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South Africa’s basket case scenario

Talking nice to the man with the gun doesn’t seem to work in a hijacking, writes Roy de Vos.

When I first heard the Primedia and Independent Newspapers “LEAD SOUTH AFRICA” campaign being punted on Cape Talk Radio, I heard it as “LEAVE SOUTH AFRICA”     and I thought with a shiver, “mmm ……. has the ANC Youth League bought a majority shareholding in Primedia?”

When I started to hear how we should all be good citizens and not litter, wear our seat belts, not talk on cell phones while driving, report the possibility of criminal acts, drive within the speed limits and pick up our dog’s poo on the Sea Point Promenade, I realised that this is why people come back to South Africa after emigrating to countries like Australia.

That’s precisely why we live in Africa …. who really cares if you do any of the above? And if you are caught, usually a monetary gift to assist the public official’s enjoyment of his evening drink will make it all go away.

What are these guys trying to do? Turn us into another nanny state like the UK where if you dump your trash in a street bin because yours is too full or you missed the truck (you woke up late after a long night’s drinking celebrating getting a government tender), you get caught on CCTV and land up paying a fine or going to jail!

After a strong cup of coffee I started to wonder – what if this campaign actually starts to influence people to really live with more consideration for other citizens and the environment.

I thought of an analogy with the recent Soccer World Cup competition.

For 30 days I felt as if I was living in a first world country. Even though some people say that Cape Town IS another country. Trains ran on time, the police arrested you if you went into the wrong bathroom, drug dealers were bust and even celebrities like Paris Hilton felt the wrath of the law. Magnificent stadiums popped up out of the barren veld and busses took you right to the front entrance. I didn’t hear of a farm murder (all right, maybe one) and Julius Malema seemed to have taken a holiday in Mauritius.

People bought Chinese made soccer stuff (and now can buy the same stuff for 50% less) like there was no tomorrow and flew flags; they painted their faces in national colours drank lots of French wine and German beer, braaied boerewors, ate pizzas and got to know where obscure countries like Serbia, Slovakia and Honduras where situated. We greeted strange looking people in the streets and gave them directions with a smile.

We mortgaged our houses for over-priced tickets, signed up for DSTV and laid in stocks of fast food (Famous Brands did well) and may even have tried a Budweiser or two. Normal people took public transport after dark of their own volition. We walked along “fan walks” in pouring rain (even though we weren’t even going to the game) got permanent hearing damage from vuvuzelas and screamed ourselves hoarse.

Then it all ended and the winners left our shores on the same night they won the cup like some Latin lover grabbing his pants and sprinting for the door with hardly a good bye and thanks for the fun.

And after a second cup of coffee I got to wondering some more. What if when we got to the stadiums, the seats were broken, the toilets filthy, only half the floodlights worked, our tickets had been double-booked, there was no beer, the place was under yesterday’s rubbish, the promised transport didn’t pitch up and we had to walk home in the rain. How happy would we be? Not very. The analogy between the World Cup and the country seemed rather apt.

Now in the post-coital like state of despair and trauma (everything is back to normal – farm murders, strikes, road carnage, corruption, execrable service delivery, heavy-handed police, Julius M back from holiday, political infighting, monitoring the press being considered) we realise that we really are just another African country verging on basket case definition and on looking into the morning mirror we wonder what did the world see in us in the first place? Was it just another one-night stand?

And of course it was. But some of us, like Primedia, who have a whack of capital invested in this country realised that if the basket case scenario develops, they can wave their retirement packages hasta la vista like the Latin lover and seem to think they can turn public perception around from despair to active participation in our future.

I sincerely hope it works. And I am sure I and Moneywebbers have been and will continue to be good citizens.

Thinking a bit further ahead though I wondered what would happen if and when all the citizens evolved to excellent social role models and still had to deal with a recalcitrant government. Could and would they vote for a more efficient and responsible government? They haven’t so far. And if the LEAD SOUTH AFRICA movement becomes tired of picking up other people’s poo, (as I have) what will they do about it? Insist that the government do the job that they are paid to do by taxpayers? How would they do that? Letters to the Editor? Letters to their local councillor? Radio interviews with government ministers? Meetings with government departments? Public demonstrations? Marches? Formation of another new political party? Perhaps, dare I say it? Revolution??

The problem is that from the day of their being voted in, the ANC government  embarked on a policy of rewarding friends and relatives by giving them posts in local and central government. Unfortunately for the most part these new functionaries have little knowledge, capacity or understanding of how to efficiently fulfil their mandates. Hence the service delivery riots, burning of trains etc. Hence also the consequent enrichment of associates via public tenders. Refer Malema et al. Now, once ensconced, it becomes extremely difficult to remove by fair means or foul a group of entrenched opportunists who have become used to the good life. Refer Robert Mugabe and others further north.   

So where does this leave the LEAD SOUTH AFRICA campaign? Is their ultimate scenario planning a new political party or a revolution? Because talking nice to the man with the gun doesn’t seem to work in a hijacking. And as citizens of South Africa we are being hijacked in many ways.  Maybe you get away with your life if you’re lucky but you can say good bye to your car, laptop, cellphone and wallet.

I wait with bated breath.

* Roy de Vos is a member of the Moneyweb community. If you’d like to contribute to Moneyweb’s soapbox send your article to


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