|Even if Thabo
Mbeki is not going to change the constitution, it remains to be seen who
will succeed him. Until recently, Jacob Zuma – the Deputy President – was
regarded to be the most likely successor. No longer, since he is accused
of corruption. Other ANC officials are also accused of sleaze. All this
reminds me a little of other African countries and they direction they
were heading for after their independence. Again, just look at Kenya and
Zimbabwe. However, it is still too early to form an opinion. Let us wait
and see some more time.
is another issue that worries a bunch of white South Africans. They worry
that their property may be grabbed like white property in Zimbabwe. No
matter what the differences and similarities are between South Africa and
Zimbabwe, remarks made by Thabo Mbeki and his foreign minister display
a complete lack of wisdom.
felt called to opine that the land invasions in Zimbabwe were “perhaps
inevitable”. His foreign minister felt called to criticize critics
of the land invasions in Zimbabwe as “unrevolutionary”. No wonder that
some folks are a little worried about the future of South Africa.
situation in South Africa appears to be as ambiguous as the political situation.
Even in the old days South Africa did not enjoy a reputation for being
a country with low taxation and a truly deregulated business environment.
Things seemed to improve a little after the first democratic election.
Perhaps not very surprisingly, the ANC dumped the “n” word (nationalization)
and embarked instead on a cautious course with the “p” word (privatization).
It included a little of South African Airways here and a little more of
the past few years, the trend has been gradually changing. South African
Airways is under government control again. Even though the “n” word
is nowhere explicitly mentioned, it has effectively returned. Mineral rights
and water rights have been nationalized. When nationalization is not feasible,
other sorts of control are being imposed. For example, commercial websites
are going to have to be registered. As the special edition of “The Economist”
“The World in 2004” points out, because of black empowerment the mining,
energy and financial sectors already have “charters”, which define how
much capital should go to non – whites.
this into context – historically and geographically – we may be reminded
of developments in other African countries, whose economic policies led
them straight to the economic rubbish bin. It looks as if the new leadership
in South Africa may have to learn a few economic lessons the hard way.
The consequences of these trends are already unfolding. The number of stocks
on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange is tanking. Professionals continue
the “chicken run”. “Chicken run” is a term in South Africa for people who
leave the country permanently. South African corporates make an effort
to expand out of South Africa, where the business environment is less regulated.
On the other
hand, the South African economy may at least indirectly benefit from international
economic developments. While the US dollar is cratering, the three golds
– real gold, black gold (crude oil) and protein gold (soybeans) have been
recently the best performing investments. It looks as if (real) gold is
in the process of becoming the next big investment theme, which contrarian
investment advisors have been predicting for quite some time already. As
South Africa produces a significant amount of gold, its economy and especially
the gold mining industry there may benefit from that new investment theme.
McMaster notes in the lead article of “The Reaper” last November
that commodity currencies “have been the rage”. By commodity currencies
he primarily means the Canadian, Australian and New Zealand dollars. To
a certain degree, the South African Rand is also a commodity currency.
However, in my humble opinion, it is not a good idea to include the Rand
into that category with the three dollars. There are too many particularities
that justify to deal with the Rand separately. They may be summarized with
“TAB”. That’s Africa, Baby. Anyway, assuming that the gold price is indeed
climbing to the stars, South Africa’s economy may benefit from it, no matter
whether or not the Rand should be considered a commodity currency.
In South Africa
at this sort of balance sheet, can I imagine to live again in South Africa?
I can. But it depends on a few things. The German business community in
South Africa is very influential. Similar to my first stint there, one
option is to pull some strings with the purpose of landing a position
in business there. Considering that most people who have taken part
in the “chicken run” have been executives, professionals and other experts,
it should not be overly difficult. South Africa suffers from a brain drain,
which creates opportunities for adventuresome folks, who are fond of moving
in the opposite direction. However, my interests and priorities have shifted
a little since I left South Africa. I do have serious doubts that I would
make now the right sort of corporate suit.
A very attractive
option is always to set up your own outfit to run the show yourself. It
must be a dream for quite a bunch of folks to own and run a wine estate
in the Western Cape or an ostrich farm somewhere in South Africa.. Of course
this sort of venture requires a serious investment, which means that a
bundle gets tied up in South Africa. Once the bundle is tied up there,
you need some resourcefulness to get it out of the country in case you
are inclined to do something else somewhere else. The foreign exchange
controls in South Africa do not deserve to be called an incentive for foreign
direct investment. Of course there are always ways and means around the
rather strict foreign exchange controls. But they make life unnecessarily
foreign exchange controls in South Africa, there is another reason why
doing this sort of thing is not really my favourite flavour of the month.
It is hardly possible to run a wine estate or ostrich farm without staff.
Dealing with staff involves every now and then having trouble, one way
or another. Even though I fancy the idea of setting up my own business
sooner or later, I would be more fond of doing it without employing staff.
It boils down to the KISS principle that I tend to apply to all sorts of
things in life: Keep It Simple and Stupid. I even preach it in my classes.
Classes, teaching at the Universities of Stellenbosch or Cape Town – it
goes without saying – would indeed be a very appealing option.
In a nutshell,
living and doing something you identify with in South Africa is still an
appealing option. Just practice some common sense and make sure that you
have some safeguards in place in case you are going to make an investment
there. It does not only apply to South Africa but to emerging markets in
general – e.g. Argentina, Brazil, Russia, Thailand. There are indeed opportunities.
But you do have some hedging to do to reduce the risk a little, which you
are exposed to.
Places To Live In South Africa
In case you
are still fond of the idea of living in South Africa, the question also
arises where you are inclined to settle down there. In case you are going
to run a wine estate or an ostrich farm there, your options in terms of
picking the right spot may be a little limited. Doing this sort of thing
in the city center of Durban may not be feasible. However, assuming you
run your own business – ideally from home without staff – you can pick
from quite a few options.
The most popular
place to live in South Africa is definitely Cape Town. During the past
few years, Cape Town has attracted a whole bunch of people, who are keen
on living there. It is not difficult to imagine why. Cape Town deserves
to be called one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The city’s
flair is colonial and mellow at the same time. Unless I should ever end
up teaching at the University of Cape Town, however, I am rather disinclined
to settle down there. When every Dick and Harry wants to live there, it
is already a little too trendy to my liking.
would rather go for a smaller town in the Western Cape, somewhere in the
Cape Winelands – for example Stellenbosch or Paarl. The scenery of the
Cape Winelands is mind boggling. You must see it yourself to believe how
beautiful it is. The idea of living in a typical Cape Dutch house in towns
like Paarl or Stellenbosch may be a bunch more appealing to some folks
than living in overly trendy Cape Town. It is quieter and more peaceful.
to live somewhere in or near Johannesburg may at first glance imply that
I have lost the plot. Yes, Johannesburg is very dangerous. Yes, Jo’burg
will never win a beauty contest. But wait a moment. The city of gold is
located on a high plateau. The weather there is almost perfect. The sunset
there is amazing. It is a little similar to the sunset in Colima in winter
when the sky turns red. The red in Johannesburg is just a little stronger
than in Colima.
Of course you
have to choose the suburb – where you are going to live – very carefully.
I would go for a place in the northern suburbs of Jo’burg, Sandton or Rosebank
for example. Sandton and Rosebank are both upmarket residential areas and
business districts with loads of office space. Loads of companies have
shifted in the past ten years from the city center of Johannesburg to Sandton
and Rosebank because the northern suburbs are said to be a bunch safer
than the rest of the city of gold.
In case money
is not a serious issue and you are inclined to settle down in the northern
suburbs, do suss Sandhurst out. It is a hidden treasure and very exclusive.
Sandhurst’s roads are rather short – with lines of old trees – without
lots of traffic. The atmosphere there is serene. You can lead a discreet
and confidential executive lifestyle in Sandhurst. However, Sandhurst is
definitely no bargain.
No matter where
you are fond of living in South Africa, a gated community always deserves
to be considered, especially if complete security is important to you.
was born and raised in Switzerland. After studying economics in Switzerland
and doing a few things in the real world, he works now as a self – employed
investment consultant. Since 1973 he lives in Hong Kong. To read, study
and write Marc Faber regularly withdraws to northern Thailand. Like other
intelligent people, he is a contrarian. By not following the crowd he has
developed quite an impressive track record, as far as placing investments
is concerned. Marc Faber has also penned a book that is worth chatting
The title of
the book is “Tomorrow’s Gold”. In “Tomorrow’s Gold” Marc Faber guides the
reader through the essentials and history of investment cycles. A bunch
of authors have written on the topic of investment cycles. But they often
lack hands on experience or they do not have a clue about the topic. Marc
Faber, however, knows what he writes about. He is a seasoned professional.
Marc Faber even manages to do what not a bunch of folks can do well. He
manages to tell the story of the South Sea Bubble – an investment mania
– both coherently and understandably.
In the last
chapter of “Tomorrow’s Gold” Marc Faber reveals his convictions. He is
bullish on gold and disdains central bankers. He trusts that the current
loose monetary system will be replaced with a disciplined one. Because
of his many years in Asia, Marc Faber is considered an expert on Asia,
which he expects – at least carefully selected sectors and regions there
– to have a promising future.
My humble self
does not deserve to be called an expert on Asia. The only place in Asia
I have been to so far and know very well is the airport of Hong Kong after
changing planes there in all directions across the Pacific. However, I
do have an opinion on central banks. Let us have a glance at the activities
of the Federal Reserve. Why has the Federal Reserve been slashing interest
rates again and again and again? I do not have the foggiest clue.
would rather drive interest rates up. The purpose of the exercise would
be to get rid of companies that are not competitive, to get rid of excess
capacity. It is significant for capitalism to get companies out of the
market that are not competitive. It is similar to pruning a tree. This
heretical view reflects of course the exact opposite of what the consensus
preaches. Let us wait and see some more time. It may be wise to shift your
focus to carefully selected emerging markets. South Africa is just one
of several interesting emerging markets.
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