IN THE first column of this year, it is opportune to make certain predictions for the year that lies ahead, despite scenario planning being an even more dismal science than economics. But at least it is more interesting. Your guess might be as good as, or even better than, mine.
There will be no sustainable global economic recovery this year. In fact, what is termed as "recovery" in the US and the eurozone are nothing but frantic attempts to avoid the inevitable: facing up to debt that will simply not vanish because more money is printed.
Even if this strategy succeeds for a short while, inflation will eat up all your gains and you are back to square one. You can then print more money. But at some point the cycle must end.
I really pity the political leaders in the US and Europe. In a democratic system it is just not possible to do what is right for the economy by inflicting serious medium-term pain on all, and still remain in power. So each successive government tries to avoid the inevitable by creating greater problems for the next round.
Undemocratic China will march forward, but will start facing up to a rising middle class that wants more than an economic slice of the pie. History teaches us it is impossible to render greater economic freedoms without a rising expectation around political freedoms. But for 2013, they will still be safe and stable under the new Chinese leadership.
Because our biggest trading partners will struggle, and we are seen as socially unstable by investors, South Africa will find it very difficult to grow beyond 2.2%. Some sectors will do better than others, but we will continue to plod along and — partly due to policy uncertainties — will miss out on commodity beneficiation and our immense agricultural potential.
Gold will increasingly be seen as a safe haven and even as alternative currency. We will see the gold price come very close to the $1,900 mark this year and break through $2,000 within the next 24 months.
Considering international politics, we will see more of the same. Due to its open bias, the US will not be able to assist in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Syria will at some point this year implode and the post-regime time will be very, very fragile as we saw in Egypt.
Rogue states such as Iran and North Korea will continue to play power games in return for food and trade assistance. China will rattle its sword and so will Japan. Military spending will increase in all major countries because arms and self-defence are always higher priorities than social spending and aid.
Regional conflicts in Africa will continue and may even increase. The African Union has proven to be virtually ineffectual and will not easily change, even under a new chair.
South African politics will continue to be very entertaining. The campaign to clean up our president’s image will not work. He will continue to make public relations blunders and send confusing cultural messages — all of which make him more popular "as an ordinary person from among us who, like a true chief, successfully uses the system for himself and his clan".
African National Congress deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa will bring greater rationality to the government and can make a huge difference in perceptions. Whether he can change actual delivery must be doubted. One person— not in cabinet for now — cannot fight ineptitude, cadre deployment and endemic corruption all by himself.
On the sporting front, Bafana will play well in the African Nations Cup, but will not reach the semifinals due to their inability to actually score goals. But let us hold our thumbs! Our golfers will again ensure that South Africa punches well above its weight on the international scene.
Our cricket team is now hot and will not easily give up their top spot. Rugby will bring us agony as the coach simply closes his eyes to sharp youngsters and continues to play old warhorses in an up-and-under gamble that makes us look far worse than we actually are.
But all these "big" events will not deter ordinary people from waking up in the morning. Those lucky enough to have a job will do their day’s work, go home, eat supper, watch TV, and sleep.
In a way, life is what each one of us makes of it. Your fate and happiness lie in your own hands.
So what happens in "the world" is not that important after all.
• Naudé is the former head of the business school and currently deputy vice-chancellor: academic at the Nelson Mandela Metro University in Port Elizabeth. He writes in his personal capacity. This article is to inform and educate, not to advise.