The world is changing fast and to keep up you need local knowledge with global context.
JOHANNESBURG — Here’s a brilliant assessment of the state of South Africa by one of the country’s foremost analysts. Frans Cronje is the CEO of the respected Institute of Race Relations, which since its formation in 1929 has been acknowledged as the country’s leading political and economic think tank. The IRR was created with the purpose of assessing facts and propagating ideas aimed at “freeing all South Africans from unemployment, dependency and poverty.” Cronje, who leads a team of 25, admits that it has been over a decade since he has been as positive – and in this absorbing interview, explains how SA dodged a Zimbabwe-type bullet by a wafer thin margin. He is now filled with hope and explains why the star of new president Cyril Ramaphosa has rocketed since his narrow December 18 victory when he was elected to succeed the deeply flawed Jacob Zuma. – Alec Hogg
On Friday, I spent a fruitful couple hours with Frans Cronje, the gifted chief executive of the IRR. In recent years Cronje and his colleagues have been a voice of rationality in a sea of emotion – using facts to explain how poor choices were pushing South Africa into a desperate future. I was keen to discover what this team of facts-obsessed analysts are making of the changes at the top of the ANC…We kicked off with where SA found itself late last year…
We believe in the rock bottom theory. There’s a great quote that comes out of a Pennsylvanian politician, a Republican, by the name of Stephen Bloom who says that, ‘economics is to politics as gravity is to jumping” – it brings you back to earth. That, I think, did happen. As the economic performance weakened, the deficit rose, the ratings agencies started to encroach on the fiscal sovereignty of the country. Protests took off, frustration developed and escalated.
What about Zimbabwe though, before we go back that? The Zimbabwe situation is something that is often repeated and many who believe that SA was ordained to follow the Zimbabwe path.
To go back to what you’ve just said – we almost did, and I think now people would have gotten…
Was it really that close?
We were fed quite good information on ANC branches into the end of last year so, we were able to create spreadsheets and models estimating the result. In a note to clients on the 6th December, so two weeks before the conference, we said that our baseline model now predicts that Cyril Ramaphosa has a 50.27% lead.
A delicate majority. Now, consider 4,700 delegates would vote. This was less than 50 people. Ultimately, he won with 179 votes. If you cut those in half – if 90 people, ordinary men and women, had voted differently Jacob Zuma would have delivered the SONA last week, or stumbled his way through it, and we would have been waiting for a thesis on radical economic transformation in the Budget-speech. We turned at the brink. Cyril’s majority, in the end, was 51.8%. Had that not occurred the State-Capture project would have succeeded. It would have been very difficult to lift that clique out of power and SA might very well have been firmly on the trajectory of another decade of very weak economic performance and totally counterproductive policy. Rising levels of protest action and social frustrations, and desperate politicians seeking to divert that anger by resorting to the most base racial nationalism. A lot of people over the last past couple of years – civil society groups, Pravin Gordhan, Mr Ramaphosa, and ordinary men and women, the journalists that exposed so much, did a heroic job of countering the State-Capture project. But even with all that, we were within a hair of disaster and we’ve escaped that.
So, the rock bottom was reached, almost despite what might have happened alternatively. If those 90 people had voted the other way there would have been, presumably, a much lower rock bottom, even perceivably a Zimbabwean-type situation for decades?
We hadn’t put the country on rock bottom in our own judgement last year. We run four scenarios. They hinge on whether SA sees a structural reformation. Do we become a more competitive investment destination or experience further structural deterioration? And whether SA remains a free society or becomes more of an authoritarian society. You make a matrix out of those decisions with two axes and you get four futures. The future we’d said we were in last year was the one of continued structural deterioration – underperformance compared to other emerging markets across a range of economic indicators, from growth to labour market absorption – but one where we remained, in the main, on the free side of the world. The civil rights culture is largely protected. That was not the worst case.
The worst case was that you continue the structural deterioration and deflect public anger through racial nationalism and use that to destroy the democratic infrastructure. If Mr Ramaphosa had lost I would have been on the verge, with my colleagues, of thinking whether we must change the call – the rating on the country – from a scenario that we call the break-up, which is the fragmentation and economic underperformance of a still mostly free society, to what we call the tyranny scenario, the one where SA was on a hiding to nothing over the next decade.
So, authoritarianism could have taken over and would have, if those 90 people had voted differently?
I think that in the end the anger of people, at the unmet expectations could very well have been exploited by populist politicians to undermine constitutional safeguards and protections. Then we would have been well on the way to that scenario, and by a hair we’re not there.
That’s the exciting world we’re in today so, let’s forget the past, almost, and look into the future. Just one final point though, with the departure of Jacob Zuma, and it’s only 48 hours ago, not even, the anticipation was that there would be dancing in the street. In fact, there was just great anger. Was that expected?
No, we didn’t anticipate dancing in the streets or anything of that nature. Let me tell you that there’s polling data around, lots of it. People must poll otherwise there’s no way of understanding a society. There was polling data done at the end of last year, which shows a very high degree of scepticism amongst SA citizens towards politicians in general. For people too young to remember apartheid the levels of scepticism are extraordinarily high, even of the ANC. For people who remember the era levels of sympathy for the ANC – this doesn’t mean they vote for it but they’re sympathetic towards it – are much better. Across the board South Africans, and we must be very grateful for this, become cynical about political leaders. That might be a key ingredient of our future success.
It will not happen again, that a political party will be given carte blanche here, to deliver on its promises. I think why we didn’t see dancing in the streets is because the popular expectation now is, we’re grateful Mr Ramaphosa is there, he’s certainly better than his predecessor, or what might have been the alternative – but let’s see him deliver, and if he does that we will be very grateful and may then return the ANC to power with a comfortable majority. That’s a very good thing, it’s a mature society that. We also haven’t been through the hell of Zimbabwe either. We weren’t that. We might a decade from now have become something like that, we were approaching that, but we weren’t as horrific as that.
You mention race relations and that is something that you’ve done a lot research into.
They’re very good. It’s wrong to say that SA is a country where people have turned against each other or relations have deteriorated. I spend some time in America and when I’m in Washington I’m struck by it, and maybe it’s coincidence, how often Baltimore seems to explode in some sort of race riot requiring steps, approaching the deployment of the national guard. The Americans ask me, ‘how are things in SA?’ I say, ‘we’re not deploying anyone to contain race riots in the country.’ If you ask South Africa’s people what they think – 8 out of 10 say that different groups need each other, if each individual group is going to be successful in a future SA. The majority again, of 8 out of 10, it’s slightly more in both cases in fact, say that they believe that relations between people are better now than they were in 1994, or at least not any worse than they were in those heady days of Mandela’s Rainbow Nation.
The results don’t surprise if you poll further and deeper because you find a very limited appetite for radical populism in the country. Most South Africans are very sensible, moderate, middle of the road, even conservative people – hard working, God fearing, law and order types, and they wish that their neighbours would be successful with them. It’s not to say, and the charge will come whenever I say this, that racism is not a problem. Of course, it is (where it exists), but if you read social media or follow some of the mainstream media on SA and you read nothing else you would be completely forgiven for believing that this is a country that’s turned on itself and that people want to chase each other into the sea. It’s remarkable to reflect on the magnanimity of so many South Africans. If we are able to maintain that and resume the socioeconomic trajectory we were on between 2000 and 2007, then I’m quite confident that we will be able to remain a society in which people retain respect for each other – across lines of race and class.
Why did Zuma keep banging that drum? Even when he resigned he came out with the race drum.
Well he didn’t initially. When Zuma first came to power and the profile on him – we sometimes profile politicians to get a sense of what’s in their heads – and the bit about racial nationalism, and racism was blank. If you go and look at Zuma historically, he did not play the race card, unlike his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki. Later, as Zuma gets progressively more captured I think you see a racial nationalist slant, as he’s pushed into a corner. I’ve always retained the view that Zuma, himself, was not a racist and he was not an ideologue. He had weaknesses, personal ones, and terrible ones, we know what those are, but I don’t think Zuma was a racist – much less so than some of those around him. What we saw at the end was desperation from him and the comments that he made.
So Bell Pottinger played a significant role?
Well Bell Pottinger played a very significant role but Bell Pottinger also took advantage of a climate that had already been created in the country by what I think is a minority of commentators, who indulge in racial provocation – at odds with public opinion. I think it’s a dangerous thing to do. I think it’s not good at all, but does racial nationalism work politically? Is that a winning strategy? Well, Zuma got nowhere with it but we’ve got a test-case so we can answer the question. We’ve got the EFF and the EFF struggles to get more than 10% in any election, in a country where half of young black people are unemployed. Consistent with our polling, the reason is that young desperate people, not always well educated, are actually immensely sensible and they don’t fall easily for the seduction of the racial nationalists. There’s no guarantee that that will remain the case and you’ve spoken about Zimbabwe earlier. I’ve presented some of this research to various people and quite a sobering comment was from a chap with a lot of Zimbabwean experience. He said to me, he doesn’t know but if they had done similar polling in Zimbabwe, before the crises, he’s sure that relations would have been even better. The point that he made is that a small minority of racial nationalist populists can swing an entire country, onto a very negative trajectory, if they choose to do so. We’ve escaped that fate for now.
The 18th December then, really was a watershed. It was binary. It was either zero or one.
Yes, if it had gone differently, by 90 votes, remember, or 4,500 or more than that, we would have been in for an exceptionally tough decade ahead.
What are we in for now?
The question for us now is, do we upgrade the scenario or view? We’ve been in this scenario, the breakup, which is underperformance relative to other emerging markets but still a fundamentally free and open society. The question that faces the team now is this; do we upgrade that view to a structural reformation? In other words, a country that will begin to approach the performance of competitive emerging markets across a range of indicators.
Start going up the tables, Frans, instead of going down?
Yes, we’ll go up the tables. To make the call, we have a very simple tool. We have 20 quantitative and qualitative indicators, and we rank these across five criteria, from outperform or recovery, where the indicator will significantly outperform its short term moving average to approach potential or emerging market norms. These would be things like labour market absorption rates, growth rates, fixed capital formation, and that sort of thing. Maths passes in Matric – the quality of school education. And we have qualitative ones as well – we look for particular moves on education policy that would serve as flags or indicators of a willingness to stare down ideological dogma and introduce reform. The rankings on those indicators a year ago, or 6 weeks ago, were a horror show. So much so that we feared even presenting them to clients, it would depress them.
How much of a horror show, just unpack that?
Well, if these indicators continued SA might have found itself in a position where it had the potential to, in the worst case, enter a deep recession and double its unemployment rate, and see a significant real decline in per capita GDP and living standards.
Yes, and that is a horror show because social unrest must surely follow.
Yes, we already have much social unrest. That’s our daily condition – we might have had a great deal more but we have also always had enclaves because the world is now disorganised enough, in the sense that you don’t need the central organisation, or central authorities and elite communities can exist in green zones within enclaves. And SA is at the cutting-edge of enclave formation, the golf-estates, the Steyn City idea.
Not a very proud record though, is it.
Well, you’ve got to be at the cutting-edge of some things.
It’s practical, yes.
Our accounting standard, although within reason.
Well, they’ve gone as well.
Well, it shows why you should always be a bit cautious about the rankings but we were sitting at number one or two in the world.
Yes, so now, if you did those quantitative and qualitative numbers.
Now, they look a lot better. They sort of go from crimson to green across the screen, and there are a lot of green ones lighting up.
And it’s that big after one vote?
Well, where a lot of them have gone is from underperform to rankings where we say the potential to begin to outperform is there. We can’t make the upgrade call now because we can only do it on the hard evidence of the lead indicators picking up over a sufficient number of quarters, consumer confidence, the business confidence index – we need to see these actually pick up. So, it’s not a judgement on Mr Ramaphosa to say that we have not yet upgraded but within 6 months to 9 months we should have enough evidence to stand before a client and say, ‘we will now upgrade the view on the country.’ We are now in a position, where we think we can start to outperform our moving averages.
The very good news is this that a year ago there was no justification for even considering that. Now there is every justification to watch those indicators closely so that the upgrade call can be made. Mr Ramaphosa, when he came to power, with his narrow majority, we think still had a slight minority position in the NEC of the ANC. He subsequently, as Peter Bruce wrote in Business Day, and we agreed with Bruce in the newspaper this morning – ‘played a blinder,’ to use Bruce’s words. He now has a comfortable majority on the NEC. He controls the Working Committee. He’s dealing with his problems in the top-6. He’s cast a ring of steel around Ace Magashule, through arresting a lot of people in the Free State, and it’s only a matter of time before one of those arrests ensnares Mr Magashule and takes him down. He has a confident command of the Parliamentary Caucus of the ANC. He’s got many ANC factions on board, the Women’s’ League and the bits and pieces that hang about the party.
Arguably you can ask, from his very brittle position 6 weeks ago, is he now the most powerful president and leader that the ANC has had, in the democratic era? I think that’s true. I think it’s true enough that you can say that he can now do anything he chooses to do on policy, and he will get it through. He does not need to appease. He does not need to take into consideration factions that will undermine him. He called Zuma’s bluff, who first called his bluff, and he won. I think if he uses this momentum to act swiftly there is nothing that cannot be done on policy. Therefore, should we not upgrade the view and should we not make the call later in the year that SA is now approaching its best-case scenario. Remember, you can have extremes within a scenario. You can underperform at various ways, and outperform in various ways. If we don’t make that call, I think the only reason will be that Mr Ramaphosa chose not to use the power that he now has, to bring about the correct policy interventions.
So, we’ll keep watching that, as things go forward, but the reality is the Rand has appreciated 20% since it became apparent that Mr Ramaphosa could win, and that has opened up foreign investment interest in SA. Remembering SA companies, your clients, have got R1trn of cash on their balance sheets. What’s going to get them to open that vault?
A series of things that are all within Mr Ramaphosa’s power to do. The one is to assure them that their property rights are safe. Land is one thing but if you change Section 25 of the Constitution you dilute property rights across the economy, and the threat in an era of an emerging markets with perhaps weaker property rights protections than we have now but moving towards stronger protections while we would be moving in the opposite direction – that will be like fixing a red light above the gateway to the economy for years to come. Property rights have to be 100% secure. Even more so, considering the threats that have been made against them over such a long period of time – you need to calm investor fears. Particularly, if you’re going to attract the type of investment we so need, in order to pull poor people into middle-income positions. The long-term hard, fixed investment in industry, in mining, in manufacturing, in agriculture to dilute rural poverty – property rights are absolutely central.
The second thing he has to address is the counterproductive effects of labour market policy and pushing poor people out of work. The activists for greater protection will jump up and down and say, ‘how can you say such a thing?’ We’ll say, we say it for this reason, we estimate that since 2011, to take one starting point, of a 9 million person increase in the size of the working age population, we think a third of those people found employment. We think 15% of them are still looking, and half of them have given up looking because they don’t think they will find a job. Labour market policy must be tweaked to prise people into jobs but even that is no longer sufficient because perhaps an equally, or perhaps an even greater threat to labour market absorption is not the law – a clever entrepreneur can deal with an impediment like that. It’s a far more insidious thing – the idea of a decent job because what that does is it frightens a small firm or a small manufacturing plant from employing someone at a level that will be seen as exploitive, and having that firm, its products or its management, held up in the media as a pariah.
In my work, I spend a lot of time talking to lots of firms, and I’d say that a greater impediment than the law itself is the fear of being singled out as an exploitative employer. Here, Mr Ramaphosa, has a great responsibility. He has to create the idea that any job is a good thing. There are many ways to do it. You can say that the labour market should be used as an education system to give a second chance to people who haven’t been afforded the opportunity of learning anything in our very weak school system, and that I’ll get to in a moment – the dignity of labour, the idea that earning any income is better than none because in time you’ll learn skills and you’ll climb the ladder and your earned income will approach the extent of your grants income, and later exceed it.
You’re getting into the game, basically.
You’ve got to get the guy in the game because he’s not in the game at the moment, and with the level of scepticism amongst young people at politicians, which as I’ve said, is a good thing. I think the only route out of scepticism is labour market absorption. So, he’s got to do that – property rights and labour market absorption. The third obstacle, and in fact, a case for further labour market deregulation is the education system. In 2014 we estimated that there were 1.1-million pupils in the grade-10 class, the old standard-8, and 2 years later they became the Matric class of 2016, but only 610 000 were there, half have dropped out. A proportion would pass Matric and get university entrance passes but all its standards that have been dumbed down under political pressure, to a point that they’re useless for any type of an analysis.
Three in 100 children would pass maths in Matric with 60%. And this in an economy with a structure of GDP and employment which has, over a very long period of time – you could see the embryonic signs already in the 1960s – moved away from primary and secondary industries, in the direction of the high tech, and high skilled services economy. School problems can be addressed and we think it’s a perfect, even a conservative target to say that we quadruple the number of maths passes in Matric, proper ones, (not the silly 30% things that are called a pass), over the next decade. How do you do that? There are schools that perform very well in SA, not all of these are rich schools, they’re poor schools, and if you go to those schools and you try and determine why they produce good results you’ll come across the following things.
The first is that the SA Democratic Teachers Union has been chased off the campus. The second thing is that the headmaster is a very strong character and that he’s got the community behind him. I visited a school in Natal and the head of the school said that it’s easy to know if a school is a good one or a bad one. She said you must look at the roof. If the roof is painted and doesn’t leak – it means that the Matric pass rate is high, and the reason she said this is that the government will never paint the roof. So, if it is painted and it’s in a poor area the community painted it. That means the headmaster is in charge and has community backing and intimidates local people into coming on a Sunday, donating their time and the paint to paint the roof, which means he’s a tough enough character to have chased SADTU off the campus.
Out of that you learn one lesson. That schools where communities and parents have management control produce better results, than schools where some decrepit bureaucrat in Pretoria calls the shots. It’s again, the same obviousness as if people get more prosperous they tend to feel better about their surroundings. Parents make better decisions about their children than the bureaucrats do so, allow parents to make better decisions, for example, by expanding the powers of school governing bodies, contrary to proposed amendments in schools’ legislation now. Go as far as the state selling its schools for R1 in any community, to an approved non-profit group or church, or whoever it is, or AfriForum, if they want to run the schools. Let them run the school to a standard set by regulators, but then finance parents in that community through grants or vouchers that they can use to purchase education. The parent becomes a consumer and has the same control over quality. You don’t need one more cent – you’ll have better management.
Is that in prospect? We know that education is broken in SA, we know there are many people looking for solutions.
There have been trials done. It’s a hybrid of the charter schools model or contract schools or voucher schooling. They’re all different but they’re all essentially converging on the same point.
But without getting bogged down into one area I just want to a feeling for the broad picture.
No, education authorities would say never.
They would kick against?
Yes, they’d kick against it.
What about the broad picture now, because pre-the 18th December, when you stood up in front of audiences and you spoke to your clients you did not have a good story to tell. Post 18th December, are you now hopeful?
Very. We always held out the hope. We always held out all the four scenarios and we always told clients that the best thing you can do is to position yourself for each of the four. Treat them all as plausible. Make strategy for all of them so that when one of them happens it doesn’t take you by surprise. Then commit to the one that the indicators tell you you are in, but don’t be in a position that Cyril’s rise has surprised you. I’m pleased that I’ve got clients who are not surprised at Cyril. They know exactly what they’re going to do. Of course, we are optimistic. The ANC has learnt a painful lesson in recent years. He has got a significant mandate, within his party and outside of it, for change. He is a decent and proper person, which is not something we’ve had in that position for a decade. He is someone who certainly has the potential to make all the right decisions. I was at an embassy this morning, if he does that, SA in short order, a couple of years, will be well on its way to becoming one of the world’s most exciting emerging markets. In 20 or 30 years, we can be well on our way to becoming a rich country. One that doesn’t have youth unemployment problems. That doesn’t have problems of poverty. That doesn’t have shack settlements. That SA is possible – with 5%-6% economic growth, sustained for 20 or 30 years, SA will become a prosperous society.
What are the odds of that?
The odds are hard Alec. There’s a temptation always to assign odds…
Is it a longshot or is it a prospect?
No, it’s perfectly plausible. Let me tell you about odds. Why don’t we just not waste your time and tell you what will happen, and not have this scenario and that one, and the next one. The reason is, we’re not clever enough to do that. The reason for that, the scenario field now understands and it’s something called the emergent property of a complex system. That in some systems lots of actors are competing for resources, which is essentially the definition of complexity. A change in the behaviour of a single actor can bring about a huge shift in the future circumstances of that system. It’s sort of the butterfly effect applied to politics and economics. If a client says it sounds esoteric and theoretical we convince them. Traffic patterns are complex systems and you can’t forecast the traffic from the West Rand into Sandton on Monday morning. You can study all the trends and the patterns, but if one driver misbehaves and causes a major problem it knocks out the experience of tens of thousands of people in that system, and possibly right through the entire week – you miss meetings or flights, you haven’t been to things. For that reason, small changes in the present conditions of countries or economies can bring about profound shifts in their future circumstances.
It’s this that creates Donald Trump after Obama. Think of that, that you stood in the mall in Washington about 10 years ago, when Mr Obama made his speech and says, ‘Yes, we can,’ to a million people. You turn to your mate and you say, ‘it’s great but I think Donald Trump will be the next guy to stand there.’ Last night when I spoke and I said to the audience if six weeks ago we’d had this dinner and I told you that the Guptas would be in custody, and the audience laughed. They even couldn’t believe it then that it had happened, that some of the chaps have been detained. For that reason, we’re cautious on probabilities but I’m going to give you one. I have to firstly emphasise the caution. The caution is that there is no basis to make the call. The danger is that a client, a listener, or a reader thinks that we’re some kind of expert and believes us on the probability. The best thing you can do is to be hedged for all scenarios all the time but implement policy that aligns to the one that stacks up most closely to current trends. Having said that, what room is there for instinct and experience and a sense of optimism? Yes, there is no good reason why Cyril Ramaphosa should not be successful. There’s no obstacle that can’t be overcome and no reason why, 10 years from now, we might not be able to sustain growth rates of 5, 6, or 7% of GDP, and have cut our unemployment rate in half.
Two final points, the one is race relations. Will they, at a public level, and you’ve said at the, if you like, at a private or at a basic level that race relations are good in SA, but at a public level where we’re still seeing this politics of hate and bile being espoused on social media. Do you see that settling down under a Ramaphosa Presidency?
There’s a funny counterintuitive thing that relations between poor people are often better than those amongst rich people. I think that as SA becomes more prosperous and its middle class expands we might see signs of increasing tensions. Now, an irritating thing is sometimes a journalist will phone here and say that in a bar in the North-West two men hit each other in a bar fight. Does this mean the 1994 project has failed? We say that of course, it doesn’t mean it’s failed. No society has eradicated ethnic or racial tension. Successful societies are those who manage it well. I would even say to you that as we become more prosperous – anticipate more opportunities for tension, but don’t let that be the measure of our success. Eradicating racism is not a thing that will be done. The test will be how do we deal with it when it happens? So far, I think we’re doing pretty well in passing that test.
But with growing prosperity and middle-class expansion, the greater societal integration will probably be accompanied with increasing racial tension but off a low base and in a position where in the calm of their own homes, if you ask people how they feel about their neighbours they’ll say that they hope that the chap next door is also successful and prosperous. I think that will remain true and I think if a determined effort was made to play down unnecessary tensions and not to write silly things, such as that two people fight at Kentucky Fried Chicken, and that means that race relations are in crisis – I think that you can lower the temperature and I think that it would be welcomed. Although, whether it will happen or not, I don’t know.
The second point, talk to farmers – many farmers are feeling battled. The murder rate amongst farmers is apparently the highest in the world. What is their future? What are white farmers, because it’s primarily whites who have it, and we know the whole land question, going back centuries is a problem. It’s fraught with all kinds of fracture points. How do you see that developing?
Well, a few points. The one is polling shows that there’s limited public support for land reform. People don’t want to go back to scratching a living out of the soil. We’re a more sophisticated country than that and people have greater aspirations. That’s again not to say that restitution of property that was taken is not important but there are many means to secure restitution. The farmers and violence question we’ve done work on. Depending on how you classify a farmer. Are you talking about the man himself, or are you talking about him and his family and the extended family or are you talking about him and his employees? Are you talking about a farm or a smallholding? When you add all those variables up on a spreadsheet you can produce different statistics on the extent to which farmers are more likely to be murdered and attacked than anyone else.
Once that’s done – the thing to avoid is this pointless SA argument, about whether farmers are more likely to be murdered than anyone else. Considering that South Africans are 30 times more likely to be murdered than Australians, and we seem to lose perspective. South Africans tend to forget that all people are farmers in the sense that they are all exposed to horrific levels of violent crime, completely unusual and unacceptable levels. No one will be safe until farmers are safe, and I would go even further on the farmer thing to say to you that the unique circumstances of farms are; they are isolated, the commando system, which was an excellent system, was abandoned, the programme where police reservists were due to take over was essentially sabotaged in a very violent country with lots of weapons – multiply that by the political rhetoric directed at farmers, and politicians do shape a climate in which farmers are more rather than less likely to be attacked.
Now, you actually asked me the question of what should a farmer do, and that’s a very hard thing to answer. What makes it hard is that someone might take the advice seriously. I talk on a lot of panels and stages, to various people, economists, and analysts – the lot. I sometimes have a sense of discomfort that I sat in the bar with these chaps the night before and they have very well-designed plan-B’s – foreign resident status, offshore wealth, and the things that you should try to have. But they stood in front of that audience and said, no, they’re quite confident that everything here will be fine. I don’t want to be in the position of a chap I once came across, who was a senior person in the Zimbabwean Commercial Farmers Union, and he said he has the great regret that at the time the invasions began he told the farmers to go back to their farms and everything would be fine. The law would protect them, the courts would as well, but he had a nagging feeling of doubt. They couldn’t believe what would happen next, and he says he feels very guilty that there were people who listened to his advice and lost everything, when he should have said to them that when a government threatens you in the way that SA’s farmers are threatened – you should take those threats seriously and you should seek, where it is possible, to dilute the risk in your business.
There are various ways of doing that. If you’ve got kids and they’ve got the shot at spending a few years of working or studying abroad – it’s probably a good thing to take that. If you’ve got a little bit of wealth perhaps you would, and I’m not giving advice now, but you might want to go and talk to your advisor about parking some of that offshore. The way you survive volatile emerging markets is by having choices, and I think had Zimbabwean farmers, when the first chatter started, put themselves in a position where they had more choices, many of them might have lost less. The individual chap sitting on his farm today must think very carefully whether he has options. If he does not, and if I was that chap, it would be justified to have some level of concern about his prospects in a future SA.