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MarkH
 
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African Entrepreneurship

13 March 2012, 13:41

Here is a little something - amusing enough if not in truth so very sad - for those pondering SAfrica's future, especially in light of the on-going corruption, free spending and high living of the ANC elite.

I presently work in Zambia, on the Copperbelt, and do a lot of driving between the site and Ndola, the capital, to collect and dispatch people from the airport there.

It's a drive of about 150km's on a so-so road - also the only road - that's now really falling apart in some stretches due to the amount of mostly interlinks carrying copper from the DRC. The railways haven't operated for over 20 years and with mining on the up in both Zambia & the DRC the traffic is increasing all the time, but nobody’s maintaining the roads as there’s no money.

There's a couple of bad stretches, one just after Chingola where the railway line crosses the road, and here the tarred road has now virtually disappeared,leaving just a series of giant potholes behind. Even the interlinks have to traverse this stretch in 1st gear, as I do in a 4x4.

On Saturday I took a sub-contractor to Ndola to catch his flight and what I saw at this level crossing made me think.
A group of boys/men were there, with shovels and wheelbarrows, plus a hand-written sign - black pen on cardboard - saying, "men at work"and they were filling in the potholes with rubble and sand, basically whatever they could find, and then asking motorists for donations. Funny, I hear you say. Yes, very funny to us but not to them.

For the uninitiated the Zambian Copperbelt is a mess, a classic example of what SA can look forward to at the rate we’re going, with roads - the road- falling apart, railways non-existent, everywhere decay, electricity and water which come and go, very little in fact to set it apart from the average squatter camp in SA.

I'm not being in the least derogatory here, purely stating what it looks like.The Zambians are generally nice people, well-spoken, well-educated and friendly, but they have virtually no infrastructure left, their environment has been poisoned by the mines, everywhere there are signs of pollution of the rivers and the soil. The crops that the locals grow – subsistence farming – are extremely poor, half rotten from too much water or withered from too little,they cannot afford fertilizers and the like and much looks barely edible. You –yes, you from that townhouse in Sandton - wouldn’t buy it, let alone eat it but that’s how these people survive. Not live, they survive.

This is a country, rich in copper, which has been independent for nearly fifty years and yet the people are poverty stricken.There is no work, save for on the mines where generally they work as labourers,despite most being better educated than many of our expats. They have noworking experience you see, they’ve never had the opportunity of working. They sell vegetables, and charcoal, on the side of the road and as in SA they hawk everything from ashtrays to bottle openers but work, real work as we understand it, just doesn’t exist.

The towns along the copperbelt are now experiencing a mini-boom with so many mines being reopened, refurbished and with new ones being built so there is money flowing, at local level, but it’s going to take awhile, generations maybe, before the place starts looking anything like prosperous again. The roads need to be rebuilt – all of them – the railways need to be completely redone – from rolling stock to the actual railway lines,many of which have been removed for scrap iron - things need to be torn down and rebuilt, things need to be painted, windows need glass put in them, whole areas – inside towns – need to be taken back from the grasslands, and rubbish,that have overwhelmed them.

I wish all SAfricans could see Zambia, or Madagascar, or Mozambique, or Zim, or Somalia, or Kenya, or Mali – in fact any country in Africa – and then, only then would they appreciate how good they have it athome. I’m not saying that living in a squatter camp is better – it definitely isn’t – but in SA things still work and may continue to do so for some time butif the rot isn't stopped now then this is what we’re looking at and it’s not pretty.

The Zambians have democracy but they also have no work, they too have politicians who drive around in cavalcades but they have no trains,their factories are deserted and boarded up, their airline closed down and their country desolate and destroyed so they hawk for a living.

This is what awaits us, and our children, if we don’t turn our country around now. It may take time and effort to build the economy up, to educate all the children and to create enough work for everybody but it takes a damn sight longer to start from scratch.

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