You’ll have a quieter 2021, they said. The Brexit deal will be done and Donald Trump will be out of the White House, they said. All will be better, they said.

There is something about the watching the last digit of the date change which enables the blind optimist in all of us to emerge and try to convince the doubting naysayers that the next 12 months will be materially better.

2021 looks set to be more of 2020

However, judging by the evidence of the first month of the new year, 2021 looks set to be more of 2020 but with the memories of a pre-covid world getting ever hazier.

No one can accuse the new year for not kicking off with a bang. Within days of the New Year’s Eve hangover wearing off people dressed as lumberjack Vikings with an added tone of Jamiroquai were storming the Capitol.

Following that, the much heralded COVID-19 vaccine – which was meant to be the panacea for all the troubles that had beset 2020 – was found to be a lot harder to administer in large quantities than had previously been imagined.

Surely the largest vaccination program in history will have no logistical issues, even if you have to store the things at -70 degrees? In the worst case scenario, just give them to Amazon Prime to deliver.

However, the opposite has proved to be true. Even some of the most seemingly organised nations on earth such as Germany, Sweden and Switzerland have found it nigh on impossible to manage the process, the latter even being conned by a South African from Stellenbosch into getting the vaccination before anyone else, supposedly as a volunteer ‘test case’.

READ: South Africa’s economy: Are we just frogs in boiling water?

What a wonderful act of personal munificence

I have no doubt that millions of Swiss citizens are mumbling their appreciation over a bier und pretzel to Johann Rupert for receiving the shot in a show of typical altruism. What a wonderful act of personal munificence to the Swiss people from the wealthiest South African alive.

And in South Africa, the IMF could not have timed their update on the ‘state of the nation’ any better. As though we needed any reminder after 2020 that perhaps things were not going as we would have hoped, those perennial killjoys from Washington could not even risk visiting Pretoria to deliver their update.

As with so much bad news these days, it was delivered over Zoom.

The IMF reminded us that even a disheartening and morbidly depressing truth will continue to be true no matter how many times it is repeated. Stop press: implementing structural reforms are ‘more urgent than ever’.

In a statement which could have been an exercise in the most lazy copy and paste analysis from any one of countless similar reports on the parlous condition our country finds itself it, the fund repeated its familiar mantra of the remedies needed to fix South Africa’s broken economy, institution and society.

“As per our previous advice, creating conditions to boost private investment, redefining the role of the public sector in network industries to facilitate competition, and tightening fiscal policy to rein in rapidly increasing debt are imperative,” it said.

If being insane is doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome, at least the IMF comes across as eminently cogent in its complete lack of any expectation that anything, at all, even negligibly important, will change.

READ: South Africa’s economy is on a wing and a prayer

ECONOMIC BOUNCE BACK IN THE SECOND HALF OF 2021

However, despite the reality of the last few weeks being a rude awakening to those idealists amongst us, some remain optimistic.

Reza Moghadam, chief economic adviser at Morgan Stanley, says that although there are differences of opinion on the scale and locations of an economic bounce back in 2021, “growth across the world will be stronger than people think because you’ll have a massive recovery in the second [half]”. 

The new US President Joe Biden said at his inauguration that this is a moment of “history and hope”. As hard as it might be, we might as well try and believe it.

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