Sink or swim?

David Bullard writes on how he thinks things will pan out



Years ago I joked that scenario planner Clem Sunter’s low road looked like a cliff top walk compared with my high road. As for my low road… well you would have needed a submarine to even find it. Not that I would ever compare myself to Clem Sunter who actually uses scientific research methods in his futurology whereas I tend to rely more on gut feel, partly because it’s cheaper and easier than assembling masses of data to wade through but also because it has tended to serve me well over the years.

My gut feel at the moment tells me that we are in a helluva mess as a country and there seems very little political will to get us out of that mess. On the contrary, it seems that some influential factions within the ANC and amongst their leftist fellow travellers would be quite happy to see the entire South African economy collapse in order that it could be rebuilt in the Utopian style of Venezuela or Zimbabwe.

Some have even said as much and the irony is lost on many that Maserati driving NEC member Tony Yengeni can be a huge fan of designer clothing and what many would regard as “la dolce vita” while, at the same time supporting a collapsing, crisis ridden country like Venezuela and its hopelessly stupid leader, the former bus driver Nicolas Maduro.

The problem with being an Afro-realist is that one is accused of being negative, of seeing nothing good coming out of Africa, of not embracing the new dispensation and, of course, of being a racist. Even though the word “racist” is so overused in his country that it has, rather like the rand, become almost worthless it still scares the hell out of many people and, therefore, stifles discussion on important topics like the future of the economy. Which is exactly what it is intended to do. Heaven knows, we can’t have descendants of land thieves going around pontificating about the type of economy they would like.

As long ago as 2011, a Wits “academic” called Samantha Vice managed to become a virtue signaler long before the term had even been coined by stating that whites should just shut up and keep out of African politics. They’d done enough damage already simply by being white and their views were not welcome. Not surprisingly, this view didn’t go down terribly well with many income tax payers in this country.

But crazy academics aside, there does seem to be something of a lemming syndrome prevalent in the country at the moment and that can only be because the majority of our appallingly educated population haven’t a clue what they are wishing for themselves.

The greatest misunderstanding of all (and one that manifests itself frequently on “black” Twitter where one would hope that users might be a little more sophisticated) is the illusion that the government has unlimited funds and can do whatever it wants with all that money. For example, the only reason the government isn’t filling the R420bn+ hole in Eskom is that it is considering where else it might more profitably spend this money.

Pointing out that the cupboard is currently bare and that the government exists only on tax receipts and what it can borrow doesn’t seem to cut much ice with the believers in the eternal money tree. Telling them that a shrinking economy will drive business away and reduce tax receipts even further prompts many to say - “go, good riddance”. And what about the jobs that will be lost as a result of this? – “they were bad jobs anyway. We will create jobs that will pay more and demand less effort”.

Given this infantile grasp of economic reality it’s hardly surprising that influential members of the ruling party believe that the solution is to get their hands on the central bank, order plenty of ink and get the printing presses to work. While a small number of government officials point out the error of this type of thinking there are many more in the party who think, well why not?

The question is who will win? My gut feel tells me that South African identity politics has done so much damage to the country’s reputation (egged on by various media organisations sadly) that it will be a long time before business confidence returns to this country. The rainbow miracle that trailed in the wake of the 1994 election vanished long ago and the re-elected ANC have yet to come up with any clear strategy that would convince investors that SA is a safe haven for their money; not helped by the sheer hostility towards Europe and the USA that is frequently expressed.

There are two numbers that are key to the future prosperity of this country. One is the number of registered tax payers and the other is the number of people receiving welfare. If the first one rises and the second one drops then there is hope. But we all know that isn’t going to happen so we must wait patiently to see whether the ratings agency Moody’s have noticed any more cracks in the system. Once we’re in junk status territory the ride will become much scarier. Whoever would have imagined things could get so bad 25 years ago?


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