Black Friday is the emblem of a consumer society in all its gaudy, excessive glory. We get to spend large sums of money on temporarily discounted products. It’s a clever ploy: we get a series of individual bargains and end up parting with an enormous amount overall. At least we come away with stuff, all those electronic gadgets, Teflon-coated kitchenware novelty household conveniences, the latest digital distraction.
Optimally, Black Friday signifies prosperity. Sure, tempted by discounts on ‘upgrading’ the smartphones we might make imprudent choices. But spending money should (in an ideal world) signal prosperity and confidence in the times ahead.
Black Friday this year, on 24 November, looked different. As we readied ourselves with our overstretched credit cards to take advantage of those you-bet-today-only deals from our online retailers the power went off. More precisely, we headed into Stage 6 loadshedding. It not only meant that we got to wait until we’d been un-shed to try our luck (‘only while stocks last’) but it was a sobering reminder of the reality behind South Africa over the holiday period.
Sobriety is something that many of us might – as a consequence – be tempted to dispense with.
Maritime traffic jam
Meanwhile, containers sit off our ports in a maritime traffic jam. News reports say that some vessels are waiting for as long as 19 days to offload their cargo. South Africa now boast some of the least efficient ports in the world. Some logistics firms are looking to disembark their cargo in Mauritius and then bring it in on short-haul trips to South Africa.
Innovative to be sure, but expect this to come with a pricetag, either in time of transit or in dollars. (I use dollars advisedly, and that’s an issue on its own.)
‘Ports paralysis threatens Christmas’ went a headline on BusinessLive. Just so. I hope we’ve all checked that Availability provision on our online orders, to confirm that our airfryers and game consoles are in fact in unlooted warehouses within our borders rather than on the end of a just-in-time supply chain to Shanghai. (Fun fact: It takes a bit more than three weeks for a container to get from China to South Africa. That means that the waiting time in our waters is almost as long as the journey to get here.)
For the more discerning buyer, there is the individuated order from an international outfit, think your eBays. This is especially the case if you have particularly unique tastes. The complete Three’s Company DVD collection, for example (c’mon, this was great). Just don’t expect to get them through the Post Office. You’re dealing with long delays, perhaps a bit of rifling through in the sorting facility. And then the sojourn at customs. I would be cagey about trusting the designer jeans that your teenager just can’t live without to this institution, and certainly not with only a month to get it here.
Besides, the Post Office is broke. It owes its creditors numbers too large for a certain former President to pronounce and is also derelict in its obligations to SARS. You try that. I dare you.
The just-try-that challenge has many iterations. One of them is maxing out your credit card and telling your bank manager – do we still have bank managers, or just those annoying characters in call centres – you’re not going to pay, and to please give you more. I once forgot to make a monthly payment and had to endure a humiliating lecture from said call centre about my responsibilities. Yes, go ahead and try it.
The South African state, by contrast labours under no such constraints. Or restraints. Anyone remember President Ramaphosa declaiming that ‘we’ had depleted ‘our’ fiscal space and now had to deal with it. Not sure who this ‘we’ is, but the President wasn’t far away from it and the rest of us get to carry the can.
No matter. The government is looking at the Reserve Bank to open up the forex kitty to bail it out. Seems to me that this is seeking easy solutions to really difficult problems.
Speaking of the President, he was out and about gushing about the plans on the various tables to deal with all of this. Never fear, we’ve got this. Or sentiments to that effect. Just wait and see. He’s shocked. But the government ‘now knows’ how to deal with it. Don’t know about you, but I just can’t get excited about this.
Actually, I had to chuckle at a News24 piece on this, which veritably oozed sarcasm and condescension. ‘Ramaphosa repeated his old promise: to end incessant load shedding and Transnet woes,’ wrote Soyiso Maliti among numerous other barbs.
For good measure, by the way, the President has also called on teachers to take on the critical task of decolonising education. Wow. If we don’t get on top of this, our kids might not learn to read and write.
And the National Treasury, which is a rare non-insane part of the state, just came out with new procurement rules that ramp up ‘empowerment’ demands. And Parliament is sailing the National Health Insurance Bill through, to set up a new State-Owned Enterprise whose only function is to collect and spend money. Think a giant, malicious, inebriated Santa in reverse…
Sigh. If only on Black Friday we could buy better governance or just common sense. But we can’t. Hell, back in the 1990s I wanted to find a supersized paycheck, keys to a Mercedes (a modest Volkswagen would have been okay too), and Gillian Anderson underneath the Christmas tree. We don’t always get what we want.
Black Friday? Try Bleak Friday. And we’re still stuck with maxed out credit cards and facing a new year where we get all those January expenses. But we also have an election to look out for and some interesting possibilities in that. Might be a gift we can give ourselves…
The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR