Moving mountains for Moody’s

Former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene in his heyday, smiling. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

Former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene in his heyday, smiling. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)


Whenever an international credit rating agency such as Moody’s or Standard & Poor’s comes to town to determine whether my country is investment-worthy on the back of a terrible political decision in a time of severe global economic uncertainty and sinking commodity prices, I like to tidy up a bit.

Not a spring-clean, just the basics. That meant the SMSs I get from Standard Bank every other day had to go. I deleted those right away.
Nothing says “ratings downgrade” more than an overdue credit card.

As a freelance writer, my living space is not something you’d immediately identify as a tax haven or a safe haven or any haven, really, so I wrote down “revenue streams” and “economic viability” in big, black letters. Business talk for “make more money”. Those went up on two separate pieces of A4 paper.

I also opened the Sunday Times’ Business Times section and placed it face up on the coffee table in the living room. Others pretend to watch CNBC Africa; I pretend to read. I took a calculator and positioned it in plain view and installed, and opened, Excel on the laptop. The main thing I did – and this was essential – was to borrow a computer screen from a pal who actually works in finance. I now had two screens. Next to each other.

With all that work I put in, I managed to create something that resembled the domicile of a person who knows how to work with money. In financial terms I invoked a sense of fiscal responsibility in an atmosphere of expenditure revenue amid a climate of decline. Those are business terms. I don’t expect you to know them. I also put up a picture of former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene. In his heyday, smiling. That showed I’m a rational thinker. A fan of logic.

I drew some money. Fiscal players have cash on them at ALL times. I folded the notes in half and slid them gently into the top, right-hand pocket of my pants. Obviously, I would have liked to use a money clip, but I couldn’t find one anywhere. South Africans don’t seem too keen on money clips, a mindset, I think, based on the assumption that, hey, I’m probably going to be emptying my pockets anyway during a mugging or buying milk or whatever so why risk losing the clip or, worse, have it tag along empty in my pocket all the way back home?

Breath mints were important. Cufflinks. A briefcase. Charts. Graphs. The Big Short. The things I said in the context I said them were very important. Make or break, you could say, so I looked up a quote from the famous tycoon Warren Buffet. “Never test the depth of a river with both feet,” he said.

Applied to our current situation that means: “Never get to a river you can’t cross because you don’t have a floating device or a rope and you don’t have the option to go back to the sports shop to buy a canoe or a kayak or something because you don’t have any credit there.”

In other words, we’re all in the same rubbish boat right now, so let’s work together to make sure we improve our credit rating so that we can buy a bigger, better boat in five years’ time.

JS Smit

JS Smit

JS Smit is a Cape Town-based freelance writer. Formally trained as a copywriter, he took a break from ads in 2010 to write a blog for the Mail & Guardian's Thought Leader and since 2015 has written for the Mail & Guardian. Read more from JS Smit

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