Seabelo Theledi | It is time to reach out to the village to save the country

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The only feasible way to grow the economy is by decreasing the poverty gap. Photo: Lucas Ledwaba / Mukurukuru Media
The only feasible way to grow the economy is by decreasing the poverty gap. Photo: Lucas Ledwaba / Mukurukuru Media


In a time of battle, different tactics should be used to attack different opponents and as a country, which is under siege because of high unemployment, we should reset our focus to the grassroots.

According to the recent Statistics SA data, finance, real estate, business services and trade all made sizable positive contributions to the GDP growth.

“Trade activity was buoyant in the first quarter, with positive results from wholesale, retail, motor trade, catering and accommodation,” the report reads.

READ: GDP growth hits pre-pandemic levels, but it is not sustainable

Of all these contributing sectors are the low-hanging fruits that the private sector and our government can use to uplift the most rural of communities.

In the last couple of years, a common positive contributor to our economy has been trade, which has informed many economists to lean towards predicting that trade is and will be an important employer for the foreseeable future.

Within trade, the most important element is a small business, which employs few people, rather than hundreds of people like multinationals.

Naturally, the most fertile ground for these small businesses is among the unemployed youth, most of whom are in rural communities.

READ: SA’s youth do it for themselves

Therefore, logic dictates that meaningful investment to resuscitate the economy should be directed at rural communities.

This can only be done through an economic strategy that has proven to be most potent to our unique economic characteristics: infrastructure development.

Over a decade ago, pumping investment in infrastructure development mostly because of the 2010 World Cup saved our economy against the 2008 economic meltdown.

READ: 'Cadre deployment destroyed our infrastructure'

Unfortunately, most of that development was geared towards improving urban areas to be world-class and the rural areas and villages remained behind.

We did not create our villages to be world-class along with the cities. That gap we neglected is haunting us now.

The little economic growth registered should be a clear indicator of where the country should aim that useful weapon called infrastructure development investment this time around.

The benefits of directing infrastructure investment to rural areas help mitigate the immediate and biggest threat to our future as a country: youth unemployment, which is among the highest in the world and the majority of that is in rural communities.

The 1.9% economic growth is a window of opportunity to refocus on infrastructure goals, partner with the private sector and reach out to the rural communities.

READ: Plunge in mining, manufacturing productivity set to stall SA economy

Covid-19 has delivered key economic lessons, one of which is currently haunting the property sector where vacancy rates in both residential and commercial real estate remain unimpressively high compared to pre-Covid-19.

It is a lesson that cannot be blamed on anyone because Covid-19 delivered the high unemployment rate and it is in turn filtering down to all other problem areas, including crime.

Government has great plans to tackle unemployment from all angles, but it is through rural infrastructure development aimed at not only job creation but also the overall socioeconomic wellbeing of rural communities.

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By refocusing sizeable investment to rural bulk infrastructure development through transformative public-private partnerships (with a meaningful local economic development element), a lot of economic potential would be unlocked and most importantly, the communities, as partners, would take ownership of the development.

Therefore, an ecosystem that is embedded with the values of ubuntu should be a non-negotiable for rural infrastructure development to have the desired long-term effect.

An example of community ownership is a shopping centre in the rural municipality of Bushbuckridge, which, when most around the country were being looted almost a year ago, remained untouched because of the partnerships forged at a local level with the municipality and communities.

The only feasible way to grow the economy is by decreasing the poverty gap, and in this country, that means uplifting the rural communities through infrastructure development partnerships.

Theledi is the founder and MD of Nthoese Development.


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