15 August 1985 is seared in my memory. This was the day that PW Botha made his infamous Rubicon speech, which while cocking a snook at the international community and world markets, it precipitated the decline of the National Party, the unbanning of the ANC, the release of Nelson Mandela, and the end of apartheid. The Groot Krokodil, as Botha was known, thanks to his fierce temper, had single-handedly, against the advice of his more progressive cabinet colleagues, delivered an unexpected reactionary response to the world’s anti-apartheid pressure, and single-handedly given the coup de grace to the South African economy.
In hindsight, this day was both good and bad, because whilst in the short term it visited economic suffering on millions of South African citizens, its long term effects were more positive. But, from a personal perspective, the reason that 15 August 1985 is seared in my memory is because it destroyed a nicely flourishing used car business that my brother and I had set up in 1983. The reason the business failed was because literally overnight the Rand collapsed, foreign investment dried up, inflation hit the roof, and sanctions were ratcheted up. This resulted in a rear guard action from the Reserve Bank, pushing up interest rates to 25%. And 25% was just the official rate - in reality the banks were lending at much higher rates, with 28% the best you could get.
Naturally, with a sagging economy, low consumer confidence levels, and prohibitive interest rates, car sales took a hit, and it was particularly severe on lower to middle income consumers, who could only afford used cars, and many used car businesses hit the wall. My brother and I not only had front row seats to the collateral damage, we were in the eye of the storm, and we watched in horror as our little nest eggs disappeared with a poof. And no, it was not Liberace who disappeared with the money, and I know that my brother would find this funny, because he could find humour in any situation. Fortunately I managed to get back on my feet, but my brother was not that lucky, and fifteen years later he died still suffering from the effects of the Rubicon speech.
Now, some 32 years later, déjà vu is rearing its head, and once again we have an idiot president not only refusing to cross the Rubicon, he wants us to drown in the river, while he flaunts his power and wealth, in a Gupta designed and nuclear powered chariot, designed to float over the despairing masses, as the country chokes in debt, and the economy contracts once again, as in the 1980’s.
However, there is a silver lining. PW Botha got his upcommance, and so will our current immoral president. It may take a year or two, but it will happen. I just hope that in the period that it takes for the governing party to find its moral compass, not too many people suffer economically, and that the damage is not so severe that it takes an immense effort for the people to get back on their feet, both literally and figuratively.