Last week, ahead of the most recent Knysna Cycle Tour, I took my road bike in for a routine cleaning, check-up and oiling to make sure it would not fail me during the course of the planned 115km race. I do this ahead of all major cycling events.
But, unlike on other similar occasions over the last seven years or so, the banter with my favourite cycle shop owner and bike maintenance specialist was not just about interesting trends in cycling.
It was about the deteriorating political and economic climate in the country – and fear. Fear that the madness we’re living through has begun to hit many, like him, where it hurts most: in their pockets.
First, Bruce (not his real name) expressed concern that many of his clients had left the country recently, worried that things are getting worse. These clients have preferred, instead, to take their families and money elsewhere before the Zanufication (not quite Bruce’s words) process of the ANC and, by extension, South Africa, is completed.
The result of this silent exodus, Bruce told me, has been smaller numbers of clients coming to purchase new bicycles and cycling equipment, or to have their bikes serviced.
Most of his clients have been high-earning, big spenders, some of whom exchanged their bikes for new ones now and again. That trend has slowed down remarkably in recent times, Bruce lamented, leaving him with constantly broke clients like this writer, who always try to bargain on everything.
Send me, don’t send me away
In another encounter, about a fortnight ago, I had been invited to speak to a group of South Africans in a little town just outside Cape Town. They ranged in age from mid-twenties to over 60, and all of them, from what I could tell, wanted to hear ‘Thuma Mina’ calls coming their way.
The older ones had done well for themselves, and the younger ones desperately wanted to believe there was still a reason for them to remain here, to contribute and to benefit from successful professional lives in a South Africa they could still call home.
Despite being of pre-retirement or immediate post-retirement age, the older ones felt they could still contribute meaningfully to the development of the country. But they regretted being either routinely excluded, systematically denied opportunities, or being treated as pests – especially in the public sector, where only wilful blindness would fail to acknowledge the need for skills.
From what I could tell, these were not people desperate for jobs in order to earn salaries. They were not asking for hand-outs. They simply wanted to know there could still be room for them to be positive contributors in the ongoing project we call South Africa.
A lady who had been observing the exchanges and listening without saying a word, eventually came over to me – when she was certain no one else was within earshot – to ask in a quiet voice whether I thought it was time to take her family’s money out of the country, to a safer place.
I encouraged her not to lose hope; told her that things would change for the better. What else could I have said to her?
Later, I wondered if I gave her that advice because that was what I would have wanted to hear, had I been in her shoes. I hoped that I would not live to regret having told her to stay put, despite the many worrying signs.
Democracies should be judged by the way they treat their religious, ethnic, racial, gender and other minorities. No citizens of any country and, certainly, of South Africa, should ever have to be in a position where they wonder if it’s still safe for them to remain in the country of their birth; whether it would be a safe place for their children to dream of building a future for themselves. Yet increasing numbers seem to find themselves there today.
Connect the dots
The ambitions ‘New dawn/ Thuma Mina’ administration has ambitions to rebuild trust and generate much-needed goodwill where its predecessor went out to systematically destroy it. But considering Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene’s aim to collect just over R1.3 trillion in tax revenue in the new year, through a revamped SARS that is still in the making; and considering the increasing numbers of reported incidents of wanton theft and other forms of abuse of public funds amounting to billions of rands; and, more painfully, considering the enduring ‘missing-in-action’ status of the Shaun-the-sheep-led NPA through all of this; things look dire in indeed.
But let’s not stop connecting the dots here. The many wealthy clients that Bruce and others like him have lost in recent times have likely left quietly, taking their money with them. They would have contributed much-needed tax revenue to SARS and to the country. Assuming the exodus has not stopped and that it will continue for as long as nothing gets done by authorities to stem the racist rhetoric and other indications – real or perceived – that South Africa is being thrown to the dogs by unthinking, misguided, and emotion-driven leftists, where will that R1.3trn come from?
How will this administration, and the one that will come in after the 2019 general elections, deliver on their promises when – given the fast-eroding tax base – there will be too little money in state coffers to do so?
What will they say to the many racist sloganeers who would probably respond “Good riddance” to this column?
What will they say to the South Africans who are quietly leaving this country with massive wealth generated over many years – wealth that could otherwise be deployed to help build South Africa?
What will they say to the militant trade unions? And to the millions of beneficiaries of nanny state government grants, some of whom find it easier to shout abuse at white South Africans and to place every contemporary failure at the door of apartheid, instead of looking the kleptocrats who look and speak like them in the eye?
What will they say when there is too little in state coffers to satisfy demands for high salaries and government grant increments, with no care for where the money should come from?
Can we say with all the confidence that South Africa is now on the mend, taking all its citizens along with it, united in their diversity? Or is there a harsh reawakening waiting for us around the corner?