On 5 April 1652 three ships came into sight of land, known then as the Cape of Good Hope. The three ships were the Dromedaris, the Rejiger, and the De Goede Hoop. On board the Dromedaris was Jan van Riebeeck, whose mission was to oversee the setting up a refreshment station on this barren but beautiful piece of earth, to supply Dutch ships on their way to the east with fresh water, vegetables, fruit, meat and medical assistance.
Van Riebeeck was in the employ of the Dutch East India Company, and he was accompanied by 82 men and eight women, and he was under strict instructions not to colonise the region. However, as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and kyk hoe lyk ons nou. My point is that little do we know how the accidents of history are going to turn out. Imagine if van Riebeeck had access to a time machine and that he set the dial to exactly 364 years ahead, to 5 April 2016. Very close to where he landed the day after the land sighting, he would have come across a parliament in shame, debating the impeachment of a discredited president, and he would have heard some amazing things, not least verses from the Bible, and one of the quotations concluding that our country had descended to the biblical levels of Sodom and Gomorrah. This would have been enough to convince van Riebeeck to go rapidly back in time, and to turn his ships around and make a beeline back to the Netherlands.
But, if van Riebeeck had changed his co-ordinates and landed with his time machine at Silverton on 5 April 2016, he would have come across an uplifting scenario, where Ford was showing confidence in South Africa, and Africa, with its announcement of a R2,5 billion investment in adding the Everest to its assembly portfolio at its Silverton plant. And van Riebeeck would have got back in his time machine and happily gone back to the future, wading onto the Cape beach with a spring in his step, and with great hope for what lay ahead.
Two seminal events in South Africa, both on 5 April 2016. One depressing, one uplifting. Which one will have the most lasting influence on the country of good hope? Will we cry the beloved country, or look back with both humour and sadness.
Ford has nailed its colours to the African mast, and maybe they good reason to take a long term view. The Americans have gone through their own impeachment embarrassment, when Bill Clinton did his own Zuma thing, obfuscating the facts around his misdemeanours. It would make for a good book, the Lewinsky and Nkandla files – sex and theft in the corridors of power.
In all seriousness, the Americans have the advantage over us, in that they have a two century head start on democracy, and they have suffered a civil war so grievous that they have reason to be positive, no matter how bleak things look to us at the moment. As Jeff Nemeth, president and CEO of Ford Motor Company Sub-Saharan Africa Region, told aBr at the function on 5 March, Africa offers a “demographic dividend” and South Africa, with a strong constitution and a government and its people committed to democracy and the constitution, is a good location for a manufacturing base for the continent and the world. He added that whilst there may be bumps in the road, what Ford really desires is stability.
What really warmed our hears was when, at the same event, we saw the American ambassador, Patrick Gaspard, greet our minister of trade and industry Rob Davies, like a long lost friend. These were the very same guys who were duking it out just a few weeks before, and playing chicken over the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). Such is the nature of the beast.
So, folks, just remember that all we are experiencing is a bump in the road, and that wiser heads will prevail. And finally, I don’t know who said it first, but Africa is not for sissies.