On 6th November 1983 the skyline of Johannesburg changed forever. That was the day that Van Eck Building on the corner of Rissik and Main Streets was reduced to a pile of rubble and a huge cloud of dust in just sixteen seconds by a team of demolition experts.
Van Eck Building had been built and started life as Escom House in the days when the utility spelt its name differently and concentrated more on supplying electricity than looting its own balance sheet. The state of the art building was the tallest in South Africa at the time and was the glitzy new headquarters of Escom with staff canteens, board rooms, meeting rooms, drawing offices, research laboratories, a lecture hall and even a stand by generator in the basement (just in case).
The building was opened in 1937 and met Escom’s requirements for a further twenty years by which time they had outgrown the building and moved their headquarters to Braamfontein.
On the day of the implosion I perched myself on the roof of a neighbouring building with my Minolta camera and a good clear view of the Van Eck building. At the appointed hour (11am if memory serves) the area was given final clearance, a siren went off and then there was a rumbling explosion. The top of the building began to wobble and within seconds Johannesburg’s tallest skyscraper had collapsed in on itself throwing up a huge cloud of dust and apparently doing little or no damage to the surrounding buildings.
It was a surreal moment. One minute this vast and beautiful building which had been standing there for the past forty six years was there and less than a half a minute later it was nothing but a pile of rubble waiting for the bulldozers to come in and clear.
The implosion of Van Eck Building is a neat metaphor for the South African economy. One minute it was there and now it isn’t. Admittedly it has taken the ANC longer than sixteen seconds to implode the economy but other important tasks such as renaming towns and airports probably got in the way over the years. Some will argue that the comparison is specious because the demolition of Van Eck Building was intentional.
Having just read James Myburgh’s excellent “The Last Jacobins of Africa” I can assure you that the destruction of the “white controlled” South African economy was just as intentional, irrespective of the instant black billionaires created in the hope of changing mindsets.
As Myburgh’s book makes clear as it examines the disastrous Thabo Mbeki era, the National Democratic Revolution was on the agenda back in 1994 and is still a work in progress, albeit one seemingly coming to its disastrous grand finale.
Even as COVID struck we were reminded by the ANC bigwigs that this would be a great opportunity to “reset the economy” and menacing little phrases like “class suicide” were introduced by the main stream media into everyday conversation. The idea, as I understand it, is that by destroying a perfectly functioning, if unequal, economy and leaving a trail of poverty and debt you then have the opportunity to rebuild a new one from the ground up which will benefit everybody and not just the few.
Since this has never happened in the history of mankind one might have thought that the ANC would have modified their plans a little, as they appeared to just after the 1994 election.
However, as state capture and the enrichment of the politically well connected have bankrupted the country over the past decade or so the narrative that this is all the fault of the white land thief settlers has become the norm, spouted as much by white ‘wokists’ as by ill-educated members of political parties who regard trashing a pharmacy as a good, honest day’s work.
Sadly this is where we find ourselves now and the anti-white rhetoric is likely to be ramped up as disenchanted citizens looks around for someone to blame for their hopeless lives.
A few week’s ago a headline appeared in Business Day – “Cyril Ramaphosa urges South Africans to help rebuild the economy”. That was just after Stats SA revealed the devastating news that the SA economy shrank at an annualized rate of 51% during the second quarter which was apparently the worst quarterly collapse on record.
Now while I can understand that a bit of panic might have followed yet another dire announcement of the financial hole we’ve dug for ourselves I would hardly term this as ‘making me an offer I can’t refuse’. In the normal course of events Mr President I would obviously have rallied to the cause but you and your political colleagues keep telling me what a piece of shit I am, how it’s my ‘whiteness’ that is problematic, how the country would be better of without pale people, how you want to take my land away, how you want to deprive me of the right to pay for medical care (because it’s unequal) and so on and so forth.
So forgive me and many fellow pale-faces for treating that invitation to rebuild the economy with the snort of disbelief it deserves.
But maybe we can come to some arrangement. Since most of us have been helping build the economy for the general good since 1994 it wouldn’t come as too much of a challenge. But all we see is our tax money stolen and the same smirking ANC faces week in and week out, confident in the knowledge that they will never be prosecuted.
Last Sunday bought the news (hidden behind a News24 paywall) that ANC cadres are rejecting the corruption list that has fingered them, refusing to give up their highly paid jobs and are prepared to resort to court action (at our expense obviously) to hang on to their privileges. No surprises there then: have you ever tried to take a full food bowl away from a hungry Rottweiler?
If you really want to rebuild the economy Mr President and you want any hope of making this country anything other than just another African basket case then you need to be bit more motivational. While you and your cabinet colleagues may have wet dreams about a Venezuelan style rebirthing of the economy you’ll almost certainly find that this vision isn’t shared by anybody thinking of investing in this country.
If you really want to create jobs for our 50% unemployed inventing new non jobs within the civil service is not the way to do it. Eventually (sooner rather than later with us) the money will run out as it will for all those welfare payments every month.
What is needed is a clear vision of what needs to be done (no fantasies about bullet trains please), tax incentives, the abolition of clearly unworkable and abused social engineering experiments like B-BBEE in favour of finding the right person for the job, a tighter leash on the all powerful unions, the immediate prosecution and jailing of known crooks and the abandonment of the ludicrous narrative pushed relentlessly in the main stream media that the many failings of the ANC over the past 26 years are entirely the fault of the legacy of apartheid.
Back in 2011 Moeletsi Mbeki (Thabo’s younger brother) addressed a business meeting and made the point that the “wealth of South Africa was being diverted from the production sector to the massive consumption of the black elite. The ANC government is about consumption, it’s not about production”.
Coming from a white man such views would have been labeled ‘racist’ and he would have been accused of ‘not embracing the new dispensation’. It’s hard to believe that Thabo and Moeletsi are brothers and one can’t help wondering what might have transpired if the sensible one had become president.
As the economy opens up in October we would be delusional to think that things are going to return to their pre COVID levels. The iconic Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town has already laid off staff and is mothballed until December when it will reassess matters. The international airports may well be opening once again but which airline can afford to fly a socially distanced aircraft to South Africa twice a day?
As Europe appears to be approaching winter amid a worrying second wave of infections who will actually be prepared to endure a long distance flight to SA, particularly as they may have to be quarantined on arrival? Sadly, our international tourism industry and all hopes that it would be a great job creator are going to be worst hit.
But take heart dear reader. Look across to Europe and see the mess they are in. Italy, France and Spain have just had disastrous tourism seasons and the UK is busy locking down again as COVID cases rise. The cost to all those economies is huge and the UK’s public sector debt as a percentage of GDP is now over 100% at £2 trillion.
The difference is that most of those economies looked relatively healthy and promising pre COVID while ours was already a dog’s breakfast heading towards junk status. So, when it comes to the comparative shock factor, we South Africans were far better prepared for this than our US or European counterparts. And for that we have the ANC to thank.