For a start, most South Africans are poorer at the end of 2015 than they were this time last year or, indeed, at the beginning of this year. The terrible depreciation of the South African Rand has meant that South Africans’ buying power has been considerably reduced when it comes to imports from the United States of America, the United Kingdom and the European Union, among other countries. Individually and collectively, we can buy less now than we could a year ago.
While a weak currency is supposed to be good for exports, South Africa Inc. has not really benefitted much during this period. Instead, the balance of payments has worsened, jobs have been lost in different sectors of the economy and Government debt has soared. Some sectors have been hardest hit than others, with the problem faced by the metals and engineering sector worsened by the glut of steel around the world as well as the poor performance of the mining sector locally and internationally as the Chinese economy cooled down.
On top of that, South Africa’s international credit ratings and, therefore, creditworthiness deteriorated in the course of the year, with the country now merely a notch above junk status at the time of writing. We have also plunged on various indices that compare countries’ performances in various areas, with South African schools placed last for performance in mathematics.
The metals and engineering sector has suffered probably its worst performance in years. As a result, some companies have folded, while others ended up in business rescue or barely surviving and having no option but to embark on retrenchments to reduce their input costs. We at SEIFSA were similarly affected. With companies being liquidated or laying employees off, inevitably the Federation found itself with fewer companies being members of its affiliated Associations and with those companies employing fewer people at the end of 2015 compared to the same time last year.
As we get ready to bid 2015 farewell, many compatriots cannot wait for the year to end and for 2016 to begin in the hope that it will be a much better year. Judging by how far the country has regressed in many areas in the current calendar year, there is a good chance that we have reached a nadir as a nation and that things can only be better from here on. We can, but, only hope. After all, hope for a better tomorrow is all that makes today bearable.
While the global economic situation is anything but satisfactory, nevertheless our problems as a country are compounded by lack of visionary leadership and dogged commitment to long-discredited ideologies. Our country is crying out for visionary, inspirational political leadership that will reach out to business and labour in a living partnership that will propel South Africa on a new economic trajectory. Regrettably, there is no promise of such political leadership on the horizon at the moment.
However, we – as ordinary citizens and business leaders – are not entirely powerless. Our country needs all of us to do our bit, in our little corners, to speak out and to make a difference. This entails us accepting one another for who and what we are and working together and with other stakeholders in business, labour and government to bring about what little difference we can.
As you take time off to recover during the December holidays from the trials and tribulations of 2015, do the best that you can to focus not on the year that was, but on a hopefully much better year. Do not dwell on what was and might have been, but focus on what may still be.
Here is hoping for a safer, stabler and more prosperous 2016.