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Thu Aug 25 01:20:25 SAST 2016

The Big Read: The fall of the runt reveals our wonky path

Tom Eaton | 13 January, 2016 08:34
Tom Eaton
Image by: Twitter.com/TomEatonSA

Let me be very clear. The shrivelling of the rand is not the fault of Jacob Zuma or the ANC. It is a blatant lie that bad government is to blame. Because, of course, we don't have bad government. We have no government.

I understand the confusion, of course. I mean, it's logical to assume that the people making speeches in parliament are politicians and that this implies the existence of some sort of government acting in the interests of the public.

But the thing is, those people aren't public servants. What they are is just plain old businesspeople, running a very successful private investors' club, accumulating and safeguarding enormous fortunes for their few hundred members.

I know it's confusing, especially because they often call themselves "the government" and they've bought office space in parliament and various provincial legislatures. But blaming them for wrecking the economy is as silly as accusing Goldman Sachs of being a bad government. It's not their job. It hasn't been their job for six or seven years. And if you still think it should be, or that they might start doing it, then you really haven't been paying attention.

I don't know who broke the Zuma Rand. Perhaps we all did. Financial journalists regularly point out that we South Africans are uniquely inept with our money: those who have some tend to spend it faster than an SA Communist Party commissar in a Mercedes showroom.

One explanation could be that we're fantastically bad with numbers. The press is still trying to figure out the calculation that raised the matric maths literacy mark from 38% to 71%, but I don't think it was a calculation at all. I suspect it was an aesthetic decision: 7 looks a bit like a Nike swoosh, which is cool, so that had to be in there somewhere, and 1 looks like a finger, which is what maths literacy graduates use for counting, so naturally that had to go in too. All in all, a much nicer looking number than 38, because 3 looks like a broken 8, and 8 looks like Bennie Boekwurm, and nobody wants one-and-a-half worms for a final matric mark, right?

Another possible reason we spend more than we earn is that rands are increasingly depressing things to have. Over the years they've gone from being a tenner you discover in your pocket to a silver fiver you find in your car's ashtray to that green, corroding 5cent smear you scrape off the bottom of your kitchen drawer. No wonder we spend them as fast as we can.

To be fair, though, the rand isn't dying alone. The Russian rouble can't buy you a decent hit on a journalist in Moscow any more, and the Brazilian real is worth about as much as the floaters bobbing about in the Rio Olympic yacht basin. But still, it's all very alarming for those of us raised on the myth of South African exceptionalism: regardless of our political leanings, a lot of us are behaving like indignant British colonials who have been herded into an internment camp, snapping open our parasols and marching over to the commandant to demand that he sorts out what is clearly just a terrible misunderstanding. We are South Africans, damn it! Surely there has simply been some clerical error that we can sort out like gentlemen?

But time and currency traders wait for no one, and the rand continues to reflect our meandering journey to wherever we're going. The De Klerk Ront has been denounced: you'll struggle to find anyone admitting they ever spent one. The Mandela Rand has passed away and become myth. The Mbeki Rand has been recalled. The Zuma Rand, a currency still quite useful for buying fire-pools and votes, will inevitably be replaced by another. Some are starting to whisper about the Dlamini-Zuma Rand, or, as euphoric British tourists would call it, two pence. And then? Will it be a Malema Rand, a unique dual currency that buys economic freedom for senior Fighters and fokkol for everyone else?

I don't know, of course, because, like many people in so-called government, I know absolutely nothing about economics. But I do know that it's time I found alternative revenue streams.

Luckily for me, there's an election coming, which means South Africa's three growth industries this year will be T-shirts, food parcels and speeches about redistributing land. The state already has speech writers - or at least a hand-cranked speech-generating machine made in Murmansk in 1958 - but I reckon I can still coin it with the other two.

Say, five million yellow shirts emblazoned with "VOTE FOR US OR YOUR SOCIAL GRANT STOPS"? Tenmillion hamburger buns emblazoned with the face of the president? Lordy, I'd make millions of rands! Literally dozens of pounds!

So long, suckers. I'm off to the printers.

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