At this moment you are
a.) slowly slinking out of the country to greener pastures, or
b.) doing shady business with the ruling party through the State, or
c.) sticking your neck out by speaking out about the way things are in South Africa without knowing the impact of that risk on your future, or
d.) doomed and unable to do one damned thing about it, yet
e.) for some odd and inexplicable reason, politely pretending that there is an option e.) when you and I know that there is none, though in your (limited) competition among yourselves you pretend that there is an option e.) The truth is that every one of you is one of the above, is steadily on the way to becoming one of the above or getting ready to exploit the victims of the looming financial crisis who currently aren’t preparing around the above.
If you do have the resources to a.) move out or expand into foreign currencies and economies, then congratulations, you lucky traitor. Everyone else is left with the other three options. In view of the broad-daylight shakedown of institutions like Parliament only c.) makes sense. Yet alarmingly, that is the option that you avoid like the plague, Business. I hope you know that there are crafty elements counting on your principled refusal to do c.) and that many people choosing a path [pretending that option e.) exists] does not make it a legitimate path to take, nor does it mean the path actually exists; it just means that most of you are counting on the mercy of the wolves leading you along that route, over that edge. It must be nice, walking along a path you know has a trap but not knowing when it will spring.
That, or you think it’s okay not to treat the current political and economic situation with the urgency it deserves because none of your rivals treat it as critical until they collapse ala Ellerines. Business, watching you play poker with the government would be funny if my survival didn’t depend on your survival.
If you are b.) relying on the ruling party or the State to help your cash flow at some future stage, you are banking on a financial structure that burns money faster than it makes it and cannot slow its expenditure down to save its life. There was a time when it made perfect business sense to curry favour with the ruling party and government, wherever the one ended and the other began. That time is most certainly up. The rules are changing swiftly; you’re not keeping up. Luthuli House cannot afford to pay its staff and is sending Former President Jacob Zuma hither and thither to clinch a trillion-rand deal. The problem with that bail-out is that not only will the nation have a spectacular, nuclear-style revolt when the power bill lands (through the Post?) but the new spelling of “overheads” will be E-X-P-E-N-S-I-V-E. Whatever money you would have made in this meantime will be meaningless unless it tipped strongly towards enabling your option a.) Can you imagine a slow, bittersweet rendition of Mshini Wami on violin? You’ll be hearing it when you pack your files and stationery into boxes as you’re evacuated from your premises. Titanics sink, Business. Keeping quiet about the government/ruling party/politics might be the polite thing to do, but it is consent and in this instance, consent is complicity.
Business, you may be the only one playing by the rules at the moment but they’re not there to serve you; they’re there to exploit you all the while accusing you of being the exploiter. And you’re not contesting the charge. You’ve failed Rule One of negotiation: you’ve allowed the other party to define the terms of your participation in your business, as Business. By allowing politicians to do politics instead of unashamedly pointing out that you are the real source of real meaningful cash, around whose requirements much of fiscal policy should revolve, you’ve allowed ideology to trump science, promises to take the place of plans and politicking the place of production. I am astounded at how unassuming and accommodating you are; how supine, how obedient, you’ve become. At how faithfully you’ll maintain the appearance that option e.) exists.
Fairly or unfairly, they call your obsession with actual productivity and output, racism, with or without a rational argument from the premise to the conclusion. They’ll call your requirement for incentive to innovate, greed; your need for an environment conducive to doing what you need to do, counter-revolutionary. Are these accusations fair or unfair? How the hell can I, a voter on the ground, know the answer to that question if you’re not speaking up for yourself? You cannot stay above the political fray, Business, because there is no option e.); not for you nor for your competition beside you. So kindly get involved in politics because politics is already involved in you whether you admit it or not. Politics is up to the hilt in you.
You only voice your real feelings in whispered meetings with the government, and we only know what you think about all the ideology, promises and politics because a few media voices with a bias towards you are willing to shout your words from the rooftops for you. You do know that much of what is agreed on in those meetings doesn’t get done in your favour; that rule, that platform, isn’t helping you. Why respect it? I once was an ANC supporter, Business, until one day some newspaper used the word “sustainability”. I looked it up. Someone explained it to me. Then I realized that you had been crowded off of the table while being expected to keep it laden with all the goods thereon. I also realized just how ingenious the setup of the ANC’s game was, and how disastrously unworkable it would prove in the long run. Why am I telling you this? Because what you think of as impossible is quite possible: it is possible for ANC voters to complain and even walk away from the party. Why? The Rand. The Rand is what you and the man on the street have in common. The Rand is the mystery that unites, explains and influences every South African, however deep or shallow his involvement in the economy. You can do politics, business, as long as you tell the man on the street exactly how your political position translates into money in his back pocket (should he be willing to earn it). Is this beneath you? The ANC gave people KFC and explained it away as anything but Caesar giving bread and circuses to his subjects. You want to play by the rules, Business? Then you’re pretending that there is an option e.) You’re lying to your consumers, your employees, your shareholders and your stakeholders. Most importantly, you’re lying to yourself. You are consenting and complicit. If you cared for South Africa you would do what some businesses – for example, the Mail and Guardian as not just a media entity but a business – have done: nail your colours to the mast, wholly or in part. You have a vested interest in the politics of the country but unless and until you explain why you see politics the way you do, and how that translates into meaningful cash in the back pocket of the industrious man on the street, we on the street will not understand politics’ impact on your ability to keep money in our back pocket. If South Africans are politically under-informed, it’s because you have chosen to pretend that there is an option e.) All this time you’ve wondered whose job it is to explain the relationship between politics and the economy to “the masses”. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear; the student is ready. Your job, Business, is to simply speak up. As someone came along to explain “sustainability” to me, someone will explain it to everyone else. The time is ripe.
Earlier, I referred in passing to Jacob Zuma as Former President. You’ve heard it said that fish start rotting from the head. There is a campaign afoot to refer to Jacob Zuma as Former President and declare him resigned as opposed to calling for his resignation. It’s a psychological tactic, of course; when Parliament and the Powers-That-Be have devoured themselves the way they have over one man, it’s too late to play by the standard rules.
When this campaign began, I roped a businessman into helping with it, and – against his lemming instinct – he agreed. The backlash was immediate: voices urging him to pretend that there was an option e.) began rebuking his choice to get involved in politics. He chose option c.) by supporting the campaign. I will name him here if he gives his permission. A week later, he says he feels more at peace with his decision. It was a step in the right direction, he feels. But you’ve got to join him.
Go into your office and consider your options, Business. Something as simple as forwarding this message to others via a link or an attachment; something as simple as tweeting about it will capture the attention of spectators and stun the polite sensibilities of other lemmings. And maybe they, too, will stop pretending that there is an option e.)
Because there is none.