Things are about to get a whole lot worse

David Bullard provides his prognostications for South Africa in 2020


I’d just settled down with my glass of iced water (I’m attempting a “dry” January) to write this column when the power went out. Fortunately we installed solar panels last March and they feed an inverter which runs on batteries. The problem with anything above Stage 3 load-shedding is that the batteries don’t have sufficient time to re-charge from the mains so, despite our rather expensive attempts to remain self sufficient, we hear a loud alarm bleep just before the batteries give up the ghost and we are plunged into darkness for a couple of hours; so we feel your pain as the woke saying goes.


Despite Cyril’s assurances to the contrary, we will not be enjoying a reliable power supply until the 15th January. This is particularly worrying because it was pretty easy for him to swan back from Egypt and promise uninterrupted electricity over the holiday season knowing full well that many businesses had closed. Come this week though those businesses will be re-opening and the demand for electricity will rise dramatically just as many power stations seem to be showing signs of decrepitude or pure neglect over the past decade.

Unless we have all been hideously mislead by the doomsayers in the media it seems probable that we will have to get used to rolling blackouts for most of the year (load-shedding is the term that properly run economies use for such emergency measures and not applicable in SA).

This doesn’t kick the year off on a particularly good note and the traditional midnight greetings at the New Year’s Eve party I attended omitted the “prosperous” bit this time around. Once NHI is introduced we will also be obliged to omit the wish for good health too and will just be left with “Happy new year. May you survive the next twelve months”.

A year ago the Wall St “big swinging dick” firm of Goldman Sachs confidently predicted a Rand/Dollar exchange rate of 13.50 in January 2020 and a growth rate for SA of 2.2% for 2019. Since the boss of Goldman’s in SA (now escaped to a US university) was known to have the ear of Cyril one must assume that the Pres fell for all that bullshit.

There were others amongst us who were not nearly as bullish but we were dismissed as Afro-pessimists and labeled “anti transformation”. Sometimes though you just yearn to be wrong and it gives me no joy to say that if you thought last year was bad well, in the stammering words of the immortal Randy Bachman (who he?)….”bbbbaby, you aint seen nnnnothing yet”.

It’s actually not difficult to be an economic visionary at the moment although one must always be careful not to upset our loyal reader Thomas who likes his experts to come with proven and impressive credentials. As far as that is concerned I am in agreement with The Spectator columnist Lionel Shriver who wrote in the pre-Christmas bumper edition of that fine magazine:

“The columnist doesn’t sweat over every word like a poet. One of the pleasures of the form is knocking a piece out and moving on. By its nature the column is a bit dashed off, a bit hit-and-miss, winning some and losing some. So you compare a woman in a burka to a (morally neutral) letterbox and, big deal, the image doesn’t turn out to be all that funny. Maybe you end up saying you’re sorry, but one incidental misjudgment shouldn’t be the end of the world.”

With the greatest respect to proper economists it doesn’t take much thought to work out that an unreliable electricity supply will inevitably lead to many businesses not being able to function during normal operating hours.

Depending on the severity of the problem (will it be Stage 6?) that will lead to employees having to be paid for part time work because if there are reduced earnings in the business that is the only possible solution to stay afloat and preserve jobs. Eventually it will lead to businesses closing and laying off workers thereby pushing the already horrific unemployment figures even higher.

I don’t accept the argument that unemployed people automatically turn to crime to survive but I do foresee much more poverty and an increasing need for charity as a result of the inevitable economic disaster awaiting us. It’s not a pretty picture I’m afraid.

As if that weren’t bad enough there is this tsunami of foreign investment that we’ve been frequently told is just waiting to come in to SA. The billions that have been pledged at various investment pow-wows (described as a “R363 billion investment haul” by our friends at News24) have yet to materialize it seems. But why would anybody sink their money into a country that can’t even guarantee a reliable supply of electricity?

Even if you’re crafting hand made furniture you still need light and power for tools. Those promised billions will remain a promise unless investors can see a guaranteed return. And that’s not even taking into consideration our pre-deluvian employment laws which are another major barrier to investment.

Finally, there’s the currency which I once described in a column as the share price of the country. Having enjoyed a surprisingly robust December in what I imagine was a thinly traded forex market it now looks set to weaken again. This as we stumble nervously towards our next Moody’s rating.

Some pundits think that the last rating agency to have any confidence in this country will give us yet another stay of execution before joining S&P and Fitch in downgrading us to junk. However, the credibility of the rating agency also has to be considered and how many last chances can you give a country that obviously has a death wish?

What with the forswearing of booze and Eskom’s antics it looks like being a long dry and dark January.