Money talks – and the rand is swearing

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IT CAN no longer be hidden – there is a R50bn-sized hole in the country’s budget.

Nevertheless, in his mini budget speech on Wednesday Malusi Gigaba didn’t seem to feel it was necessary to try and look at the real underlying reasons why this has happened, or suggest any real remedies to stimulate growth or cut government expenses.

In fact, he looked a bit like a nervous scholar getting up to do an oral exam in a subject in which he lacked confidence. I was reminded of how a comedian described Jimmy Carter back in the day – that he looked like the first person in a horror movie “to see THE CREATURE”. 

And when one takes a look at the current state of the economy – lack of growth, credit downgades, debt burden, high state expenditure, attempted rescuing of state-owned enterprises (SOEs), the lurking Guptas, fraud and corruption – it is every bit as terrifying as a many-headed monster emerging from the deep.

Ours is but to drink and braai

But here’s the thing: money does not respect sentiment, policies, history or political correctness.

It is colour blind and has no political affiliation. But what it does do on a consistent basis is reflect what is really going on in a country. The exchange rate is actually like a thermometer of the economy, as are things such as debt levels, the inflation rate and the growth rate.

Yes, these things are often interlinked and based on perceptions and trust. Every now and then there are slight misreadings, but they tend to right themselves quickly enough.

The rand is plummeting and it doesn’t help that state coffers are being raided to rescue ailing SOEs that have been woefully mismanaged by government cronies for years.

What also doesn’t help is the lack of economic growth slowing down tax revenues, an increase in government spending, and large-scale fraud and corruption.

And then, of course, there is the lurking trio of the smirking Gupta brothers with Number One as their chief sidekick.

Ours is not to reason why – ours is but to drink and braai. And boy, do we have a lot to drink about.

So what now?

It is difficult not to feel extremely despondent when looking at what is happening everywhere around us in this country. OK, so in an ideal world, what exactly is it that I want? (I will try and limit this to 100 pages – just joking.)

I would like to see some honesty from government on the reasons why we are finding ourselves in this predicament. I am tired of vague promises of yet another ministerial committee looking into yet another financial disaster.

Justice delayed is justice denied, and the SA taxpayer and citizens have had quite enough of this. Let’s hope they have it in them to let this influence the way they vote.

The fish rots from the head – it is useless to try and deal with issues one by one if we don’t deal with the actual cause of the overall problem, namely a head of state who appears to have scant respect for the rule of law, or for the interests of the citizens of South Africa.

Poor and unworkable policies, a lack of accountability, jobs for pals, state capture, poor education levels, stifling labour laws, and plain old larceny on a grand scale: these have all contributed their fair share to digging the hole in which we find ourselves, bit by bit and rand by rand.

And the minister of finance, for one, needs to acknowledge this. If he dares.

In all fairness, the ANC government inherited a fractured country in disarray, but in the past 23 years they have become part of the problem, instead of working towards a solution.

They pay lip service to the poor, but do not seem to realise that if you are taking money unlawfully from state coffers, you are actually stealing it from someone – a real person, not an anonymous multitude.

The ones suffering the most are the very people on whose side the government pretends to be.

A tax revolt would be fully understandable, given the circumstances. I find it deeply disturbing that the only government department that runs like clockwork is the South African Revenue Service. If it can be done there, why not everywhere else?  

The knock-on effect of taking more than your fair share

A country runs like a household – if someone is stealing money from the cookie jar, it is going to be empty soon, and nobody (except possibly the thief) will get anything. If the family spends more than it earns for a long time, the repo man will come knocking.

If nobody contributes to the municipal bills, the water and electricity will be cut off.

If a family member steals the rent money, the family will be evicted. All these things can be hidden for a short while, but not in the long run.

In our country it is the day of the arrival of the repo man, the day someone realises the cookie jar is empty, and the day the eviction notice arrives. A bankrupt man can no longer spoil his favourite child. That is, unless he raids everyone’s bank accounts and disappears to Dubai, leaving everyone else to deal with the debtors.

He won’t be the first person to do this and he won’t be the last.

I am not religious but more, and more I find myself wishing for an avenging angel like the one with the burning sword at the gates of Paradise, who will protect our state coffers and the innocent of our country. We so need it, and we haven’t had someone in power on our side for a long time.

The struggle indeed continues. And every single one of us must be in it.

* Susan Erasmus is a freelance writer. Views expressed are her own.

* Visit our Mini Budget Special Issue for all the news, views and analysis.

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