Can South Africa catch up to the new Africa?

2011-12-17 11:42

‘If it were not for hope,” the English writer and physician Thomas Fuller wrote, “the heart would break.”

In life, hope is essential. What is life if we were to believe that things will only get worse?

In good times, hope is the promise of even better; and in bad, a comfort that justice is on its way.Of course, many will disagree.

Cynics claim that history shows, as the philosopher AC Grayling observed, “that dark nights have cost mankind less pain than false dawns.

The deceitfulness of hope gives it a bad name, for every ten thousand men there are a million hopes, but very few are realised”.The sociologist and former Director of the London School of Economics, Anthony Giddens, once made the distinction between optimistic and pessimistic realism.

Optimistic realism is to temper hope with facts, while pessimistic realism is to deny hope with facts.

Here are some facts, as published in the Economist (December 3, 2011), that should give us pause to think and offer even cynics a glimmer of hope:
» African economies are consistently growing faster than those of almost any other region in the world. At least a dozen have expanded by more than 6% a year for six or more years. Ethiopia will grow by 7.5% this year without a drop of oil to export. Once a byword for famine, Ethiopia is today the 10th-largest producer of livestock.

» The International Monetary Fund expects sub-Saharan African economies to grow by 5.75% next year. Several of the bigger countries expect to grow at 10%. The World Bank reported this year that “Africa could be on the brink of an economic take-off, much like China was 30 years ago and India 20 years ago”. Growing at just more than 3%, South Africa is not of those countries.

» A genuine middle class is beginning to slowly emerge. 60 million Africans earn more than $3 000 per year, which does not sound like a lot, but it is, given the baseline history. By 2015, the figure will be 100 million, the same as for India today.

» Labour productivity is rising at 2.7% a year. Trade between Africa and the rest of the world has grown 200% since 2000. Inflation has dropped from 22% in the 1990s to 8% in the last decade. Foreign debt declined by 25% and budget deficits by 66%. In 8 of the past 10 years, sub-Saharan growth has been faster than East Asia (excluding Japan).

» Fertility rates in Africa are decreasing, which slows down population growth that, in turn, results in a diminishing dependency ratio. The emerging population architecture was key to past East Asian growth and presents a huge opportunity for Africa today.

» Previous growth spurts in Africa were driven by commodity prices. Minerals are a blessing in good times and a curse in bad. Today, however, it is East Africa, having no oil and a modicum of minerals, that as a region is growing fastest – and led by non-resource-based local economies.

» The application of technology in areas such as communication (cellphones and the internet), animal and human health, and agriculture and genetically modified foods have been significant, and today is a main driver of growth. In 2003, foreign aid and foreign direct investments came in at $24 billion each. Last year, the figures were $29 billion and $57 billion respectively.

» The Democratic Republic of the Congo is in the middle of a potential Central African cataclysm. Zimbabwe reminds us of the tragic failure of kleptocratic diplomacy. The Economist calls us endemically corrupt, which we are.

Two out of three African countries hold regular elections, albeit many of which are not free and fair. Still, the balance sheet is beginning to tilt.

As the continent’s largest economy, we are essential to African growth.

Yet we are not leading the high-growth stars. We could lead it if we follow the recommendations of the National Planning Commission’s recent report that squares so much with our own thinking.

The irony, of course, is the NPC’s recommendations are unlikely to be implemented while the ANC is in charge because it lacks the cohesion to summon a collective determination to take tough decisions.

Next year, the combination of being deeply fractured while in centenary party mode is toxic for our country as nothing will get done.

Growth is not everything and therefore three further reasons for hope must be mentioned:
» The judgment brought against President Jacob Zuma in the Menzi Simelane case, that he was not a “fit and proper person” for the position of National Director for Public Prosecution, was a profound victory for our wobbly constitutional democracy. It showed that our democracy can work to prevent the interference of politicians in our state institutions designed to protect people against the abuse of power.

» The case the Inkatha Freedom Party and the Congress of the People are bringing against the Department of Home Affairs over the Dalai Lama debacle may well force meaningful transparency on government – rare in Africa. In the court affidavit, the department’s director-general, Mkuseli Apleni, already showed that we refused to grant the visa because government timidly and cowardly fears China’s disapproval.

» The decline, perhaps temporarily, of the populist voice of Julius Malema is most welcome. An opportunity is before us to lead young South Africans with reason and hope into a future built on stretching their abilities and talents and not sitting back waiting for the next handout.And, oh yes, I hope the matric results for this year will give us hope.

I am not so much referring to the crude pass rate that will be released on January 5. Instead, I am referring more to deeper measures of quality such as the retention rate from Grade 1 to 12, improved performance in mathematics and science, and a better command over language and communication.

For it is true, as the Scottish lawyer and politician Henry Peter once said: “Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern, but impossible to enslave.”

» James is the DA chairperson

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