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“The state-capture years have been the most inglorious in South Africa’s democratic history,” writes Claire Bisseker

Published in the Sunday Times

On the Brink
Claire Bisseker
Tafelberg, R280

I started writing On the Brink soon after Nhlanhla Nene was fired. Initially I thought it was going to be the story of South Africa’s fiscal demise – how years of low growth and unsustainable spending had pushed us to the brink of a debt trap.

Instead, Nene’s replacement, Pravin Gordhan, went on a crusading warpath to wrest back control over the fiscus and to save the economy from President Jacob Zuma’s mismanagement.
 
Hope surged, but as the Hawks swooped on Gordhan I found myself writing a political thriller for which South Africa’s fiscal unravelling was the mere backdrop.

The story was gripping, depressing and exasperating in equal measure. At times, the news cycle was so rapid I had to park the manuscript and let events play out. Sections that said “if Gordhan is axed”, and “if South Africa’s credit ratings are junked”, had to be rewritten almost as soon as the ink was dry.

My only solace as the country’s investment case collapsed was that at least I had a bloody good story to tell.

The state-capture years have been the most inglorious in South Africa’s democratic history. My book gives an overview of the political and economic trends that have brought South Africa to its knees, and suggests how to get the country working again.

On the Brink is essentially journalism. And, perhaps like all journalists who end up writing a book, I wrote it because I had to – and because I could. As an economics writer I was well placed to understand that South Africa was approaching a point where politics and debt would collide. I had the benefit of having covered nearly 15 years of national budgets. I also had my own stories to draw on, as well as a wealth of contacts who were as appalled as I was by the country’s needless descent.

It could have been a depressing book, but I wasn’t depressed when I wrote it. Towards the end I was so caught up in the creative process I could hardly sleep.

In my weakest moments I fear that South Africa’s story is going to end in tears. The country clearly cannot continue on its current path, but it’s not too late to arrest the slide.

With the right leadership South Africa could fly. And so we remain poised, on the brink.

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