Friends & Friction: Lessons from Piigs and Niggers

2014-05-27 12:00

When the so-called Piigs (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain) countries went bankrupt, there was silent jubilation among developing nations. But there are a few lessons to take from the Piigs.

First, economic mismanagement is not confined to developing nations alone. Second, the mistakes leaders make adversely affect the lives of people and their families.

Another group of countries from which South Africa must learn is what I call the Niggers (Nigeria, India, Ghana, Guyana, Equatorial Guinea, Russia and Sudan). These had all the resources in the world yet dismally failed their people.

Nigeria won back its independence in 1960 but unfortunately, the country has been unable to uplift its poor since then. Nigerians have only been good at doing what we Africans excel at – blaming others for our misery.

South Africa has done much better than Nigeria because our leadership has largely been committed to the people. We only have former president Thabo Mbeki to thank because he planted a crucial phrase in our vocabulary: service delivery.

It has been the yardstick by which every government activity is measured.

India, which gained independence nearly 70 years ago, brags about being the largest democracy in the world but still has untold levels of poverty.

The country is proof that democracy can inadvertently keep the vast majority in perpetual poverty. Our government grants, which are issued with no supportive, and sometimes uncomfortable, cures for self-improvement, can easily trap generations in a cycle of self-helplessness.

Ghana’s president, Kwame Nkrumah, who was an Africanist, was overthrown in a coup d’état. Mbeki, who was also an Africanist, was overthrown via a “recall”.

Both Nkrumah and Mbeki understood the success of each African country is directly linked to the success of its neighbours. Could South Africa suffer from the Nkrumah curse? Could we be at the beginning of a 40-year decline that Ghana experienced after the fall of Nkrumah?

Yesterday, Guyana celebrated 48 years of independence. After years of good growth, the country has been experiencing a steady decline, largely because it stopped funding education.

In South Africa, the public education system has deteriorated under the leadership of various education ministers.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia created oligarchs who looted state resources in the name of privatisation. South Africa basically outsourced the state by putting everything out to tender without the necessary skills to police delivery. The result has been dismal.

In the next five years, President Jacob Zuma and his party must ensure economic empowerment spreads more evenly.

He must eliminate language like “it is the clever blacks who complain”, which says more about him than the audience. It says he thinks he is clever and the rest of us are fools, and we know what follows when South Africans say “you think you’re clever, ne”.

Kuzwayo is the founder of Ignitive, an advertising agency

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