Slow down - elections ahead

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Don Valley MD Solly Moeng.
Don Valley MD Solly Moeng.

The first half of 2018 has gone by very fast, filled with a mixture of Ramaphoria, trepidation, doubt and relief following Zuma’s departure.

There were other emotions, too, that left many South Africans either optimistic about the future or, increasingly it seems, worried that they might have accepted a rosy 'new dawn' proposal without reading the terms and conditions attached.

This feeling could be compared with having accepted one of those contracts sold telephonically by cunning call centre agents, without seeing the related paperwork, and only waking up when the debit orders start being deducted. Now it’s too late to get the contract cancelled. Litigation is expensive; we have to see it through to the end.

But none of this is anything new for South Africans; we keep doing this to ourselves or, rather, we keep letting the powers that be do it to us.

Going by the whispers, it’s hard to tell whether we’re on an irreversible and sustainable healing path, or if we’re simply taking more steps backwards, all while being assured we are moving forwards.  

Anecdotes abound

Going by anecdotal evidence, there are taxpayers with the means to move their money out of the country, who have quietly began doing just that. A few weeks ago, I related the experience of my favourite bicycle shop and service centre owner who lamented the departure of many of his monied clients.

Over the past year, he has seen fewer familiar faces in his shop. There have been even fewer new high-end bicycle purchases and service requirements. Several of his former clients told him ahead of their departure that they would be leaving; a second group sent greetings from abroad, after leaving; and a third simply went quiet, without any trace.

I hear that places like Malta and Portugal are becoming destinations of choice for moneyed South Africans, as they offer attractive incentives for home buyers and investors who bring money from abroad, even from South Africa.

But not everyone is leaving the country, of course. There is another group of South Africans determined to stay here and fight for what is theirs. So extreme left-wing groups who believe that they will simply walk onto private property at some point in the future and scare the owners away – Zimbabwe-style - without a bloody fight, are in for a big surprise. It’s going to get nasty if we do not find a voice of reason soon enough to calm high-running emotions before it’s too late.

The guns we have seen re-emerge in Kwazulu-Natal after having gone quiet for many years are not the only guns there are to account for in the country. Balanced leadership is needed.   

Recently I made reference – and this is becoming a common threat in this weekly column – to the difficulty South Africa is facing, thanks to our mixed messages, in recovering its country image, following some ten years of intense plunder and weakening of once-respected institutions.

Much of this is anecdotal, of course, but it all seems to point in the same direction and to carry the same theme – departures. This past week, I spoke to someone who has been in the business of selling high-end homes for a number of years, many of them to foreign nationals who live in Cape Town part of the year, during the warm months, and migrate to the northern hemisphere during the summer months in that part of the world.

Her experience was the same; many foreign buyers she has been in contact with are either holding off on buying new properties, or are desperately trying to sell them off before, apparently, they get expropriated without compensation. An air of policy uncertainty with regard to private property ownership is not good for our country's brand reputational recovery. We have to remember that many of the property buyers under discussion do not limit themselves to buying homes in South Africa.

Some run businesses that invest in other parts of the economy and contribute to job creation, skills and small business development. They also contribute to our increasingly fragile tax base.

Having them hold off spending money here for fear of what could happen – reminiscent of the Zimbabwe-style rhetoric ahead of Mugabe’s expropriationary plunder in the late 2000s – can never be good for South Africa.

Elections ahead   

In less than a year, South Africans will be returning to the polls for what promises to be a watershed general election that might see in the real 'new dawn', following what would be a quarter of a century under one party's domination.

The ANC has managed to stay in power all these years thanks to relatively consistent support by the country’s black African majority. Fearful of any sign of a possible return to a horrific apartheid past – whose painful memories remain real and whose wounds remain open – and hopeful of reaching the long-awaited Promised Land, these voters have remained loyal. But in recent years, the fog that created an untouchable halo over the governing party’s liberation credentials has been lifting, and more people have begun to see through the lies, the abuse, the disrespect, and the political arrogance that has resulted from too many easy electoral victories. Change is in the air.

Sadly, the main opposition political parties seem to be failing dismally to grab the opportunity to position themselves as credible alternatives to the ANC. Their energy is being consumed daily, either by fruitless internal battles or in pushing a divisive, often racist rhetoric that can only pour vinegar into the bitter racial crevices that were reopened by Jacob Zuma.

Instead, they should be seizing on the nation’s desperate need to be held together by a caring government that serves all citizens of the country, rallying them as one behind a call to build together for the future.

In the months ahead, South Africans must listen carefully to the promises that will be made. They must ask themselves if such promises are realistic and whether they will bring lasting unity and pleasure, or just short-term enjoyment for only a portion of the population while the country’s economic fortunes continue to worsen. They must ask if the promises made will take the poorest of the poor farther down a hard road, as the tax base gets eroded and the chances increase that government grants will be a thing of the past.  

Better informed, voters must continue connecting the dots and make smart choices between short-term pleasure and long-term gains for the country.   

* Solly Moeng is brand reputation management adviser and CEO of strategic corporate communications consultancy DonValley Reputation Managers. Views expressed are his own.

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