David Bullard reflects on his time in South Africa, and whether his choice to settle her was worth it
OUT TO LUNCH
Greetings and a happy new year to you all. I wish I could write that with rather more conviction but, even without COVID-19 (or is it now 20?), it would be hard to put some optimistic oomph into a new year’s wish for an economy as wrecked as ours. Particularly as it has been systematically sabotaged by the very people elected to run the country for the past 27 years.
Against such committed enemies of capitalism what hope is there for we ordinary folk? But take heart, when the Great Reset of 2030 finally arrives you will own nothing and you will be happy. What the Great Reset doesn’t mention is who will actually own the things we all need for daily survival but will be either allowed to rent for a nominal amount or borrow as and when we need them.
Despite the fact that Klaus Schwab (the founder of the annual farce known as the World Economic Forum in which the world’s super rich meet in a chilly place called Davos every year at the end of January to take the piss out of the world’s poor) looks rather like the galactic gangster Jabba the Hutt from the Star Wars movies and is the driving force behind the sinister Great Reset, one mustn’t forget that he is 82 and will, as likely as not, be pushing up the daisies by the time 2030 comes around.
Either that or he will be even more gaga than he is at the moment. So it’s not really his problem and as one of the world’s rich elite he can make all sorts of crazy suggestions which will guarantee that he is remembered for ever as the guy who tried to call an end to the party.
Forty years ago to the day, on 12th January 1981, I first set foot on South African soil. A man I had hosted in London the previous year and revealed the intricacies of the London money market had decided that I was exactly the sort of chap the South African financial markets needed. So he sort of offered me a job but when I waivered a bit he suggested that his company fly me out for a couple of weeks to see whether I could possibly relocate to South Africa.
It was a no brainer as they say. The prospect of flying out of a freezing cold London in January to a place which was 25 degrees C warmer on an all expenses paid visit was too good to turn down. So I touched down on an SAA flight at Jan Smuts Airport just before midday and was met and taken for a couple of beers at the Sunnyside Hotel in Joburg.
That Saturday we went to the races at Turffontein and there were dinners at Zoo Lake restaurant, the 3 Ships Restaurant at the Carlton Hotel, the revolving restaurant at the top of the Brixton tower (before it closed due to terrorist fears), sundry steak houses and a few braais just for good measure.
My generous host also thoughtfully introduced me to some of his single female friends just in case I felt lonely. At the end of the two weeks, which included a return trip to Durban on the Drakensberg Express and a visit to Hluhluwe Game reserve, a contract of employment was presented to me to sign. After all that hospitality I felt that it would have been rude to say no so I happily signed and went back to the UK to sell a property and sort out my permanent residence status with the SA embassy.
My prospective employer had to write a letter confirming that no talent equal to mine was available in South Africa (bad news for G T Ferreira et al) and after a satisfactory chest X-ray and proof of my lack of melanin a Mr Van Rensburg from the South African embassy phoned me and told me I had been cleared for take-off.
So just before Republic day that year I returned to take up my new position as Money and Capital market manager for the Johannesburg office. Three days later I was promoted by my mercurial boss to Money and Capital Market manager for the entire national operation which resulted in several of my longer serving and senior colleagues (who I barely knew) resigning in disgust at being passed over in favour of this very pale pommie with no obvious track record.
Fortunately we attracted some new talent and started making decent profits which came as a huge relief because my arrival had been met with great suspicion by my future colleagues. Before too long we were making serious money and I reported trading profits of over R1mln a week for three weeks running in 1982 – pretty serious money in those days.
My initial plan to spend a few years in SA before returning to London was scuppered by meeting and marrying a beautiful South African woman but, more so, by becoming what I termed a currency hostage.
When I arrived in 1981 the exchange rate against the pound was R1.80 to £1. Something called the financial rand allowed me to bring my fairly modest sterling amount in at R4.15 to the £ which enabled me to buy shares in the company employing me; a prerequisite for my employment.
So here I am forty years later with a rand that buys approximately 5 new pence in sterling. I would have to find the equivalent of R5.2 million to buy a modest home in the north of England and that amount wouldn’t even buy me a one bedroom flat in one of the less desirable areas of London.
Given that time again would I change anything? Not a chance. It’s been one long blast and the party aint over yet. Ten years ago, maybe even five, you could have taken a sheet of A4 paper and written down a list of countries that you would like to escape to.
But, post COVID, there is no escape. In fact, things are even worse in Europe and the UK. The difference in those countries is that you don’t expect your politicians to be a bunch of clowns. Here in South Africa we’ve got used to that over the past decade so the shock factor is far less.
We just wake up, watch our minister of police and his high ranking military entourage arrest a few bathers on an otherwise deserted beach and think to ourselves…oh well, just another day in South Africa.
As I frequently remind people; you may die of many things in this crazy country but boredom won’t be one of them.
Our global dominance may have diminished over the years as the Mandela rainbow nation magic wore off to be replaced by our junk status as just another African basket case in waiting. So it was great to see that we hit the international news with our very own mutation of COVID. Once again we are back in the world headlines and people are taking notice of us. As old Oscar Wilde said, ‘the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about”.
Capitalising on this new wave of brand awareness I was delighted to read on News24 that Pres Frogboiler has said that SA is ready to share its experience of democracy with the US. This comes hot on the heels of last week’s invasion of the Capitol in Washington by strangely attired people waving Donald Trump banners. Since it’s become abundantly clear that the USA is in a state of collapse it’s particularly touching that a thriving new democracy such as ourselves should point out where the US has been going wrong these past 245 years and give them some pointers to get them back on track.
For starters, try and get unemployment up to around 50% and then hand out tiny welfare packages to guarantee unquestioning voter loyalty. Instead of employing well qualified people to do difficult jobs give those jobs to your mates and immediately double their salaries.
Get rid of the creaking and ponderous legal system to deal with political offenders (nobody likes to see a popularly elected official suffer) and replace it with an in-house integrity committee which will meet ‘in camera’ to deal with miscreants.
The problems of the party must not become the problems of the people.
Finally, give every senator a decent luxury car, free accommodation and free lifetime travel on one of the US airlines. These are all things that have worked so well for South Africa and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t work for the US.
And if you catch anyone referring to this as ‘demockracy’ on social media platforms make sure you get your mates in Silicon Valley to suspend their accounts.