BOOK: In The Tyranny of Growth: Why Capitalism Has Triumphed in the West and Failed in Africa (Melinda Ferguson Books), former journalist and academic Malcolm Ray argues that GDP (gross domestic product) is a bad way to measure a nation’s productivity because it ignores externalised costs to society and the environment. He also argues that “growth at all costs” has become an economic myth. The narrative of the book is about how the CIA was instrumental in pushing this myth on to the African countries it funded. In this extract from The Tyranny of Growth, Ray describes the contradictory attitudes to Black Economic Empowerment in South Africa.
In all of South Africa, few places emblematise the obstinate gulf – a division that has been glibly glossed over in sweeping references to what we now commonly call “the transition” from apartheid to the market – than Melrose Arch, an upmarket gated business and entertainment precinct north of Johannesburg. The yellowy-brown rows of pristine restaurants and office complexes and cobbled streets behind a walled perimeter could easily be mistaken for another country. A miniature cut-out of Brussels’ modern business district or the swanky environs of North London’s upscale cultural hub.
Melrose Arch oozes efficiency and, most strikingly, wealth – loads of it. Yet, somehow the place seems as soulless as the periodic blunders by city planners to refashion the economic landscape it was meant, at least partially, to replace. Inside the gated community stands a baroque hotel whose facade is dominated by glistening windows. On any given day, a slew of business deals are made and broken here. So it was not unusual one cold July morning in 2011 to hear three raffish investment bankers in a manic exchange about one of South Africa’s stock conversations over sips of coffee in the hotel’s lobby.