Reader’s Letter: Fly now, pay later


Johann Stander writes:

We knew him as Riem, but his last name was Barnard, if I remember correctly. He was our bookkeeping teacher in the small Lowveld high school where I was a pupil.

Riem, as his nickname suggests, was tall and lean and sinewy. Not all pupils or fellow teachers liked him or resonated with him, because of his sayings. Nowadays we would think he doesn’t have the necessary filters. However, there was no uncertainty about what he meant.

Back then we still stood in rows, boys and girls separately, outside the class, waiting for the teacher to give you the instruction or permission to enter the class. Daughters always first with his usual command: “Roll in thicks”. For those who did not want to learn: “With these points you will lift for the rest of your life”. And when the double period of bookkeeping is over at the end of the day: “Drag away you carcasses!”.

In his own way, he also taught us life lessons, especially in his field. The one that stuck with me was his lesson of “Fly now, pay later”.

At the time, SAA had an advertising campaign to get people to use their overseas flights. And yes, it’s spelled correctly, SAL – the South African Airlines, with the orange, white and blue planes on which the flying springbok boasted, in the days when our national airline could still boast. At that time very few people could afford to go on holiday abroad and it was a great status symbol for those who could.

Then SAA launched their “Fly Now, Pay Later” program – people could fly overseas and go on holiday and then start paying off the costs when they returned. Some of our town’s leading people wept long tears with the installments of their vacations, long after the excitement and bragging value of their vacation was over.

Riem was strictly anti-debt, according to him debt was only for the purchase of assets such as a house or production units. And very definitely not for luxuries and “show eaters”. Credit cards were evil to him. Regularly preached to us not to be fly-now-pay-later people, but rather pay-now-fly-later people.

Later years, when the academics and gurus got smart about “instant gratification vs delayed gratification” I thought Riem was ahead of his time. Until I thought about it again and realized that my grandfather who was born just after the Anglo-Boer War, who didn’t go to high school, who plowed with a team of oxen and farmed himself rich, understood this principle. The knowledge – actually it’s just common sense.

A principle that we have applied throughout our lives, and now, in later years, we can fly a lot and far. Much more than we do because now there are fly-now-pay-later people who need help. And I have a better understanding for the eldest brother of the “lost son”.