Friday, 19 February 2016


Many of the professional commentators have been nodding wisely at the news that Number One is taking the threat of a downgrade seriously. He has, we are assured, plans. Everyone from the cabinet up, has been told to be rein in spending. But it won’t make any difference. The population as a whole neither knows nor cares for concepts such as prudence, frugality, debt control and all those things that distinguish a winning country from the rest. The president himself is hopeless with money and he has a history of choosing financial advisors who have been exposed as dodgy in the extreme. This government will never balance the books. It has no idea what that means. As long as there are taxpayers out there, all is just great. And if the state has to borrow and pay interest, well that’s the next generation’s problem.
But that lot aren’t showing much concern either. Their contempt for the norms and standards of a civilised and intelligent society was terrifyingly illustrated this week by the worsening behaviour of people claiming to be students intent on gaining an education. The deliberate and wanton destruction of art, artefacts, furniture and property in order to display their unhappiness was stupid and terrifying. This riotous spree has attracted world-wide attention and deepened the suspicion that this part of Africa is just the same as the rest. The ratings agencies will note that these future leaders reject civic responsibility and treat the suggestion that loans whether personal or institutional need to repaid as ludicrous and threatening. Junk status is probably too generous. Our parental, education and civil systems have created a generation for whom the likelihood of real productive employment is small. The frustration is understandable. The behaviour is not.
The University authorities have been bleating that they do not condone violence but that bird has long since flown the coop. They caved in last year when the students were finding something other than swotting to do. That was a big mistake and gave the youth the idea that they were all-powerful and infallible. The mystery in South Africa is why swift and appropriate action is not taken against vandals whether they are jiving in parliament or defacing and destroying public property.
And yet people have to eat and survive and thankfully there are many wise and sensible souls who ignore the politics which they know they can’t influence. Instead they continue to find ways to grow. A very heartening report tells of a substantial growth in factory investment, and several companies have been coming out with quite acceptable results. Consumers are still able to find the money for booze for example. Unfortunately, some of this expenditure is sourced from ill-informed decisions about saving. Because it is terrified of alienating voters ahead of local government elections later this year, the government, at the insistence of the trade unions, has withdrawn proposed regulations about contractual savings. Workers will not be forced into buying retirement products but instead can take their money and run. The yawning gap between what the government is expected to provide (in this case pensions) and the ability and inclination of those supplying the cash is one of South Africa’s really big problems.
And on the topic of really big, a buffalo bull named Horizon deserves a mention. Much of his fame rests on the record-setting spread of his horns. Whether or not these weapons are in the 25% portion of the beast that was purchased this week for R44m was not mentioned. The sentimental amongst us shudder at the thought of how the owners of this also record-setting R176m worth of buffalo will generate a return. Horizon himself probably has an opinion on this matter which might emerge only as he grows older and cantankerous.
It’s one of those weekends when the preferred mode of transport from Pietermartizburg to Durban is a canoe. This also means that the areas around the bowling club bar tonight will be filled with fit men and women wielding paddles. It might be difficult to get the barman’s attention so perhaps it will be best to stay at home and watch the cricket on TV
James Greener
Friday 19th February 2016