South Africa woke up to another economic ratings’ down grade, this time by Standard and Poor’s Index, or S&P. Following Moody’s down grade last week also. According to Reuters:
Standard & Poor’s cut South Africa’s credit rating one notch on Friday to BBB with a negative outlook, saying mining strikes and social tensions could reduce fiscal flexibility and hurt growth in the continent’s biggest economy
And since I have been spending a lot of time walking around the city of Johannesburg’s Central Business District (CBD) on the newly gentrified Maboneng Precinct in down town Johannesburg, it’s an interesting area, I got to thinking about Hedge Funds and How the Super rich make their money so…
As I was walking down from Arts on Main’s Sunday Market, which is the new play-ground for the city’s risk-taking wealthy people. There are many investors doing recce’s on Fox, Main, Commissioner and Surrounding streets. I walked past a group led by a former film producer executive I know who didn’t recognize me of course saying, ” these building are going for next to nothing” The the potential investors were German, I know this because I heard them speak in German afterwards.
Then I meet up with a news photographer-journalist-friend of mine. I join him at Uncle’ Merves Coffee shop, it is a pavement vibe, there are vintage like bicycles you can hire for R40 rand for a three-hour cycle around downtown Jozi. It is right next to the Glass Information Caravan, which says Invest, Live and Play in the this area: Maboneng Prescinct. Mandla, gosh he’s grown, is manning the trendy stall where potential investors are shown what kind of lifestyle is envisioned for the area. I’ve known Mandla forever, when he was just a little boy running up and down the red polished stairs of Berly Court a place I will write about later. He is handsome and his warm smile and eyes make me feel at home. I order some coffee, my journo friend, let’s call him Nat, for Nat Nakasa, the famed 1950’s South African Journalist I was nick-named after at college, Nat is drinking beer. He tells me he’s just come back from the Annual Rainmaking ceremony at Queen Modjadji’s royal compound in Khetlhakone Village in Limpopo north of South Africa. He excitedly shows me a picture of his tiny frame in front of a Massive Baobab tree. But no one cares about Queen Modjadji or her rain making ceremony, much less his readership, he says to me almost dissapointed. I would like to read about it I say to myself. The annual ceremony is usually held in November, some African culture experts say it’s the African New Year. It doesn’t even matter how you write the story even, he says, they just don’t care.
He tells me Uncle Merves is now his Sunday hang-out spot. He likes to see how so many people go out of their way to look cool when walking down Fox street in the Maboneng (a seSotho word for lights) District. It’s fun to people watch he says. I agree and add that more than the fashion models we’ve seen prancing up and down, there are many wealthy people ( they are never noticeably “fashionable'”) who have been lurking around taking pictures. He agrees and says with an air of irritation about a guy who is taking pictures with a poorer quality lense than he has. There’s a big man in brown clothes and huge locks (dread-locks) hovering behind him, while the other guy takes pictures. I hate it when people just go around taking pictures you know!
He adds ” Anyway, a few years ago I went on tour with the JDA, Johannesburg Development Agency, on this tour there were people, mostly investors, the majority of them white, they didn’t have to have money he says. The JDA just gave away buildings to people who have a track record in Asset Development for next to nothing – just like that film executive was saying i think – they will make up fake trans-actions because one needs a paper trail, or just put down a mere 50 thousand Rands [+- 5, 700 USD] , he says lighting up a Stuyvesant. I miss smoking sometimes, there’s something so cool about it. They make their money by developing these ( borrowing to invest, though here it doesn’t seem like they even have to borrow, increasing the return of investment I guess) buildings, creating , luring people, making it a trendy sought after space and selling that product at a higher price. I’m looking for a place to stay, a smallish apartment I say out of exhaustion, (i’m always looking for a place to stay) I really want to live in the city, I tell him. Ja, these flats here, at Main street are like matchboxes, he says. I agree with Nat. I tap danced in one them the other day, the floors are good for that kind of thing. But mostly they’re like prisons. They are overpriced he says and I agree. Now Nedbank is trying to do the same in other parts of the city he says. I look around and wonder, where if I had the money would I buy a building?
I say oh maybe we locals can join in and buy buildings too for next to nothing, build them up, have some form of legacy. Nat is not so positive about my suggestions. No he says, it’s too late for that now. They don’t trust black people, or black entrepreneurship, in fact the whole system he says is designed against them. Investors have to be assured at least on paper of a good return on investment. How the Hedgefundsworks 101. So if you’re black that increases the risk and minimizes potential of a return on investment. It’s already risky investing in Johannesburg. I get to thinking that no so long ago I was walking down Jeppe street following the first waves of Xenophobic violence in South Africa. Shops around Jeppe had been looted, vandalized, the area became vacant overnight, this was back in 2008. Property prices must have plummeted significantly then, making it easier for investors to take up property – the city of Johannesburg must have been desperate to sell off, and get business back into the CBD.
Ah well, he says, with us its all about stomach investments, he says bringing me back to Uncle’s Merves. We locals -black people – invest to eat, we never have money for anything else. I laugh. I hadn’t eaten the whole day. What did I invest in?
Ah, that man! He says with a wide-smile brightening up his face! I glance over at the direction he’s looking at. Acclaimed writer/author/anti-apartheid activist, poet ntate Don Matterra climbs out of a Jeep, a woman in dreadlocks, she be pretty, aids him across the street to a cake and coffee/tea cafe opposite Uncle’ Merves. Tea is in-fashion now! He holds a walking cane. AH! he exclaims again, standing excitedly as if to dance. I had a choice of studying the giants of English literature, but I chose to read his works on South Africa! Don Mattera, Ai! he exclaims! He’s a legend. Just goes to show you that time is moving and fast, he says sitting down to face me, last time I saw him he could walk by himself he says. Do you think you’ll make it to that age? he asks me. I think I will get pretty close I say, thinking how much I really don’t like talking about death, it’s so defeatist. But seeing Mr Mattera hims self is too ironic at this point even for me. In his seminal text: Memory is the Weapon, he writes of Sophiatown, one of apartheid’s most infamous (forced removals) of people in 1955….
“Sophiatown also had its beauty; picturesque and intimate like most ghettoes…. Mansions and quaint cottages … stood side by side with rusty wood-and-iron shacks, locked in a fraternal embrace of filth and felony…. The rich and the poor, the exploiters and the exploited, all knitted together in a colourful fabric that ignored race or class structures.”
Memory is weapon indeed. Someone said something about rand (ZAR)’s value expected to depreciate even further this week. But Investors in downtown Johannesburg don’t seem to be paying any attention to the Moody’s and Standards and Poore’s. It’s hard to not to link Hedge-funds and Apartheids’ forced removals, so I won’t. Instead I will spend time in my newest investment; Soweto Poetry – Literary perspectives – An anthology of a Black Consciousness poetry, called the New Black Poetry of the 1970’s South Africa. Hopefully those that came before me like, Peter Abrahams, HIE Dlomo, Nat Nakasa, Es’kia Mphahlele, James Mathews, Miriam Tladi, amongst a very long list of South Africa’s Literary commentators, maybe they will help me navigate the new Jozi. Already Peter Abrahams
“Self” poem has got me hooked…
I am a shadow, Restless, Roving everywhere, I’m a bum, hungry and lonely…..
I’m a poet, and through hunger. And lust for love and laughter. I have turned myself into a voice, Shouting the pain of the people. And the sunshine that is to be.
Sowe-to? From here.