Let’s learn from South Korea’s success

2017-08-20 06:17
Thuli Nhlapo

Thuli Nhlapo

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South Africans are sitting on a ticking economic time bomb, and we need to do all we can to ensure that it does not detonate.

On releasing the quarterly Labour Force Survey for the second quarter this week, Statistician-General Pali Lehohla said the labour absorption rate – which is a proportion of those who are employed among the population aged 15 to 64 – declined by 0.4 of a percentage point to 43.3%.

Youth unemployment is close to 56%, which means that 3.3 million of our young people are idle and not taking up any form of education or training.

South Africa and South Korea celebrated enjoying 25 years of diplomatic relations last week. This milestone could not have come at a better time in light of the current economic challenges we face and the ANC’s upcoming elective conference in December.

The occasion afforded the ANC an opportunity to reflect on the progress of the National Development Plan and the lessons to be learnt from South Korea. It was also a chance for the governing party to analyse models that could accelerate the process of economic transformation.

Asia’s fourth-largest economy launched its first five-year economic development plan 14 years ago. It triggered the Republic of Korea’s economic transformation. The country succeeded in achieving land reform and economic growth simultaneously, something that we are also striving for.

South Korea, now a major role player among the world’s top exporting nations, implemented its plan by focusing on developing its industrial sector. This bore fruit, resulting in the growth of its exports.

At the same time, South Korea directed its attention towards developing its rural and agricultural sector. Success at this endeavour also contributed to the country’s robust and sustained economic growth.

Three principles

South Africa must examine how South Korea managed to develop its rural areas by considering the political initiative known as the Saemaul Undong movement, which began in 1970.

This movement, aimed at modernising South Korea’s rural economy, spread like wildfire as it gained buy-in from the citizenry.

The successful campaign was spearheaded by then president Park Chung-hee, who said: “I am convinced that if we care for our communities with our own hands in a spirit of self-reliance and independence, doing our work by our own sweat, then soon our living standards will improve and we can remodel our communities into neat and attractive places to live.”

In South Africa, the reality is that we remain stuck in a situation akin to pre-1970s South Korea, as much of our economic growth attained thus far is urban-based. Rural areas have been left out. And poverty is still very much a rural reality.

The situation cannot be left unchanged. For South Africa to learn from the Korean movement, the ANC leadership must understand the three principles that underpinned it.

Firstly, emphasis was placed on self-help and on improving village conditions, roads, irrigation and water supply, and the overall upkeep of the surroundings. In all participating villages, government supplied raw materials to the inhabitants free of charge and, on the basis of voluntary labour, let the locals decide what to do. Where roads were built, stream embankments repaired and other agriculture infrastructure set up, the “equity” realised lay in the voluntary labour.

The second phase saw the growth of self-reliance. Education and training were the impetus behind projects and served to instil the ideology of Saemaul Undong in villagers, inspiring them to come up with ways to raise their income and upgrade their skills and craftsmanship. Farming schools in particular offered courses in spiritual enlightenment aside from modern farming technologies, as well as practical lessons on how to operate and maintain farm equipment.

By the third stage, the movement had attained full development. There were many success stories involving cooperatives in villages and towns, along with a nationwide call for social reform.

The National Development Plan is a detailed blueprint for how South Africa can eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030. The plan has various objectives, such as reducing unemployment by 6% by creating more than 5 million jobs.

Perhaps the main lesson to be gleaned from Saemaul Undong is that South Africa must become less reliant on government to solve its problems. If each of us contributes to providing a solution to the scourge of poverty, which breeds inequality, something greater can result.

As ANC branches prepare to nominate a new leader, the focus must be on electing a cadre willing to take up the challenge of developing our rural and agricultural areas. In doing so, the dream of a progressive developmental state will be realised.

South Korea remains a beacon of hope for what can be achieved through visionary leadership, a love for one’s nation, abhorrence of corruption, the determination to make the most of the little one has and leading by example.

Nhlapo is a former print journalist, TV executive and communication strategist

Read more on:    south korea  |  economy  |  anc

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