South Africa is about to become the site of a global media event – possibly two – that will draw journalists from around the world over the next few months.
The trial of Oscar Pistorius, accused of murdering his fiancée Reeva Steenkamp last year, starts in a fortnight.
And it may be followed by the trial of Shrien Dewani, a British businessman who allegedly arranged the murder of his wife Anni in Cape Town in 2010.
But Dewani has been fighting a battle against an extradition order and, according to reports, still has two possible legal avenues to pursue. So the timing of his trial is uncertain.
The charges facing the two men highlight an ugly feature of South African life: violence against women, although Pistorius claims the shooting was all a tragic mistake, he shot Reeva thinking she was an intruder.
Media from as far as China have reportedly already started arriving in the country to cover the court case.
And as long as the trial – or trials – last, South Africa will be in the spotlight. Events on the southern tip of Africa, which might otherwise go unnoticed, will now be under closer scrutiny.
If the publicity is unfavourable, it will detract further from perceptions of the investment climate, which has already been damaged by violent strikes and community protests over the past 18 months.
Moody’s Investors Service commented last week: “The South African political scene has gotten noisier in recent years, heightening uncertainty about the direction of economic policy leading up to this year’s national election on May 7.”
Moody’s noted the government was under pressure and warned: “The predictability that has long characterised the macroeconomic policy framework – a fundamental component of the institutional strength ascribed to South Africa in our sovereign rating assessment – has been brought into question.”
Kristin Lindow, a senior vice-president at the ratings agency, said: “The presence of a left-wing alternative to the ANC could make it more difficult to stick to these policies and suppress discontent.
“Uncertainty over the extent to which these fundamental disagreements over the policy framework could lead to changes that might exacerbate an already downbeat investment climate was a factor behind our September 2012 downgrade of the government’s rating, to Baa1 from A3. It continues to contribute to our negative outlook.”
In other words, more downgrades could be coming our way, boosting the cost of the debt bill. Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan will no doubt do what he can next week (February 26) to improve the country’s image with another credible Budget.
But electioneering rhetoric leading up to the May poll is likely to have the opposite effect.
Economic policy is an intricate creation and if the design doesn’t fit the world as it is, the outcome can be counterproductive, if not chaotic.
Take Venezuela, which, under its former leader Hugo Chavez, was much admired by the Ecomonic Freedom Fighters’ Julius Malema, whose party is the biggest threat on the ANC’s left flank.
“Venezuela, the world’s fifth-largest oil producer, is a leading candidate for the next collapsed state,” according to a recent report in Canada’s Globe and Mail.
Chavez gained popularity when he used the revenue flows from oil to reduce poverty. Though he made gains in this direction his incoherent policies failed to make them sustainable.
The newspaper recorded: “Inflation is running at over 50 percent, a raging black market buys dollars at more than 10 times the official rate, domestic industry has all but shut down and there are critical shortages of many consumer staples.”
Confirmation that all is not well in that country comes from reports last week of protesters shot dead.
According to Aljazeera.com on Thursday, “at least four people have been killed, including a police officer, after thousands of Venezuelans opposing President Nicolás Maduro took to the streets of Caracas following two weeks of anti-government protests across the country”.
This outcome won’t prevent Malema from punting Chavez-type policies despite the fact that South Africa has no oil resources to fund them.