The Great Exodus

David Bullard writes on what a recent visit to Hyde Park shopping centre in Joburg says about the economy, and SA



If you’re not a particularly sociable type of person and tend to shun human contact there are precious few job opportunities where, at the end of the day, you can go home, kick off your shoes, pour yourself a drink and congratulate yourself on spending another stress free day avoiding fellow human beings.

You could, of course, become an anaesthetist which would partly meet the brief because you would only be coming into contact with sleeping people during the course of the day. But even that’s not the perfect solution because you will be surrounded by surgeons babbling away about emigration opportunities and making rude comments about their patient’s body parts.

A better option may be a cashier in a motorway toll-booth where your human interaction is limited to the time it takes to hand over the money and lift the boom. I’ve often wondered if toll-booth cashiers yearn for conversation and, on occasions, if there’s no queue behind me I’ve attempted to strike up some friendly banter but to no avail. It seems that part of the toll-booth cashier training course involves the use of monosyllabic communication, in which case it would be ideal holiday employment for most teenagers.

After a weekend spent in Johannesburg I have discovered the ideal occupation for those wishing to have as little contact as possible with other members of the human race. A job as store assistant in somewhere like Emporio Armani, Versace, Paul Smith or any of the other Hyde Park shopping centre stores that sell ludicrously high priced items of clothing would be the perfect choice.

I was there over the weekend and never saw a single customer in these stores on my regular strolls through the shopping centre in my attempt to get my 10 000 Discovery Health steps a day. The London shirt-maker Thomas Pink has now disappeared and even the locally owned luxury store, Luminance (where a pair of Balenciaga sneakers can be had for a mere R18000), have moved from their original vast expanse of floor space to an area which I’m guessing is a tenth of the size in the less salubrious restaurant area.

Hyde Park shopping centre may have been full of people over the weekend but the rush to buy luxury items wasn’t apparent. There was plenty of window shopping but very little actual shopping in the upmarket stores.

There are even rumours that some of the long established jewellers are feeling the pinch and are about to reduce their overheads by either going smaller of getting out completely. After all, how many Rolex watches can a man be expected to buy every month.

As any amateur economist knows, a walk around a shopping centre and a look at estate agent’s windows can give you a pretty good idea of what is happening in the economy. Shopping centres tend to be busy at the end of the month, just after pay day. In the middle of the month they become very quiet as the average shopper runs out of credit. You might think a rule like this wouldn’t apply to a high end shopping centre like Hyde Park but it does.

However, a more significant factor is emigration. A good friend of mine who lives in an affluent, predominantly Jewish neighbourhood tells me that most of the houses in her road are for sale. With the current official government narrative of “white skin is a sin” is that surprising? When the Jewish community decide that it’s time to get out the rest of us should know we’re in real trouble.


It probably came as no great surprise to media watchers that Tiso Blackstar decided to flog off their media “assets” to an outfit called Lebashe, of which very little is known. Quite why anybody of sound mind would want to buy into the print media in the current climate is beyond comprehension. Lebashe Investment Group says it wants to become a “key player” in the digital and content sector, whatever that may mean.

Long suffering staff at publications such as the Sunday Times, Business Day and Financial Mail must feel like rejected orphans at times. They have had so many foster parents over the past two decades that, pushed from pillar to post, they can hardly be blamed for feeling unloved and insecure in their jobs. The problem with working in the SA media in 2019 is that there aren’t many places left to seek employment should you be unlucky enough to lose your job.

The question now is what sort of foster parents will Lebashe turn out to be? Do they have deep enough pockets (or the desire) to prop up publications which are haemorrhaging cash? Would they be happy for the investigative journos from Financial Mail to have a nose around?

A Reuters survey recently confirmed long held suspicions that very few people have bothered to stump up the cash to circumvent the Tiso paywalls. That means that journalists and columnists are being paid to produce copy that will stay hidden behind a paywall and be read by very few people and that’s hardly a viable business model.

More importantly though, will the new owners allow editorial freedom or will this desire to become a key player in the digital and content sector translate into becoming a propaganda machine for certain vested interests?

If I were a staff member at any of the abovementioned publications I would be extremely nervous at the moment, particularly if had the added burden of a white skin. But maybe I’m being unduly cynical and the new owners will be the harbingers of a fresh golden age of South African journalism. Time alone will tell.


If you enjoy David Bullard's weekly column please consider becoming a Politicsweb supporter here