It must be emphasised that another downgrade of the South African currency by the large global ratings agencies will have a profound knock-on effect on some particularly sensitive and politically charged areas.
Not least of these is President Jacob Zuma’s free fees thinking, which many top economists have insisted the country cannot come close to funding without a corresponding meltdown of essential social services.
Over the weekend, Treasury hinted strongly that a catch-all plan that would cover all educational fees was not feasible and attempted to steer the government determination to pursue this course into the calmer waters of a conciliatory package.
This appears to have convinced one rating agency to hold off on any precipitate downgrade, something akin to testing the wind to see whether the storm breaks.
But the influential Standard & Poor’s (S&P) rating agency already made a decision on Friday, pushing the rand further into the junk status morass the currency is already saddled with.
It cited a perceived lack of bouyancy in the economy to bounce back and an ability to begin growing with the ANC’s elective conference.
Although Moody’s and Fitch – two other major players among the ratings agencies – have held back on any decision on downgrading just yet, there can be little doubt that the instability shown in government circles and the somewhat pessimistic tenor in the delivery of October’s medium-term budget policy statement have been flagged as key indicators.
Higher education is an incendiary flash point which has already proved capable of spilling into violence.
It must be treated with both common sense and sensibility, as must any poking of sticks into the already jaundiced eyes of the rating agencies.
In short, we undoubtedly need the agencies to rally behind this country far more than they need us.