Three Speeches, One Message

The carnival is over boys. No more money.

Brazil, particularly Rio de Janeiro, is probably most famous for its world-renowned ‘carnival’ than for anything else (other than maybe throwing politicians into jail every few years).

The Carnival of Brazil is an annual five-day festival held between the Friday afternoon before Ash Wednesday and noon on Ash Wednesday itself.

This marks the beginning of Lent; the 40-day period of fasting and reflection before Easter. The whole idea of Lent is to replicate Jesus Christ’s sacrifice by abstaining, both from food (often meat and alcohol) and festivities, with the aim of “driving away the indulgences of life”. The carnival is therefore seen as a bit of a food and drink festival – the last time to gorge before the frugal 40 days of Lent.

© Robert Tshabalala @ Financial Mail

Not to be outdone, South Africa too has instituted its own “carnival” – having both an official and unofficial version.

To many South Africans though, the country has been in a state of perpetual celebration for the past two decades – something very visible to locals and foreigners alike.

But instead of “driving away indulgences” from one’s life, we have plundered away trillions of rand of state assets over the past 20 years with countless thousands of massive new luxury homes and millions of fancy new cars and SUVs which South Africa bestowed upon the clever and politically well-connected, newly minted business magnates.

It is certainly difficult to argue that South Africa has not been in carnival mode since the advent of the celebrated arms deal, 20 years ago.

Former South African politician and author, Andrew Feinstein got it a bit wrong with his book titled After the Party, because it was the arms deal that “ignited” the party. That famous celebrated event exactly two decades ago, the arms deal, was actually the “blitz in the braai that once started, can never be put out”.

Too many opportunistic individuals have been feasting continuously since November 1998 as this is one party that doesn’t stop for Lent or any other reason.

This was the unofficial and still on-going 20-year South African Carnival.

So how about the official/annual CARNIVAL?

In South Africa, there are three important events that are concentrated in the second month of every new year – the African Mining Indaba, the State of the Nation Address, which follows hot on the heels of the Indaba – and the National Budget Speech, which takes place two weeks later.

The entire nation looks forward to these three events hoping that the sins and ills of the past year (or 10 or 20) will be forgiven, forgotten and washed away.

So, during the official South African Carnival (from roughly 4 to 20 February each year), the whole country dresses and parties and behaves at their best, in hopes that the optimism and populism leading up to the Budget Speech will miraculously lead to the return of the more than R2-trillion debt the ruling party racked up in the past nine years. This includes misspent budgets since 2000, totalling R22-trillion in today’s terms. That is $1.56-trillion!

On top of this, every five years South Africa hosts another even bigger carnival – the national elections. This is the time when all important decisions and hard work are postponed until the grand finale, usually held in early May.

But like all perpetual-motion machines, there must be something to get the party started and keep it going, lest the carnival ends too soon. In South Africa, that “something” is the mining industry.

Painstakingly built over the past century and a half and using hundreds of billions in US dollars and constructed from the blood, sweat and brains of millions of hardworking men and women. At one point, South Africa’s mining industry was the engine of the economy – its economic and industrial heart, lungs and engine room.

Following the plundering of this industry over the past two decades, this year’s Mining Indaba, State of the Nation Address and Budget Speech finally, for once, left mining alone.

After the relentless onslaught of the past 30 years, the survivors of the mining industry almost felt downright celebratory for being virtually left out of the politicians’ speeches during these three ecstatic South African Carnival weeks.

President Cyril Ramaphosa did still have a dig at the industry with his newly created Cyril’s 10 Commandments – challenging the industry to do even more with the substantially less means that it has today. But at least there was no new legislation or mechanism for plundering industry further or demonising talk inflaming the masses even more.

So this year, for the first time in two decades, mining has been left almost completely out of the politicians’ Indaba, State of the Nation Address and Budget speeches. Relief! But is this temporary or permanent relief? And does it spell a sea change in mindset or merely an interlude until industry and the country regain a better footing than they have at present? Time and the elections will tell. But don’t hold your breath. Twenty years of carnival will be hard to end. It’s now in our DNA.

The views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect SA Mining’s editorial policy.

© iStock - pg-images

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