As I am writing this, the Rugby World Cup 2019 Champions, the Springboks, are touring the country. They are also, following their victory over the English in Japan, the highest ranked rugby team in the world, for the first time in 10 years.
I am an unapologetically sports-mad South African and, like many of my friends and contemporaries, spent the whole of the finals weekend either watching or analysing the progress of the Springboks. From the singing of the national anthem at the start of the game to the joyful celebrations well into the night, it was a wonderful event. I am old enough to have been present at the opening match of the 1995 Rugby World Cup, where South Africa beat Australia at a packed Newlands.
Little did we know on that day that South Africa would lift the cup some six weeks later, but we all know that our new democracy at that time stood together (perhaps for the first time) as the Rainbow Nation. I personally will never forget my first “live” sighting of President Nelson Mandela as he strode onto the Newlands pitch at the start of the game. The cheers from the crowd were deafening.
I was also privileged enough to have been present when we beat England 36–0 at Stade de France in Paris in 2007 during the pool stages. The pictures of John Smit with President Thabo Mbeki holding up the trophy after the final a few weeks later (also against England) was again a unifying moment in the history of our country.
Allow me to add my personal congratulations and thanks to Siya Kolisi, Rassie Erasmus and the entire team for what they have achieved these past few months. Their call of “stronger together” is not only relevant to the game that they play but is equally relevant in our troubled country. Let us take this feeling of togetherness into our daily lives and let us truly believe that as South Africans, if we do work together, we really can succeed where others may have failed.
As I type this, I am aware of certain extremely negative tweets and comments directed towards those South Africans who have also chosen to reflect their love for the country by endorsing the #I’m Staying campaign. There is no point in trying to change the minds of people who have made a decision to find perceived greener pastures elsewhere in the world, and I certainly respect everyone’s right to have their own opinion and act upon that which they believe.
At the same time, however, the future of our country depends on the team methodology of “stronger together”. In any team sport, you always have a few stars, but they cannot win a game on their own. The stars need the whole team to perform in order for them to be able to deliver their magic. South Africa can and will succeed if we all remember that we do all actually have the same objective in mind, and we do have a number of stars that need us to stand behind them.
We have had a torrid few years where senior members of our government seemed to have forgotten that they work for the people and not merely for themselves. We have been downgraded by both Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s to non-investment or junk bond status. Moody’s, the largest of the Big 3 rating agencies has kept our country at investment grade, but has given us a negative outlook, indicating their opinion as to the likely rating trend in the short to medium term.
The people who suggest that this is not relevant should take note that, were Moody’s to downgrade the country, those investors that are required to only hold investment-grade debt capital market products would have to sell their exposures in South Africa. In any forced sale environment, the price you get is less than the price you expected, or to use investment return language, the required yield has to increase and the only way you can achieve that is by acquiring the product at below its face value.
The real issue, however, is that when the country tries to refinance existing debt, it will cost South Africa more to borrow money. In an already depressed economy that means that the government has even less money to spend on housing, education, health care and everything else that is required.
As we enjoy a period of togetherness, let’s use this positive energy to continue to discuss differences, address real issues and all focus on stimulating the economy. We know the rules of the economic game, but we are not always playing together as a team. Past history has shown that when we work together, we definitely are stronger.
The views expressed above are those of the writer in his personal capacity and may not necessarily reflect the views of Fine & Country as a national and international brand.