nation” back then would, in a mere quarter century of ANC mismanagement and looting, succeed in becoming one of the world’s most pitiful “submerging nations”?

It’s not a happy picture but it’s one that excites a small percentage of the population, many of them elected politicians drawing an annual salary of over R1mln plus perks. If everything goes according to plan, and their stooges in the mainstream media keep up their fine propaganda work, the economy as we know it could be completely destroyed by 2024 and we will then be in a position to build the Venezuelan model utopia so many dream about.

The land thieves will have been driven away, the central bank will be in the hands of the people and the printing presses will be busy. Everyone who deserves it will have a “decent” job and not one of those low paying, apartheid era, wage slave apologies for remuneration. There will be free education and health care for all and supermarket shelves will be groaning under the weight of fresh produce to be sold at the government recommended price and nobody will go hungry.

Observing the whole political/economic scene in the country at the moment has the surreal quality of watching a controlled explosion. In 1983 as a newly arrived economic mercenary in this country I watched a building called Van Eck house in Johannesburg be imploded. It only took 16 seconds for the structure to collapse but it felt like I was watching a slow motion movie. That’s rather how living in South Africa feels today. Perhaps it’s significant that Van Eck house was originally the headquarters of Escom. But at least something new was built there. In today’s SA that just isn’t going to happen. We’re just going to be left with the rubble.

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