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Africa Brief                                                                             21 February 2017

Crossing the “heh,heh” Rubicon     

by Cees Bruggemans                    words 660

In the hey days of the Roman Republic, no general was allowed to bring his troops into Rome. The river Rubicon was the red line in the sand. Julius Caesar chucked all that, and the place was never the same again.

The old White SA nationalists, when they needed total state power to achieve their aims, relied on legalistic States of Emergencies, overruling all established laws for the duration of the “crisis”. Our current president doesn't seem to feel the need for that.


Having been threatened before in his parliamentary appearances, with worse this year to follow, he mobilised 6000 troops and other armed personnel around Cape Town while he went about his business of addressing parliament, and the nation, on a subject apparently dear to his heart (“the state of the nation”)…

The contradiction seemed lost on him. Using force, and the threat of an entire Roman legion (5500) to make sure he could fulfill his undertaking of making a state of the nation speech to parliament, that holy of holy places governing our basic freedoms?

What is the true pointer for the future here? That he kept his parliamentary date, even if backed up by a Roman legion, with the EFF forcefully removed from his august presence? Or that he decided on a show of force to have a stroll through Cape Town, and damn the consequences, and especially the opposition?

One can read too much into the 6000 number. After all, the Trump inauguration deployed 28 000 security personnel in and around Washington DC, leaving little to fate. But these did not involve heavily armed special forces. And in any case, in America one expects things to be bigger, grander (five legions would do nicely).

But one presumably cannot ever read too much into the number of military personnel deployed within SA parliamentary grounds, ready to roll, or the White Shirts doing the forceful ejecting. No matter how nicely dressed up, the sanctity of parliament has been sacrificed, frankly by both sides, though still short of “off with their heads”.

Phew, what a relief. Imagine all those heads on spikes on the fences surrounding parliament. That for sure would destroy the Cape Town tourist trade, even if a small step was made in this regard in wanting to end this business of duplicating capitals and all those dignitaries having to spent so much money on both, where one would suffice (among the rolling hills of Kwazulu?).

The interesting news is that many of our moderns, pillars of our modern society and economy, refuse to believe that an iron fist has been unsheathed. Instead, business as usual, as the daily round and grind proceeds, not unlike it did in Rome once Julius was in place (though it hardly lasted too long before all hell broke loose throughout the Empire as civil wars raged).

Never mind the futuristic projections by many. What is going on behind closed doors in board rooms of companies large and small? Does South Africa remain an attractive investment medium or something to be avoided like the plague?

The voting with feet is the oldest form of democracy that exists, something that bringing legions within the walls of the city can't prevent as some people leave what they perceive is a sinking ship.

The only SA forecast for 2017 that truly matters is what business confidence will do, and how this will be reflected in market and business actions.

It is asking much to provide an optimistic view, even though many are still trying to do that, if at the decimal point level, on the presumption that all this will pass too, as so much before it. Besides, there is no nicer place to live….

Daily working life may continue to show much evidence of this, even if the make-believe in senior political circles is steadily being destroyed, something that happened long ago in board rooms.

Markets and economy will keep taking their cue from this unpalatable reality.


Cees Bruggemans                                                                          

Bruggemans & Associates Consulting Economists



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Twitter  @ceesbruggemans




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