Ian Rainey: South Africa — a great country that has been ruined

Jacob Zuma, who was president of South Africa until last year
Jacob Zuma, who was president of South Africa until last year

This article first appeared in the business supplement of the News Letter print edition on April 9:

In preparing to write this article, I was motivated by two articles written by black columnists who are regular commentators in the South African press today.

Kingsley Nkwatse from Pretoria writes: “Do you know what’s gonna happen if we give white people one province as their country? Within three years that small country will be ten times richer than South Africa.

Within three years that country will be the most developed country in Africa. That country will have the best farmers, teachers, engineers, scientists, doctors and business men, while South Africa is going to have a shortage of critical skills and capital.

“ The same week they leave South Africa, ten million black people are going to lose their jobs. Government is going to lose billions of dollars.

“White people are the biggest employers and tax payers in South Africa. Government will no longer afford to pay social grants. White people created South Africa from scratch and made it the most developed country in Africa.

“All SOEs like Denel, Eskom and SAA were created by white people and they did not survive by receiving bailouts, they were making billions of rands in profits.

“Do you know why they were making profits? Because they were managed by qualified people who had morals.

“Do you know why state owned enterprises (SOEs) are collapsing under the ANC? Because of corruption and nepotism, the ANC gives critical positions to cadres who can’t even construct a simple sentence.

“South Africa is failing because the ANC puts their party first instead of putting the country first.”

As against this Prince Mashela of the Sowetan Times in Johannesburg writes: “What President Zuma has done is to make us come to the realisation that ours is just another African country. We must all thank President Zuma for revealing our true African character; that the idea of rule of law is not part of who we are. In a typical African country, people have no illusions about the unity of morality and governance. People know that those who have power have it for themselves and their friends and families. Africans are happy to remain African and do things ‘the African way’. The African way is rule by Kings, Chiefs and Indunas in a setting of unwritten rules. Asking a ruler to be accountable is a foreign/western idea.

“In a situation where there is a conflict between a ruler and laws, the African wins.”

I lived in South Africa from 1967 to 1977 before being sent to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania to do a course in International Finance.

At that programme I made a presentation to a group of local businessmen, at the end of which, two of the leaders of Philadelphia National Bank said to me: “You have had 25 years in Northern Ireland and 10 years in South Africa, you must have more knowledge of political risk than we will ever have.

“We would like you to join as our Worldwide Political Risk Consultant.”

My new job was to travel the world and advise the bank which countries were safe to lend to and for how long.

In those days we were lending to South Africa for up to five years unsecured. Today, that American bank nor any other, would not lend to South Africa for five days! The majority of the country’s population hovers on the poverty line, receiving small pay-offs from the government to stay alive.

There has been a considerable flight of white business people, particularly among the English speaking community.

The Afrikaans community battle against insistent efforts to impound their farms and people like Johaan Muller, who used to captain Ulster Rugby before returning home to manage the family farm in the Eastern Cape, is living in a very insecure and threatening existence with impeachment of his farm without remuneration a distinct possibility.

On my visit to South Africa last year, I had a number of examples of where it was beneficial to have foreknowledge of the threat to white people, which enabled me to obviate what might have been difficult situations had I not been forewarned and able to recognise the symptoms which would not have been obvious to every tourist.

To me these are sad times for what is a beautiful country which could still be run economically in a self-sufficient way if graft and corruption wasn’t the order of the day! But it is more ‘AFRICAN’ today than it has ever been.

• Ian Rainey is a non executive director with 4c Executive and a former international banker