Some­thing is in the air… so let’s be like Ar­gos


AR­GOS. That was Odysseus’s loyal dog in Homer’s epic The Odyssey. And when Odysseus, dis­guised as a beg­gar, re­turns home to his is­land of Ithaca af­ter 20 years, only his faith­ful but now ne­glected and an­cient Ar­gos recog­nises and scents his mas­ter, mus­ter­ing enough strength to wag his tail.

In South Africa, circa 2018, al­most 3 000 years af­ter The Odyssey was penned, a lot of us are prob­a­bly feel­ing a bit like Ar­gos: tired and for­lorn.

A lit­tle bat­tered and a lit­tle bro­ken by the tsunami of bad news that we seem to be in­un­dated with al­most daily.

But hope and help is on the way, and like Ar­gos there is rea­son to wag our tails.

And per­son­ally I feel as pleased at all the green shoots that this great na­tion is ev­i­denc­ing as Ar­gos must have been to scent Odysseus.

Per­haps the best news of late is that ve­hi­cle sales are at a three-year high, with the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try be­ing one of the best eco­nomic in­di­ca­tors we have.

The Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Au­to­mo­tive Man­u­fac­tur­ers of SA (Naamsa) said that Oc­to­ber 2018’s fig­ures “re­flected an un­ex­pected and wel­come uptick, largely sup­ported by fairly strong growth in the var­i­ous com­mer­cial ve­hi­cle seg­ments”.

And if com­mer­cial ve­hi­cles are sell­ing well, it can only in­di­cate a growth in en­ter­prises.

More specif­i­cally, Naamsa noted that ag­gre­gate do­mes­tic ve­hi­cle sales were at their best since Oc­to­ber 2015, with a to­tal of 51 866 units sold.

Per­haps even bet­ter yet – in a re­minder that Mzansi re­mains the undis­puted, inar­guable in­dus­trial pow­er­house of the African con­ti­nent – ex­port ve­hi­cle sales for Oc­to­ber were no­tice­ably sharply up over just a year ago. By a healthy 20.9 per­cent at 34 134 ve­hi­cles.

There’s bet­ter to come, with Naamsa pre­dict­ing a con­tin­ued, up­ward mo­men­tum in ex­ports, with a pro­jec­tion of about 385 000 units for 2019, as op­posed to an es­ti­mated fig­ure of about 340 000 units for 2018.

And if your abil­ity to scent hope is as sharp as Ar­gos’s, well, let’s say that it’s not im­pos­si­ble that the num­ber of ve­hi­cle man­u­fac­tur­ers, or at the least as­sem­blers, with a pres­ence in South Africa could fea­si­bly in­crease in the fore­see­able fu­ture.

Naamsa is pos­i­tive about this coun­try’s up­ward trend.

And while Naamsa doesn’t negate the fact that we face short-term chal­lenges, they noted in a state­ment that “the re­cent in­vest­ment sum­mit served as a plat­form to re-es­tab­lish trust be­tween the govern­ment and the pri­vate sec­tor, to re­store cred­i­bil­ity in South Africa as a busi­ness-friendly market econ­omy and to gen­er­ate a quan­tum (that word again!) in­crease in in­vest­ment – so es­sen­tial to grow and de­velop the econ­omy.

“These in­vest­ments, to­gether with ap­pro­pri­ate sup­port­ing poli­cies, should trans­late into higher eco­nomic growth over the medium term… the im­prove­ment in the do­mes­tic sales num­bers and the con­tin­ued strong per­for­mance of ex­port sales was one of the first pos­i­tive signs for some time in the per­for­mance of a key strate­gic in­dus­try in the South African econ­omy,” Naamsa said.

The gist of that is as up­beat as Ar­gos scent­ing Odysseus, and im­por­tantly we need to re­mem­ber that the cap­tain of our ship, Cyril Ramaphosa, is also a hard-headed, proven busi­ness­man.

Now some may cyn­i­cally speak of “Ramapho­ria” be­ing over, sim­ply be­cause our pres­i­dent didn’t achieve their un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions in the first few months of of­fice, but we for­get the poi­soned chal­ice he was handed by the Zuma ad­min­is­tra­tion.

In­deed, build­ing on the barom­e­ter of those Naamsa fig­ures, I see a tremen­dous growth for this coun­try, and a tremen­dous strength­en­ing in our mas­sively un­der­val­ued cur­rency – es­pe­cially once all the pos­tur­ing and in­se­cu­rity pre­ced­ing next year’s gen­eral elec­tion is over.

And once the 2019 elec­tions are done with, we can set­tle down to the se­ri­ous busi­ness of na­tion build­ing.

Just call me Ar­gos, be­cause like that myth­i­cal, much-loved dog, I can scent some­thing in the air…

Meyer Ben­jamin, a car in­dus­try vet­eran, com­men­ta­tor and pre-pub­lished au­thor, is the direc­tor of the IPOP (In Peo­ple Our Pas­sion) Mo­tor Group, which in­cludes Suzuki deal­er­ships, a Mazda deal­er­ship and a Haval deal­er­ship, in ad­di­tion to six suc­cess­ful used-car out­lets.

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