Agents of doom we love to hate

CityPress - - Voices - Mondli Makhanya voices@city­press.co.za

We held our breath not once, not twice, but three times as the wise men of the north ran the rule over us. Pow­er­ful politi­cians and no-non­sense busi­ness­men scur­ried about, like school­boys gath­er­ing data, to prove that we were not de­serv­ing of “junk” sta­tus.

We looked close to piti­ful as we begged the rat­ings agen­cies, to­day’s false gods, to give us one re­prieve – with as­sur­ances of “we prom­ise, prom­ise, prom­ise we’ll get it right”.

When they did so, we breathed the kind of sigh of re­lief that would have up­rooted an old oak tree.

And when they wagged an ar­ro­gant fin­ger at us that said, “It is not over yet”, we urged each other to get our col­lec­tive act to­gether. This, so that when the in­spec­tors reap­peared in six months’ time, all the teach­ers would be up to date with the cur­ricu­lum, and all the chil­dren would have clean uni­forms and neat hair­cuts.

Like many coun­tries in the de­vel­op­ing world, we ab­hor the power of the rat­ings agen­cies. We re­sent the fact that a bunch of for­eign­ers with lit­tle knowl­edge of our coun­try’s con­di­tions can scru­ti­nise us to de­ter­mine whether or not we de­serve the love that we be­lieve in­vestors owe us.

That they deem it ac­cept­able to dic­tate our pol­icy op­tions, and can com­ment au­thor­i­ta­tively about our pol­i­tics, is hate­ful to us.

But the truth is that we bring it upon our­selves. The dic­tates of the rat­ings agen­cies are the re­sult of our ac­tions – or in­ac­tion. It is our mis­takes and bad de­ci­sions that make re­coloni­sa­tion pos­si­ble.

Let us take a de­tour to the coun­try next door, which claims to be a bas­tion of the strug­gle against im­pe­ri­al­ism. In 2000 Robert Mu­gabe and his Zanu-PF gov­ern­ment upped the vol­ume on anti-im­pe­ri­al­ism and an­tire­coloni­sa­tion rhetoric. Ev­ery chance they got, they re­minded their peo­ple that the West – in par­tic­u­lar, Bri­tain and the US – wanted to re­colonise Zim­babwe. Zanu-PF would be the bul­wark against this, they promised.

But while chant­ing the slo­gan that “Zim­babwe will never be a colony again”, Zanu-PF em­barked on poli­cies that made damn sure Zim­babwe would be re­colonised.

In the name of ful­fill­ing the Chimurenga prom­ise of the re­turn of the land, they went about de­stroy­ing the agri­cul­tural sec­tor, once the back­bone of Zim­babwe’s econ­omy.

Its spec­tac­u­lar col­lapse was the nail in the coun­try’s cof­fin. In­fla­tion rose to such a point that the Re­serve Bank had to print notes in­scribed with the fig­ure tril­lion. Not long af­ter, the Zim­babwe dol­lar ceased to be.

What hap­pened next sealed the fate of ZanuPF’s anti-im­pe­ri­al­ist stance: the coun­try adopted the US dol­lar as its of­fi­cial cur­rency, with the rand and the pound as al­ter­na­tives.

This in ef­fect made Zim­babwe a colony of the US, not­with­stand­ing Mu­gabe’s anti-Amer­i­can bom­bast and pro­nounce­ments on his Look East pol­icy. His coun­try was now more de­pen­dent on the arch-im­pe­ri­al­ist than it had ever been.

In re­cent weeks, the econ­omy has plunged again into re­ces­sion. Fol­low­ing a brief re­cov­ery dur­ing the gov­ern­ment of na­tional unity pe­riod, the coun­try has been struck by a se­ri­ous forex short­age. So much so, the joke in Zim­babwe is that dol­lars are now the coun­try’s big­gest ex­port.

Closer to home, it does not take a ge­nius to see the par­al­lels. Mis­gov­er­nance, lethargy and pol­icy con­fu­sion dur­ing the past seven years have seen South Africa cede more and more of its in­de­pen­dence to the Western pow­ers that our lead­ers love to tell us they loathe.

The opin­ions of the rat­ings agen­cies have be­come more im­por­tant than ever. In the Mandela and Mbeki years, we paid some at­ten­tion to what the agen­cies said, but we could hold our heads high while telling them where to get off. We could take in­de­pen­dent de­ci­sions which we be­lieved were in the in­ter­ests of South Africa’s cit­i­zens, without giv­ing too much due to the opin­ions of in­vestors from dis­tant lands. Now we dance to their ev­ery tune. When the rat­ings agen­cies come to town, min­is­ters, di­rec­tors-gen­eral and blue chip chief ex­ec­u­tives clear their di­aries and brush up on their Pow­erPoint pre­sen­ta­tions. Ev­ery­one puts their best foot for­ward.

Such was the case in re­cent weeks: quak­ing and de­lib­er­at­ing, bow­ing and scrap­ing, we tried our damnedest to prove our­selves wor­thy. “Will they or won’t they?” was the over­whelm­ing ques­tion on ev­ery­one’s lips.

What made mat­ters worse was the agen­cies’ re­sponse: they rubbed our noses in the sand by giv­ing us loads of home­work over the next six months to avoid get­ting a can­ing.

And in his re­sponse, Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma in­vited the fi­nance min­is­ter to lunch and posted pic­tures of them laughing to­gether – just to im­press the neigh­bours of the north. How sad. So next time you hear anti-im­pe­ri­al­ist rhetoric from our lead­ers, a fit­ting re­ac­tion would be to laugh out loud.

Stu­dents have been de­nied the same restora­tive jus­tice shown to the Reitz Four

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