WEALTH is like water, it is lost when badly managed.
Lying between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the Aral Sea, which was known as the sea of a thousand islands, is now largely dry as a result of one of the planet’s worst environmental disasters.
During the days of the Soviet Union, the government diverted the rivers that supplied it with water in order to irrigate the many agricultural projects in the region.
The fishing industry that once thrived, is now almost non-existent. At its peak it employed 60 000 people in the 1950s.
Decaying boats are trapped in the dry seabed as if they’re hostile witnesses in what is now called the Aralkum Desert.
Lakes, seas, nations and cities need a constant supply of mystique and goodwill to attract trade which will then create employment for the locals. When these are in short supply, for whatever reason, business leaves.
Mogadishu, in Somalia, is the Aral Sea of business. In the year 1331 AD, the great Moroccan scholar and traveller Muhammad Ibn Battuta wrote: “Mogadishu is a very large town. The people are merchants and very rich … Here they manufacture the textiles called after the name of the town; these are of superior quality and are exported to Egypt and other places.”
Today Mogadishu is a sea of poverty that is synonymous with war and piracy.
The decline doesn’t happen overnight.
The myth of Nelson Mandela, called Madiba Magic, brought investment to South Africa as German car manufacturers poured money into their plants. Our ports experienced unprecedented delays because no one had anticipated the economic boom. Our number-one salesman, Thabo Mbeki, got busy with foreign leaders and international investors.
They loved this country.
Tourism boomed, money flowed, RDP houses were built, clinics mushroomed, jobs were created, money was made and the black middle class doubled.
Of course, there were some glaring mistakes.
Drive around the small fishing villages to see the devastation caused by the policies of the former minister of environmental affairs, Valli Moosa, with his Soviet-era apparatchik attitude.
Greed invaded our beautiful land like powerful weeds that can crack boulders.
The Madiba Magic waned, our investment grades became poorer, money left, investors followed it and the recession came.
Johannesburg is far from turning into Mogadishu, but the signs are there.
The government has taken a hostile stance towards business, especially small business, whose arteries are severely constricted by bureaucracy. Big business is fine, it can afford to employ people to deal with all the paper work. It also has the profits to invest offshore, but small business is stuck like the fish in the Aral Sea.
The suffering will be long, slow and painful.
As South Africans we need to stop thinking of suffering as our birthright and realise that bad things have not happened only to us, and that they are as natural as death and sickness.
It is time to ditch Jorge Santayana’s nonsensical edict “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” because causal circumstances are never constant.
Those who will make progress in this quagmire of time are those who spend their energy building a better tomorrow rather than trying to find a place in the glory of history.
Freedom does not end when the shackles are discarded, but when dependency ends. Respect is not imbued by protocols but when the reason to beg has been eliminated.
And wealth is created not when parents show off, but when they save for the benefit of their offspring.
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