OPINION: We need to produce what Africa consumes

They descended from all the corners of southern Africa and on their lips was the word ‘integration’. Speaker after speaker who addressed the Southern African Railways Association decried the difficulty of travelling within the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Thamsanqa Jiyane, the chief advanced manufacturing officer at Transnet Engineering, summed it up well when he said: “As Africans, while we may be politically liberated, our former colonisers still have full control over Africa through the various technologies that they own.”

If you think about the fact that colonisation was about gaining access to cheap raw materials and markets, it means that for as long as Africans do not own the technologies they need for their own development, they will forever be glorified hewers of wood and drawers of water.

The debate has gone on forever, the conference participants were all on the same side vehemently debating a point they all agreed on and supporting each other like witnesses in a congregation, but there has been little action.

Needless to say, the ministers from the various SADC countries also insisted that “political will” existed.

What is glaringly lacking, is where the rubber hits the road and steel burns steel — action. It is a lot easier than most people think.

The SADC countries must abolish passports among the member countries. They must open their borders to one another and make it easy to travel by train because it is cheaper and safer.

Moving money between the countries should also be made easy and safe, taking into consideration parts of the region that lack sophisticated banking systems.

Are you worried that people from poorer regions will flock into South Africa? It is an unwarranted worry, as no country can be the apex of riches in a world of poverty.

Poverty does not like a vacuum. Sooner or later, it diffuses into the neighbours, leading to crime and permanently disrupting the way of life.

Open borders will allow entrepreneurs to travel to where there is opportunity and start businesses there, employing the locals who will then find no need to leave their homes.

Hopefully all the leaders of the SADC countries will start to see themselves as part of the developing world and make laws that make it easier to grow their economies, rather than trying to conform to a network of developed nations that deliberately protect their own economies.

Among SADC countries, the SADC must take precedence over Brics because Brazil, Russia and China are more interested in peddling their products in our markets than helping develop our economies.

The Brazilian weave is among the most expensive hair extensions in the world, and South Africa is a good market for it because it can afford to pay top Brazilian real.

The China Auto Manufacturers (CAM) sold us Inyathi, and millions of South Africans use its taxis every day. The taxi owners buy CAM spares to fix their cars, thereby keeping Chinese workers employed.

Why do you think the Russians tried so hard to sell us nuclear energy? So we could stop using candles? No, they want to keep their own people employed.

Jiyane did a Muhammad Ali when he boldly said to his audience: “Africans are beginning to consume what they make and make what they consume.”

Ali told the world that he was the greatest long before he became the greatest.

Transnet has built its first locomotive and has called it the Trans-Africa Locomotive.

It’s time for other engineering businesses to build local taxis so we can truly produce what we consume, and make money while we eat.

* Kuzwayo is the founder of Ignitive, an advertising agency. He is working on a short-term project for Transnet and holds the position of engineering general manager of business developmen

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