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By Martin Williams

Councillor at City


Predictions about South Africa have been proven wrong

Here we are after further battering. Still standing. Resilient. Strong.


It is human nature to seek reasons for optimism. Eighteenth-century poet Alexander Pope captured this in his Essay
on Man: “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”

When we rejoice at sporting triumphs we are not foolishly clutching at straws, or denying other realities. We are emulating an ingrained human habit.

Tatjana Schoenmaker’s explosive joy at winning the Olympic 200m breaststroke in world-record time pierced the gloom, reminding us how excellent South Africans can be. So, too, our world champion Springboks, bouncing back to crush the British & Irish Lions.

A healthy trade surplus has brought some economic cheer. Driven mainly by a Chinese-led resources mini-boom, this trend may not be sustained beyond next year. But it will help fund short-term relief for the poor as SA grapples with the Covid lockdowns and riots.

One of the most encouraging signals is a vote of confidence from Anglo American chief executive Mark Cutifani. In an interview last week Cutifani said: “We still have a very positive long-term view of SA. Being a young democracy, there are tough moments. If the bad guys do what they did and you see people of SA standing up … I think that tells you most South Africans don’t want to go there.”

Never mind that Anglo moved its primary listing to London during the Thabo Mbeki era. It still owns Africa’s largest iron ore mining company – Kumba Iron Ore – plus Anglo American Platinum and De Beers.

Business Day reported: “All three companies are making multibillion-rand investments in their SA mines, pouring billions more into the fiscus from higher taxes stemming from bumper commodity prices.”

Cutifani thinks SA “will come out of this moment much stronger”.

If Anglo remains upbeat about SA’s overall trajectory, that’s a good sign, amid talk of emigration among those who can
afford to leave. And despair among the rest.

Eve Fairbanks tweets about how an American editor called her to say the world has concluded that SA is “over”, “falling apart” (New York Times), “in ruins” (New Yorker), “destroyed” (UK Sunday Times).

Fairbanks was asked to write about the end of South Africa. The editor wasn’t aware just how many times the “end of the 1994 South African miracle” has been called.

“A failing country.” – Times of London, 1995. The country is at “the end of the road”. – London Review of Books, 2008.
“In shambles.” – Wall Street Journal, 2013, and so on.

Fairbanks writes: “People still live here, in this place you’ve called ‘ruined’. South Africa doesn’t have an ending. It is not
a dramatic miniseries that’s been cancelled …”

How long will South Africa survive? In The Citizen’s column 10 years ago, Stephen Mulholland (who was then 75), wrote that since the age of five, he had repeatedly heard that SA had five years left.

“The prediction was always five years and then it would all be over, a failed state wracked by hunger and conflict, its economy in ruins and its future desperate.”

And here we are after further battering. Still standing. Resilient. Strong. Eternally hopeful.