OUT TO LUNCH
So that’s another Davos done and dusted then and this year our substantially downsized Team SA must be wondering whether it was money well spent. I’ve no doubt that if this shindig was held somewhere less glitzy than Davos in the Swiss Alps then we might have been able to hide in the shadows with other global pariahs and avoid attracting too much attention.
But the idea of the world’s business and political elite travelling to somewhere like Venezuela or Zimbabwe to discuss the financial future of the rest of the world is patently absurd, even if it would be rather more fitting than being holed up in one of the most expensive and privileged places in the world. The unwritten rule of attendance at Davos is that the riff-raff are not welcome. This is the big boy’s money club.
When I first learned that Talk Radio 702’s Bruce Whitfield had been sent to cover the Davos junket my uncharitable reaction was, nice freebie Bruce but what on earth is the point? However, one quote picked up by many of my fellow commentators justified his trip by neatly summing up our current position. Commenting on our less than dominant position at Davos this year and our growing irrelevance in the world Whitfield described it thus:
“We’re so far behind the curve in terms of the adult conversation right now. We’re in the kindergarten sandpit throwing sand in each other’s faces while all the other kids are doing their MBA’s”
The tragedy is that we’ve been in the kindergarten sandpit for many years now and the gap between South Africa and the developed world is ever widening. While it was refreshing to hear Bruce express the view on a left leaning talk radio station and to watch his video clip of an interview with CNN’s Richard Quest on SA’s diminished standing in the world, all we were hearing was confirmation of what some of us have been saying for years.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I have been labeled “anti-transformation” or “racist” for past columns suggesting that expecting a bunch of thieving commies to have any interest in developing a vibrant economy is utter folly. As anybody knows the whole point of communism is to smash the capitalist system and replace it with a state owned and state run system.
This is obviously made more difficult when you inherit a fully functioning capitalist style economy as the ANC did back in 1994. But, credit where it’s due, they have managed in a mere 25 years to destroy many previously healthy enterprises and to greatly enrich a handful of the politically connected elite. Who else at Davos, I wonder, refers to fellow party members as “comrade”? And, as Richard Quest asked, “how many people have gone to prison so far?”
As Quest said, there’s no point in coming to Davos and telling people that your country is open for business when you haven’t got the policies to support that claim. Our stated policies of possible land expropriation without compensation, onerous labour laws and a militant, unionized work force which is both expensive by international standards and not as productive is hardly going to tempt new investors. Add the rider that a few loyal ANC cadres with no relevant skills need to be cut in handsomely on any deal then it’s hardly surprising that the serious folk at Davos think we’re a joke.
Of course, none of this will make the slightest difference to ANC economic policy. Apart from a handful of rather worried party members from the more educated tip of the ANC, most of our politicians appear to view the imminent economic collapse of South Africa with a mixture of glee and schadenfreude. Somehow, they believe, we will survive and the magic money tree will continue to bear fruit to pay for an ever expanding and over compensated civil service and the many bailouts state enterprises will need.
All that’s going to happen is that those bloody colonialist land thieves will get poorer and finally lose their businesses and about time too. The whole land thief narrative is now so part of the ANC’s core message that there is a growing belief that when all “non Africans” have been stripped of their property rights and the wealth has been redistributed then it will be boom time for SA.
Trying to explain that some of these “land thieves” have been in the country for many generations and have built businesses which create jobs and contribute to the economy is futile. The message that the colonialist invader is the root cause of all misery in this country is now so deeply ingrained and encouraged by many in the mainstream media (some of them descendants of colonial invaders) that it will require a massive re-education exercise to dispel this myth. I can’t see any ruling party with an eye on a populist vote bothering to undertake that task.
So we stumble on in the dark (quite literally), pretending that everything will be all right but with no clear idea of where we are heading and no strong leadership. Meanwhile, many South Africans of all races are fearful for the future.
Those with transferable skills are emigrating. Those who are unable or unwilling to leave this beautiful country are downsizing businesses or even closing shop because it is impossible to make plans and commit to such an uncertain future. Just take a walk through your local mall and check out how many properties are available to let.
As Richard Quest made abundantly clear in his interview, South Africa’s government currently has no credibility at a place like Davos. However, his belief that the opportunities in South Africa are huge and that the potential is enormous is one that is shared by many of us who would like to see this country take its rightful place in the global economy. The only thing preventing that is the comradely sand throwers in the kindergarten sandpit. And that’s not about to change.