I don’t care if Monday’s blue; Tuesday’s gray and Wednesday too; Thursday I don’t care about you; It’s Friday I’m in love.’
Yes, ‘gray’, not ‘grey’. Is there a difference between the two words, besides the obvious? A greyhound is a breed of dog, and the grayling is a specie of fish. Without embarking on an unnecessary analysis of ‘gray’ and ‘grey’ and their shades, both originate from the Old English word grǽg.
I am fulfilling a lifelong dream of seeing in concert Robert James Smith, the singer and songwriter of The Cure, the English rock band, which is performing its fortieth anniversary celebration gig at London’s Hyde Park. In the encore, a part of any live performance which I always find forced, he delivers a most memorable rendition of Friday I’m in Love.
It reminds me of my own conflicted Fridays. Conflicted in the gratification of seeing my efforts of two weeks ago in this magazine, but then having to sit down and do it all over again.
The danger in writing any weekly column is that it could unwittingly get intrenched in an underlying narrative. It is fair to say that, in recent months, the columns have been, shall we say, less than favourable about the South African economy and its anticipated performance. As a consequence, I decided to search for the positives – any positive.
An obvious place to start is that which resulted in the initial international interest in South Africa – international trade. For the month of May, South Africa recorded a trade balance surplus (that is exports exceeding imports) of R3.52-billion. The figure was released by the South African Revenue Service (Sars). Strangely, I could hardly find anything of any relevance in the media. The only Sars-related issue that dominated the news over recent weeks were the public hearings at the Nugent Commission of Inquiry into Tax Administration and Governance at the tax body. In a quite stunning about-turn, there were those now vying for public pity and sympathy.
But I digress. South Africa recorded a R3.52-billion trade balance surplus in May, but the country also recorded a trade balance deficit of R4.65-billion for the same month. How is that possible? The one trade balance is inclusive of the BLNS countries (Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, and Swaziland). Quite simply, the BLNS countries provided for South Africa’s trade surplus, as they do nearly every month with little, if any, exception. Although I have yet to study it in any detail, at a very quick glance, the monthly difference between the two balances ranges from R7-billion to R8-billion.
Turning to investment, German automaker Mercedes-Benz has announced its intention to invest R10-billion to expand its South African plant, and the move has been hailed as a positive step towards the R1.2-trillion in investment that President Cyril Ramaphosa is seeking. Does this qualify as ‘new investment’? Remember, the President is seeking R1.2 trillion in ‘new investment’. As for South Africa’s automotive sector, do also remember that investment comes at a not-insignificant cost to the South African economy. Without the highly incentivised Automotive Industry Development Programme, or AIDP, South Africa would have no motor assembly industry.
What other investment opportunities are on offer in South Africa? Investments in State-owned enterprises (SOEs)? This is a contraction in terms. Any investor in an SOE would want to realise a return, which would be counterintuitive to the South African government’s economic rationale. Even the infamous Gupta family preferred to do business with the SOEs rather than to invest in them. Why is that?
I have reached my allotted word count, but there is still much I wanted to write about of the ‘positives’ of the South African economy.
That said, I wish you a better week than The Cure proposes: “Monday you can hold your head; Tuesday, Wednesday stay in bed; Or Thursday watch the walls instead; It’s Friday I’m in love.”