Summerhill CEOWherever there’s gold, there’s fireworks. Goldrushes spawn “wild wests”, and Jo’burg’s been that way since President Kruger was in charge. Remember the Jameson Raid, when Cecil John Rhodes and his cronies attempted a coup of Kruger’s government as long ago as 1896? The plotters were thwarted by a leak from within when the “putch” was postponed a week by the Randlords-cum-racecourse stewards, who feared it might interfere with the running the same weekend of the Johannesburg Summer Handicap (read Summer Cup these days).
This weekend, the Golden City gave birth to another form of fireworks, not only at BSA’s sales complex in Germiston, but right here at Emperors Palace, where anybody and everybody that matters in racing was resident for the sale. Jo’burg in April is as glorious a place as you’d want to be, and Sunday dawned bright and peaceful. The early rays of the autumnal sun had scarcely topped the façade of OR Tambo, when the soft drone of distant traffic was shattered by the clatter of automatic fire. Within minutes, the “Emperors” complex was crawling with the cops from Special Ops, and with the precision of a Rolls Royce motor, a squadron of helicopters was casing the joint from the air.
A replay of the Jameson Raid was in progress. Another leak, another combat-ready intercept team, and in a matter of moments, it was all over. Our cops come in for a lot of stick, but in this form, you’d have to say, all is not lost. This was as near as it gets to perfection: 15 of the continent’s “most-wanted” men incarcerated, no lives lost, a bit of excitement in the dining-room, no more than an hour sacrificed before the resumption of the sale, and we were back in business. Spare a thought for all our foreign visitors, particularly the Aussies and the Kiwis, who are not accustomed to these breakfast antics, and are woefully short on the bullet-proof armour South Africans greet these things with: one of our countryman was more concerned that his eggs were overcooked. The locals reminded our visitors that the gale in Christchurch was blowing up more of a storm in the game between the Crusaders and the Rebels, than this ten minute fiasco had managed. It was all over before the ref could say “crouch… touch… set”.
As for the sale, it was comforting for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the 44% increase in aggregate and a 27% increase in average. The latter figure is all the more laudable, if only because it was achieved in an enlarged catalogued, which generally makes for a longer tail, and usually mitigates against an increment. Remember this, too: averages give you bragging rights, but turnovers give you the bottom-line. We also saw two youngsters breach the R3million mark, and the welcome return of a deep middle market, evidenced in a 33% rise in the median. For Summerhill, we outperformed these numbers by a bit of a stretch, and at R1.6million, we sold the sale’s top filly for the second time in three years. Friday’s early start was probably not one of BSA’s brightest marketing strategies, and the result may have been even better with an evening session to relieve the tedium of two long days in the field, but let’s not spoil a good show with too many woes. It was a solid sale, and the numbers endorsed the upward trend in bloodstock markets the world over.
Strange in these times of global austerity, that the great luxury of owning a thoroughbred has not become exactly that: a luxury. Yet there are parallels in the stock markets too, where quite inexplicably, the Dow, the Dax, the FTSE and the JSE bring new highs both times you read the ticker-tape. Of course, “Q.E” has played its role, and near-zero interest rates in America, Europe, Japan and the rest, have driven cash surpluses into assets. So we need to recall that eventually, inflation is the inevitable consequence of Ben Bernanke’s money-printer, that a rise in interest rates will be just as inevitable, and that some of this cash will eventually find its way back into the money markets.
Meanwhile, horse breeders (in this country at least), will draw solace from the knowledge that the foal crop has been strangled by contraction, that racehorses will be in short supply, and that the lid on our exports is about to be lifted. That will soften the blow any rise in interest rates might deal, especially in this environment, where easier access to international markets will be the game-changer. There are some vital stirrings on the export front, and for a country which has for so long been hamstrung by technical constraints, that, and our annus mirabilis in Dubai, will make 2013 South Africa’s moment.
Speaking of which, I have a sense that the worm is finally turning here in the money capital of the continent, too. Increasingly, there is a feeling in the right quarters, that we should free ourselves of the notion that apartheid and colonialism are the reasons behind our ailments, that we need to get on with the job now, and that besides our problems, we also have a few things to brag about. Of course, you can’t just shrug off 300 years (or was it 3000?) of colonialism and oppression, but it’s surprising how “normal” we’re becoming. Colonialism and apartheid may be what we fight about a lot, but the fact we have something to fight about, is utterly normal.
And not everyone’s fights are as interesting as ours. Australian politics, for example, are a sort of sleeping balm. Argentina’s on the other hand, make ours look like, well, Australia’s. Like us, these two share a sense of community in horses. At the same time, we’re trying to get close to China without upsetting the West. We’re trying to settle our debts with our exports and we’re trying to make the poor less poor. That we argue about how to do it, is perfectly normal.
So why do we beat ourselves up so much? The poor, someone said, will always be with us. And we all have a duty towards them. But South Africa is a glory, nonetheless. We lead, or just about lead, the world in two sporting codes, we have natural resources, mineral, visual and physical, which are beyond comparison. We have a vibrant democracy, our courts uphold the rule of law, the press is free, our banks are stable and our currency still buys something. Our corruption is rotten, but by no means do we hold a monopoly on it.
Could we do better? You bet we can. But time will heal much of what is wrong. Better education, growing awareness and wider perception, will force the pace. It will also force the “delivery” hand of government. The world around us is changing too, and as it recovers, it will take us with it. Already, we see signs of an America busting out of its malaise with a new vigour. Biofuels will reduce our dependence on oil imports, fracking could change our lives unimaginably.
There is a sense here too, that the ANC is being pulled, kicking and wailing, into a world all the more real for its collective presence of Cyril Ramaphosa, Trevor Manuel and Pravin Gordhan. The President himself has become the promoter and protector of the National Development Plan; seeing off the unions and the communists on this score, could bring down Zwelinzima Vavi’s Cosatu career, if the fragmentation among workers hasn’t already done so.
There are those in this town who believe JZ will be true to his original intention of a one-term president, then whip a couple of the most unlikely suspects (Bobby Godsell, Tony Leon?) into his cabinet. And if we don’t get Cyril for some reason, is it so unthinkable that Zuma’s former wife, Nkosazana, might be the right girl for the job? Beats Addis Ababa, for sure.