It was refreshing, but not surprising, to see that
Finance Minister Tito Mboweni immediately saw an opportunity in Moody’s
Investor Services downgrading South Africa’s sovereign credit rating, rather
than an obstacle.

Fin24
reported that he said “Hallelujah” upon hearing the
news
. Progressive people would
have recognised consistency in a Finance Minister who has never made it a
secret, no matter who calls him out, that to move forward and realise lasting,
positive, outcomes, something deep has to change in the way we do things in
South Africa.

It cannot be denied that for now, the sovereign credit
rating downgrade by Moody’s, joining those of the two other major credit rating
agencies – Standard & Poor’s (S&P) and Fitch – will have unfortunate
consequences. It will:

  • Lead to SA being excluded from the FTSE World Government
    Bond Index (WGBI);
  • Cause interest rates and the general cost of borrowing
    to rise;
  • Cause fund managers with investment grade mandates to
    move the funds in their care to safer markets elsewhere;
  • Bring down a dark cloud South Africa and scare off
    potential investors, especially those who had begun to warm to slowly rejuvenating
    Ramaphoria.

South Africa has its work cut out for it for several
years now.

It doesn’t help, of course, that the downgrade was
announced while the country, together with others around the world, is in the
middle of a war against a fast-advancing invisible enemy in the form of
Covid-19, which requires massive resources we do not have, to fight it effectively.
To fight and win the war against Covid-19, South Africa and the rest of the
world are “in it together”.

To fight and win the war to regain the massive reputational
capital lost through state capture and other forms of corruption, we, South
Africans, are “in it together”. What the latter means is that those
who govern our country can no longer rely on political platitudes and kicking
the can further down the road each time they get to it, hoping that the rest of
us will forget what needs to happen and simply go with the misleading poetry.

The structural reforms that Mboweni told us had
already begun, must be seen to be done; not just read about in the media as if
they are done for a small interest group of South Africans. Long-suffering South
Africans must be told what, exactly, is being done – other than
replacing old teams of political deployees with new ones – and what its
expected to come of it. It will take a lot more than mere emotional calls to national
solidarity through expensive video campaigns to get all South Africans to place
their hands on deck and fully play their part.

It is a real pity that, through the current crises,
our collective attention has been taken away from the work done by the Zondo
Commission of Inquiry into state capture and other commissions that have been
set up to look into what went down in various state-owned entities over the
past decade.

We must also not forget that the credibility of these
commissions and their work sits right at the heart of structural reforms. Simply
replacing one set of crooks with a new set of deployees who – given the same
opportunities, temptations, and political pressures – might easily go rogue on
us, is not enough. The shameless, official silence on continued redeployment of
some of the state capture kingpins and enablers into important parliamentary
committees and other arms of the state are also unhelpful in the drive to
regain lost trust.

The world is laughing at us, thinking, correctly, that
we’re fools to believe we can take it for fools. If you don’t believe this, go back to the frank televised
interview of CNN’s Richard Quest by our own Bruce Whitfield
during the 2020
World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland.

The hard truth is that this interview will remain on
cyberspace for those who forget to be pointed to it. It will still be there
when we send another Team SA to the next WEF, in February 2021. Will we have a
better story to tell the world of investors, chins held-up, or another basket
of excuses, aided by “convenience” of Covid-19’s unfortunate contribution
to our woes?

Granted, few will disagree that Moody’s downgrading of
South Africa’s sovereign credit rating couldn’t have come at the worst time for
the country – despite the fact that it was long coming –  and its impact on our livelihood will soon
begin to be felt, compounded by the ongoing lockdown to aid the battle against
Covid-19.

But Mboweni is still correct to see opportunity where
others only see the wrath of the gods and misery. We should hope that his comrades
and friends in the governing tripartite alliance and colleagues in government will
also have their eyes opened to the reality that we’re going to have to break
some eggs if we want to start making that omelette needed for our country’s long-tern
economic recovery. I

If we fail to see the opportunities in the double kicks-in-the-butt
we have just received, like the Shakespearean tide that appears often in the
affairs of men, we risk ending with a collective voyage that is bound in more
shallows and lasting miseries.

We must take the current as it currently serves, acknowledge
the pain but also work hard at seeing the light at the end of it all; a light
that will sustainably illuminate out path only if we ensure that the planned
structural reforms will lead to real and lasting changes to the way our affairs
are run – unhindered by fear of change and archaic political ideologies – not
superficial ones.

* Solly Moeng is brand reputation management adviser and CEO of strategic corporate communications consultancy DonValley Reputation Managers. Views expressed are his own.

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