Ask not what Africa can do for you but what you can do for Africa
The forum is chaired by Zoli Kunene. I thought it would be fitting and appropriate for me to share with you the Deputy President’s presentation on the challenges and opportunities that exist in the second decade of South African independence.
Lest we forget, South Africa is Africa’s youngest child whose destiny has important ramifications for the entire continent of about 54 nations.
In this context, it is important that we understand the thinking that informs the African continent not only because of the emergence of South Africa as a leading investor in the rest of the continent but because if the country get its act together, it is conceivable that other countries may benefit from its experiences to their advantage.
The Deputy President started her presentation by providing an African context to the South African challenges. She said that with a few exceptions, Africa is on the march with many countries experiencing growth rates of about 5% and is slowly re-branding itself as a theatre of conflicts to a continent of hope and democracy. She cited Mozambique and the DRC as examples of what is possible with determination and political will. With respect to South Africa, she said that many commentators and analysts are of the view that a growth rate of 6% is timid.
She said that during the first decade, the government was dealing with challenges to increase access to the rest of the population to basis services and now about 50% of the population has access to water, electricity, health and other services. The challenge of the second decade is now to universalize access and address the infrastructural constraints to which a budget of about R370 billion has been set.
With such an ambitious development program, the government was interested in forging partnerships with non-state actors. She observed that most of the private sector partners unfortunately regard infrastructural and institutional capacity building investments as exclusively a government responsibility notwithstanding the fact that profits cannot be sustained without such investments.
Like many industrializing countries, South Africa is not immune from the pressures to accommodate a growing middle class. The provision of affordable housing to this growing sector still presents a challenge and yet the private sector partners usually are slow to take the mantle leaving the public sector as the only source of intervention.
As many of you are aware, South Africa inherited a dualistic economy characterized by a sophisticated industrial, mining and financial first economy in which the historically advantaged are the primary drivers co-existing with a less developed second economy where the majority still ekes a living. With such an inheritance, South Africa has no choice but to bridge the divide between the two economies by investing in the second economy. At the industrial level a number of sectors including tourism, business process outsourcing, bio-fuels, agriculture and others have been targeted for attention.
She lamented that a majority of the people of South Africa are still trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty while the national economy appears to be growing. The government had realized that without the growth being shared by all, the risks inherent are two obvious and damning for us to do nothing hence the introduction of a number of initiatives aimed at ensuring that growth is accelerated and the benefits there from are shared. For those interested in investing, the government would welcome intervention by the private sector in a number of areas aimed at stimulating and supporting the small and medium scale enterprises that not only need financing but require mentorship.
However, the most enduring challenge for South Africa remains on the institutional and capacity fronts where the legacy of apartheid is proving to be the most significant constraint to transformation and growth. Education and skill development have been highlighted as the priority areas requiring joint action by all. However, the Deputy President observed that one gets the impression that most private sector partners only invest in education just because they want to be nice to the government and not because they believe that it is in their interest. The country desperately needs to bridge the skills gap.
After her presentation, there was some discussion on the role of the private sector in addressing the challenges. My input to the discussion was on a familiar theme: financial literacy as an empowerment enabler. I informed the meeting that we had launched an initiative under the Africa Heritage Society for professionals and businesspersons to donate their time to good causes in Africa. In particular, I informed the Deputy President about my weekly column on New Zimbabwe.com and promised to write an article about the meeting in the hope that those interested in contributing either with donated hours in the identified priority areas or in relocating to South Africa to address the skills deficit in the country should contact me so that I can forward the names.
For the many who believe that Africa needs their skills, this is your time to make a difference. The skills required are varied with a strong bias on technical areas. The Deputy President was very receptive to my suggestion and requested me to coordinate with her staff. Already South Africa is a home to many Zimbabweans and other Africans but the country can only realize its full potential if it can harness the talent that is not only available in Africa but globally. The knowledge agenda requires agents with the solutions that are appropriate and it is important that we recognize South Africa for accepting that skills can be imported to help address the gaps.
It is critically important that we locate the direct and causal relationship between good governance and growth. It would be unthinkable for South Africa to contemplate investing substantial amounts in infrastructure and capacity building if the economy was dysfunctional. Equally, investing in infrastructure without private sector investment would be a waste of resources.
For South Africa to have the confidence of hosting the next World Cup in 2010, indicates the level of comfort the government has with the direction of macro-economic management that it has chosen. The country is fast becoming a magnet for investment from other countries and what is glaring in its absence is the investment by Africans. It is also interesting that the even the Chinese use the same door like other people when they invest in South Africa unlike the practice of cutting special deals as we have witnesses in other African countries. While it is accepted that South Africa is still in its infancy in terms of post-colonial experience, it is notable that the country is growing its middle class faster than any other African country and this provides enough cushion against those in government who may entertain the notion that they alone should dictate the destiny of the country.
The presence of a critical mass of domestic private capital in South Africa makes provides a disincentive against bad policies and should naturally give confidence for the investing public. I was quite impressed by the approach and humility displayed by the Deputy President at the meeting and the response by the private sector representatives was quite encouraging. While it is fashionable for many African governments to regard foreign investors as the only legitimate source of investment, it was striking that the government of South Africa considers the domestic players important enough to warrant attention and respect. In writing about this meeting, I was conscious of the many skeptics who may have reservations about the development model chosen by the South African government that largely recognizes the role of private capital in the development process.
Could South Africa become the next Chindia of Africa? What would it take for South Africa to build a sustainable platform to underpin the economic transformation of the continent? Who should take the lead in South Africa’s economic transformation agenda? How can Africans become the drivers of change rather than passengers in their continent? Why is it that Africans have not been able to emulate the experiences of Indians, Chinese, Jews, Irish, and British etc in Africa? Even as South Africa gropes for solutions on its key skills challenge, it is more than likely that Africans are not on the radar screen not only because their host governments will complain about the brain drain but because the confidence level on African capacity is so low in Africa that most governments are tempted to look elsewhere.
I am made to understand that already other nationalities are responding to the South African challenge in a more organized and informed manner. However, Zimbabweans in South Africa have so far not been able to organize themselves as a force to better communicate with the government about their positive and significant contribution to the economic transformation of the country. This lack of organization has invariably led to xenophobia against people of Zimbabwean origin and ironically the same attitude is not displayed against newly arriving Indians and other nationalities that come into the country and are easily assimilated into organized groups.
weekly column appears on New Zimbabwe.com every Monday. You can contact
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