South Africa excels in outrageous satire, but it’s usually practised by our politicians rather than our satirists. Comedians such as Pieter-Dirk Uys realised this long ago, as did cartoonists such as Zapiro.
But over the past week, we have had a bumper dose of ridiculous, official-level behaviour, followed by spin, which, without any irony or intent, revealed the sheer inanity of the financial and economic system.
It will all doubtless provide a wealth of material for comics, but will be no laughing matter because most of the population will suffer the effects of last week’s mini economic meltdown for months to come.
Whenever an economy is hurt – driving up prices, and reducing output and job prospects – it is the working people who are most damaged. And it matters not whether they labour in formal or informal sectors, or are unionised or not.
Yet it was these labouring masses – the majority of the population – that newly reappointed Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan credited with having brought him back into office. More specifically, for having removed his predecessor – David “Des” van Rooyen – after only four days.
According to Gordhan, this was an example of democracy in action: the people objected to the appointment, the president listened and change followed. To which a response could be: what about issues such as e-tolls or the demand to pay back the money on Nkandla?
But this was spin, not statement of fact. It was a lie; a myth calculated to calm the restive masses, particularly the trade unions, and so reassure The Market that all would be well.
Because, as mainstream pundits promptly informed the country at the time, The Market had spoken. It was if they were saying that gods from on high had ordered a plague of financial punishments on a sinning nation.
The government duly took notice. However, this financial market is not some sort of Olympian divinity. It is, in fact, a largely anarchic collection of gamblers and manipulators whose sole aim is to make as much money as quickly as possible.
Also involved are international bodies that hold other regions and nations in thrall through debt. South Africa’s national debt, for example, is equal to every man, woman and child in the country owing more than R13 000.
But what all these gamblers and manipulators require is stability to ensure a continual, hopefully steady and increasing, flow of profits. So replacing one political manager with another is sometimes deemed necessary.
The economic crunch of last week provided a classic example. As did the hurried discussions behind the scenes, including, apparently, concerns expressed by Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini about the damage to workers’ lives and future ANC electoral prospects.
There is no doubt that considerable damage has been done and that the poorest of the poor will be the main sufferers. But at least the events of the week provided an insight into the reality of the system and how illusory the concept of democracy really is.