SA’s dose of inanity hurts the poor­est of the poor

CityPress - - Busi­ness - Terry Bell busi­ness@city­

South Africa ex­cels in out­ra­geous satire, but it’s usu­ally prac­tised by our politi­cians rather than our satirists. Co­me­di­ans such as Pi­eter-Dirk Uys re­alised this long ago, as did car­toon­ists such as Zapiro.

But over the past week, we have had a bumper dose of ridicu­lous, of­fi­cial-level be­hav­iour, fol­lowed by spin, which, with­out any irony or in­tent, re­vealed the sheer inanity of the fi­nan­cial and eco­nomic sys­tem. It will all doubt­less pro­vide a wealth of ma­te­rial for comics, but will be no laugh­ing mat­ter be­cause most of the pop­u­la­tion will suf­fer the ef­fects of last week’s mini eco­nomic melt­down for months to come.

When­ever an econ­omy is hurt – driv­ing up prices, and re­duc­ing out­put and job prospects – it is the work­ing peo­ple who are most dam­aged. And it mat­ters not whether they labour in for­mal or in­for­mal sec­tors, or are unionised or not.

Yet it was these labour­ing masses – the ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion – that newly reap­pointed Fi­nance Min­is­ter Pravin Gord­han cred­ited with hav­ing brought him back into of­fice. More specif­i­cally, for hav­ing re­moved his pre­de­ces­sor – David “Des” van Rooyen – af­ter only four days.

Ac­cord­ing to Gord­han, this was an ex­am­ple of democ­racy in ac­tion: the peo­ple ob­jected to the ap­point­ment, the pres­i­dent lis­tened and change fol­lowed. To which a re­sponse could be: what about is­sues such as e-tolls or the de­mand to pay back the money on Nkandla?

But this was spin, not state­ment of fact. It was a lie; a myth cal­cu­lated to calm the restive masses, par­tic­u­larly the trade unions, and so re­as­sure The Mar­ket that all would be well.

Be­cause, as main­stream pun­dits promptly in­formed the coun­try at the time, The Mar­ket had spo­ken. It was if they were say­ing that gods from on high had or­dered a plague of fi­nan­cial pun­ish­ments on a sin­ning na­tion.

The gov­ern­ment duly took no­tice. How­ever, this fi­nan­cial mar­ket is not some sort of Olympian di­vin­ity. It is, in fact, a largely an­ar­chic col­lec­tion of gam­blers and ma­nip­u­la­tors whose sole aim is to make as much money as quickly as pos­si­ble.

Also in­volved are in­ter­na­tional bod­ies that hold other re­gions and na­tions in thrall through debt. South Africa’s na­tional debt, for ex­am­ple, is equal to ev­ery man, woman and child in the coun­try ow­ing more than R13 000.

But what all these gam­blers and ma­nip­u­la­tors re­quire is sta­bil­ity to en­sure a con­tin­ual, hope­fully steady and in­creas­ing, flow of prof­its. So re­plac­ing one po­lit­i­cal man­ager with an­other is some­times deemed nec­es­sary.

The eco­nomic crunch of last week pro­vided a clas­sic ex­am­ple. As did the hur­ried dis­cus­sions be­hind the scenes, in­clud­ing, ap­par­ently, con­cerns ex­pressed by Cosatu pres­i­dent Sdumo Dlamini about the dam­age to work­ers’ lives and fu­ture ANC elec­toral prospects.

There is no doubt that con­sid­er­able dam­age has been done and that the poor­est of the poor will be the main suf­fer­ers. But at least the events of the week pro­vided an in­sight into the re­al­ity of the sys­tem and how il­lu­sory the con­cept of democ­racy re­ally is.

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