Maputo’s Merafong moment a warning

2010-09-04 10:00

Relatively peaceful Maputo resembled the South African hot spots of Balfour and Merafong this week, with burning tyres and seething resentment turning the city streets acrid and angry.

The Maputo protests reveal the same story as the many miracle economies that grip the globe’s attention.

Mozambique is an amazing story: from being a country beset by war, it is one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa.

It has become the playground of the region’s elite, who flock there for its fine powdery beaches and the electric nightlife of the capital.

But beneath the gleam is the common story of what a lack of shared prosperity looks like.

About seven in 10 Mozambicans live below the poverty line and have become window-shoppers in an economy that privileges the elite and foreigners.

The pattern is evident in China (where protests are part of life), India and in most rapidly growing economies in developing countries.

Brazil is more stable because of the Bolsa Familia, a child grant which encourages parents to keep their kids in school.

Rising fuel and mealie prices proved to be the match for the tinderbox in Mozambique.

As Africa is lauded as the emerging world’s next big growth story, those who govern us should take a careful look at Maputo this week and at South Africa’s strike season.

Without the social grants paid to 14?million South Africans, protests would not be sporadic but a much more regular part of public life.

And while government finances are under stress, it is also worth bearing in mind that public service pay has a huge redistributive effect on the economy.

If you ask, you may find that each employed civil servant supports a dependant network of about five people.

A low skills base and labour-intensive regulation have combined to ensure that South Africa’s growth trajectory has come without job creation, so the fear of dependency does not hold much water.

Faced with a choice between getting a relatively small grant and having a job with the option of aspiration, most people would choose the latter.

As our continent and our country grow, it is imperative to ensure that growth is shared and that prosperity rises, or else all we will do is go back to the future.

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