Do you also long back to 1985?

By Andró Griessel

Are you certain that it was truly the ‘good old days’?

I miss 1985! Life was good! Desiré Steyn said yes to being my girlfriend, my golf handicap was 12 (now 30), I flew in an airplane for the first time in my life (which was in fact for golf) and just learned how to “sokkie”.

Our parents did not know where we were throughout the day or what mischief we were up to, but we simply had to be home when the streetlights came on. The A-Team was the best thing since Chocolate-ProNutro and A-ha, Madonna, and John Mellencamp’s songs played at garage parties, for which my girlfriend forced me to learn how to dance.

My parents were in their early 40’s. My dad was a car mechanic with his own business and my mom had to work alongside him just to make ends meet at the end of the month. My brother and I were blissfully unaware of these struggles, of course, as most children possibly still today are unaware of their parents’ struggles.

Many people, maybe even yourself, long back to 1985, or if we can be blatantly honest, “the days before the ANC-government came to ruin our country.” We also then read about how our economy is on the edge of collapsing, how the ANC, by means of prescribed assets, are going to force us to lend more money to already struggling state entities such as Eskom and South African Airways, while we get poorer by the day.

My reasons for longing back to 1985 are obviously much better than all these upsetting reasons mentioned above. But the question remains, are the lenses that we use to look at our current circumstances and 1985 properly wiped and cleaned? I suspect that it is not the case.

My parents and all other hardworking middle-class people in South Africa’s reality was in stark contrast to my own as a child. Let me refresh your memory a little.

The average prime lending rate in 1985 was 21.5% (compared to 7% currently) – for the first four months of the year it was as high as 25%.

The problem with middle-class in your 40’s is: You only have debt in large amounts (at 21.5% plus interest) and very little savings that might have earned good interest, all while the stock market for the average South African was completely out of reach (there were still very few unit trust funds.)

The average inflation rate in 1985 was 16.1% (compared to 4.9% currently). Sanctions from abroad intensified significantly in 1985 and the government was largely cut off from funding. By the way, the notion of prescribed assets is by no means a new idea. In the period leading up to the 1980s it was introduced as a policy, where pension funds with a prescribed percentage had to be invested in a combination of state-owned companies and government debt. In 1977 this percentage was as much as 77.5% and the policy was only discontinued in 1989!

Riots and violent protests, especially in the northern parts of the country, were a weekly phenomenon, to such an extent that PW Botha announced a state of emergency on 20 July 1985 in 36 regions in the Eastern Cape and Gauteng. One of the regulations was a substantial restriction on media freedom, which naturally meant that the average person was not nearly as informed about what’s going on in the country as we are today.

With the announcement of the state of emergency, the Rand traded at R1.89 against the dollar. By August 29, a meager 40 days later, the rand closed at R2.77 against the dollar. That is almost a 47% strengthening of the dollar against the Rand! By the end of 1985, the petrol price in South Africa over the previous 15 years (since 1970), increased with an astronomical 996%.

You could not win a gold medal at the Olympics even if you were the best athlete in the world and the Springboks had to play watered-down tests against unofficial teams. To top it all off, if you did not have a white skin, you could not stay in a suburb of your choice, go to a school of your choice, go to certain beaches, and you had to enter a separate door at the post office, bank, and doctor just to name a few of the unthinkable apartheid regulations.

Misplaced nostalgia

I do not know about you, but my longing for 1985 is misplaced and out of context. My parents could not have had it easy at all. I know for a fact that they had it significantly harder than what I have today. They probably had to go on their knees every day and ask for some outcome, because from my vantage point (36 years later) the future would have looked a lot darker for me. If emigration was any option at all (as it is so easy to do today), they would have also been out of the country, because who would have endured such an environment?

Sometimes nostalgia is just a consequence of a weak memory and pessimism is the result of our distorted perspective of how much better the past was versus the present.

A decade after South Africa’s Damascus-moment in 1985, millions of people have stood up to outvote a government with an obsolete ideology. The time to outvote a government with an obsolete ideology, has again arrived.

Roll up your sleeves

No matter how long it takes and how much decay in the public sector we must still observe, I still see incredible nodes of excellence in the private sector, and this is where our hope lies, in the meantime and maybe forever. What I do know is that it is very difficult to make a positive difference with a negative cloud hanging over you and sometimes you just need a good dose of healthy perspective to roll up your sleeves again and try to help build on what others are trying to break down.

In closing: Of course, I could not help but to go and look at what the JSE did in probably one of the most stormy and uncertain years in our country’s history. The 42% return in 1985 is possibly just another timely reminder that investment returns, and political events are not well correlated and that decisions, especially about your investments, should be based on other criteria.


Andró Griessel is a certified financial planner and managing director of Woodland Wealth. Contact him at

Although all possible care was taken in the drafting of this document, the factual correctness of the information contained herein cannot be guaranteed. This document does not constitute advice and anyone planning on taking any financial action based on this document, is strongly advised to first consult with their personal financial advisor. Woodland Wealth is an authorised financial service provider with FSP no. 5966.

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