Things we need to consider now that South Africa is perilously close to the ‘fiscal cliff’.

One of the things many of us take for granted in South Africa is efficient first-world food distribution and convenient shopping. When I arrive at my sparklingly clean Woolies (but it could just as easily be one of their competitors) in my local shopping centre just after their 8am opening time, the shelves are already stacked full of fresh produce.

The well-refrigerated fruit and veg section has a vast selection on offer, much of it imported at this time of year. The meat and fish counters are bounteous, the bakery section already has about five types of freshly baked bread to choose from and the first of the crisp-skinned rotisserie chickens are all ready for purchase.

As the day goes by and those shelves gradually empty they are refilled almost immediately and it’s very rare to see an empty shelf in an efficiently managed food supermarket. Well, my friends, make the most of it because all that could be about to change.

Countries that have already hit the financial skids such as Zimbabwe and Venezuela are not generally known for having food supermarkets with groaning shelves, and the reason for that is very simple. Both these countries have run out of money and have a collapsed infrastructure, and the combination of those two factors mean, for example, that they cannot afford to import Spanish grapes when the local market isn’t producing. They simply don’t have the foreign exchange. Neither can they afford to transport goods, so, even if they could import food, a combination of deteriorating road systems, expensive fuel and the criminal activity that accompanies a failed economy make it almost impossible to supply food shops.

Theoretically that shouldn’t be a problem because in socialist Utopias the land is owned and worked by the people, so obviously they would be self sufficient; except that they aren’t, if the 2 million hungry Zimbabweans I’ve been reading about is anything to go by. Add to that a failing electricity supply, which might deliver four hours of mains electricity a day if you’re lucky, and you can see that the situation is even more hopeless.

Any produce you do manage to get hold of will not be fit for purpose without refrigeration (unless you’re lucky enough to live in a failed state within the Arctic circle).

Since South Africa is perilously close to the precipice of the now famous ‘fiscal cliff’, these things need to be considered.

I’ve frequently been labelled as a negative Afro-pessimist by people wearing rose-tinted spectacles, but I prefer to think of myself as an Afro-realist. As a suffering resident, I would dearly love to be bullish about this country, but I have to look at the facts and the facts give absolutely no reason for optimism at the moment. Even some of our traditionally lefty commentators are beginning to get a bit gloomy about the prospects for the future.

Instead of running the country as 57.5% of the electorate asked them to do, the African National Congress seems to have monopolized the courts and now spends most of its time suing, counter suing and generally clogging up the legal system with its tiresome squabbles. Getting rid of this absurd woman who calls herself the ‘Public Protector’ would be a good start because it might give CR breathing space to wonder how he’s going to save the country. Thus far the president has been long on promises and very short on delivery.

The prospect of empty supermarket shelves in the not too distant future is no longer fanciful. Unless a financial miracle occurs we are almost certainly destined to be downgraded to junk by Moody’s rating agency. This is despite several attempts by Moody’s to give the SA government the benefit of the doubt, all of which have been taken by the government as a sign that there’s no real need to worry.

Talk now is of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout but that brings with it the steadying hand of the IMF when it comes to government spending. That is unlikely to please the commies currently running the show so they may decide that what the country really needs is complete economic collapse, after which it can be rebuilt using the well-tried communist template, but with all the mistakes that other communists made now corrected.

Many people forget that the United Kingdom was forced to go to the IMF in 1976 for a bailout after the Labour Party cocked things up. Fortunately, Margaret Thatcher was elected in 1979 as a result and prosperity followed with her open-market policies. People also forget that the UK had strict exchange controls until 1979 and all you were allowed to take on an overseas holiday was £50 and another £15 in notes. That didn’t exactly allow you to live life in the fast lane in Nice. If the hot smelly stuff hits the whirring fan blades down here, as it’s expected to do, you can bet that exchange controls (currently very generous) will be tightened considerably.

Add to the empty supermarket shelves the country’s inability to import medicines or sophisticated diagnostic medical equipment, and you can bank on the health service collapsing long before the ill-conceived National Health Insurance even makes an appearance. It apparently hasn’t yet occurred to our pampered politicians that South African medical practitioners are in great demand in other parts of the world. Or that their departure will reduce the tax base even further.

Of course there is always an upside to consider. Since so many talented South Africans of all colours will have been forced by circumstances to emigrate and seek a better life overseas the queue for bread at five in the morning will be much shorter than it otherwise might have been. So put on those rose-tinted specs and stop fretting.

David Bullard is a columnist, author and celebrity public speaker known for his controversial satire.

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the IRR.

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