For those of you who have already left, here’s justification. For those who haven’t, good luck.

David Bullard is a very popular columnist
My great sadness is that we are not a nation that engages in debate.

JOHANNESBURG – Back in happier times, when South Africa was celebrating a miraculous peaceful transition to democracy, Clem Sunter famously presented a high road and a low road scenario for the country. The Oxford educated Sunter was a director of Anglo American Corporation but was better known to many South Africans as a strategist.

The purpose of a strategist is, to the best of his or her ability, present likely scenarios and those scenarios can only be constructed from the facts at hand, a balance of probabilities for the future and a gentle sprinkling of guesswork. One of The Economist magazine’s predictions for South Africa back in the 1980s was that it could become a white right wing dictatorship
as the Nats stubbornly reacted to global sanctions against the country.

Thankfully, they were wrong but the possible scenario was no less valid for all of that.

Judging by the weekly reactions of some of you who follow this column there will inevitably be those who will regard a low road and no road scenario as being “racist”, unpatriotic, negative etc, etc, and there will be the usual feeble cries to leave the country if you don’t like it. But that would be to miss the point entirely. If I simply wanted to put the boot into South Africa there’s nothing to stop me living in Europe and e-mailing this column to Moneyweb every week. The fact of the matter though is that this has been my home for 30 years and I write because I care about the place. My great sadness is that we are not a nation that engages in debate. I don’t have to live here but I choose to because it’s a country that I believe deserves better than it’s been getting. So if you’re a bit squeamish and want a more Polyanna view of South Africa tune into that talk radio station…..but don’t forget to remove your head from the sand every one in a while to take a deep breath.

Much as I would love to sketch a high road scenario the facts don’t allow it. And even if I did it would be comparatively lower than Clem’s original high road. Pretending that the institutionalised venality of the past 16 years hasn’t seriously damaged the country’s ability to deliver a better life to the majority of South Africans, as well as the reputational damage we have suffered, is akin to pretending that Bafana Bafana are going to beat Brazil in the World Cup final

Let me give you a simple metaphor. I was a chocolate thief as a child and whenever we had a large tin of Quality Street at Christmas I would filch the odd choccy or toffee without anyone noticing. The tin was full of all sorts of goodies wrapped in coloured cellophane and who was looking anyway? When you start filching from the full tin nobody notices because you can give the tin a bit of a shake and it looks full once again. Once you’re a third of the way down people tend to notice that all the purple ones have gone and eventually it becomes very noticeable that chocs are being filched because the bottom of the tin is now visible. Eventually though the tin will be empty and there will be nothing more to filch but there will be a few angry relatives to appease. Our beloved politicians have been filching for the past 16 years because the tin has looked pretty full but it has to eventually become empty. One only needs to look north to Zimbabwe to see what happens when the tin is empty. I still believe Zimbabwe has been placed next to us by a benevolent deity to warn what will become of us if we really screw up. Not that it seems many people are taking much notice. But that’s because there are still a lot of chocs in the tin and the people who should be taking notice are doing the thieving.

The principal reason we can no longer dream of a high road though is the nature of the ANC. This is a party that likes to be known as the ruling party, likes to surround its politicians with shiny cars with lots of blue lights and likes big party rallies with lots of people singing and shouting. It reminds them of their liberation movement days. And that’s the problem. The ANC has never managed to make the transition from liberation movement to government. It’s like one of those sad blokes who always returns to his boarding school for old boy’s day because his schooldays were the happiest of his life. The ANC wants to sing liberation songs such as “kill the Boer” because they bring back fond memories of a time when they didn’t actually have to take responsibility for the infrastructure of the country. If an 18 year old was still singing nursery rhymes and talking baby language you’d take him off to a shrink but nobody find it odd that a political movement can be stuck in time and that this affects the future of the country. Forget the intellectual capacity of the “ruling” party; it’s the EQ that we should be worried about. Are these people emotionally suited to running a country as sophisticated as South Africa and the answer, based on the performance of the past 16 years, is no. It’s a bit like putting a Cessna 150 pilot into a Boeing 747 and telling him to fly it. The basic principles are the same but there are more passengers at risk and lots more things to go wrong.

Have you ever taken the time to wonder why there is virtually no ANC criticism of Julius (Kiddie Amin) Malema; probably the most dangerous man to have emerged in Africa for half a century? Malema may be cunning and media savvy but he is a man, like Mao Zedong and Pol Pot, who embraces stupidity and who hates anyone with an education. He happens to have a black skin which automatically puts him out of bounds for white critics. So he is allowed to say what he wishes and to welcome our European World Cup guests with a song exhorting his followers to kill people with white skins. He has even been anointed as a future leader of the country by President Zuma. Where are the voices of reason though? Where are silent Cyril, taciturn Tokyo and mute Matthews? Are they also frightened of Kiddie Amin or are they quietly watching the final phase of the handing over of power; the gradual elimination of the white man as a relevant player in South Africa.

So, against this gloomy backdrop we have only two possible scenarios that can play out over the next five to ten years.

The low road assumes that there are still pockets of private sector excellence and that the public sector will stumble along as usual. We will export cars and minerals and it will be largely business as usual, subject to the movements of the exchange rate. Left wing thinking at cabinet level will persuade the Reserve Bank to tinker with its inflation targeting policy and greater pressure will mount for artificially lower interest to stimulate borrowing. This will naturally have a devastating effect on savings and encourage people to get into debt once again. But it will weaken the rand on the currency markets as South Africa becomes a less attractive investment choice. This will be good for exports but by that time we will have got used to relying on imports and inflation will rise. The public sector will lurch from crisis to crisis, party because of the insistence that only people with black skins be employed in senior positions in the new, non racial South Africa. But even those with the right melanin count will be reluctant to accept the poison chalices of state owned enterprises. Talks on the nationalisation of the mines will continue and prices will be discussed while the government works out how to pay fair value from coffers it doesn’t have. The feeling of gloom post 2010 will increase as we discover the real cost of the World Cup and wonder what we are going to do with all those stadiums. The roads will continue to deteriorate and there will be major water crisis to add to our woes; never forgetting the looming disaster that is going to be exacted on the economically active populace by ESKOM. Politicians will continue to bicker and award themselves and their families tenders.

Life will be bearable for the economically active but just as unbearable for the economically inactive. This will be a period of gradual decay.

The no road scenario assumes that the likes of Kiddie Amin foment the type of racial and ethnic violence they so desire. Although heavily disguised as part of the struggle (and therefore beyond reproach), the mob will be encouraged to occupy empty holiday homes if they feel like it. The rule of law will collapse and politicians will decide whether or not they feel like recognising a court’s decision. The judiciary will be purged and cleared of all those who haven’t convincingly embraced the new South Africa to the satisfaction of the ANC youth league. Key members of the ANC NEC will have gone into exile for fear of their lives. Their assets were transferred as a precaution long ago. Hospitals will be short of medicines and qualified staff but this will only affect the proletariat. The party elite will have private jets on hand to whisk them off to clinics in Europe. By this stage the Quality Street tin is empty and the friends of JuJu are on the look out for something else they can snatch. No utilities or municipalities will operate efficiently and the majority of South Africans of all colours will live desperate lives in perpetual fear of the increasingly brutal security forces. The United Nations will be passing resolutions threatening SA with sanctions unless it doesn’t stop its human rights abuses but Kiddie Amin will already be planning his coronation, paid for by “handouts”.

And the media? Well, they will have calculated the odds and decided that it’s safer and more profitable to go with the flow and do what the government asks. Just as they did in 1985.

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One Response to “For those of you who have already left, here’s justification. For those who haven’t, good luck.”

  1. ace Says:

    They say that 80% of the wealth of the country is owned by the the minority whites.
    How does one explain that to the world. The white man have made Malema for what he is.He did not just arrive from the sky.
    I believe that the white man has blown his chance of making SA into a prosperous country for all its inhabitants.It is a very sorry state of affairs seeing innocent people,ie,white farmers ,getting killed.
    No sane persn would want this,however it,s our history of greed,control and white pride that has left it,s legacy.The only way out is to start serious dialog and pray that we can come to some sort of understanding of ridding the ugly past and embracing all races ,thus showing the world that yes we can do it.

    I do not know much about this man Malema.From your blog he strikes me as a radical and a shit stirer.That is too bad.I remember when Nelson Mandela specified that he did not want the whites to leave but to stay and build SA into a new country for all .

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