Opinionista Faith Muthambi 31 October 2017

Advancing South Africa’s economic development through regional and continental activism

As many countries around the world have revealed, increases in trade and economic growth among countries is not precipitated by the number of trade deals signed or even trade concessions. It is also about a cultivation of a relationship on various levels. We must develop cultural understanding and common practices, so that we start to look at matters in similar ways.

The media and I often seem to be talking past each other; I truly hope that one day (soon hopefully) the members of the media will recognise that my intentions in every portfolio I have been assigned to have always been to elevate the work of my ministerial envelope to coincide with the needs of the people and the processes of a modern, sophisticated government.

I have recently been assigned as Minister of Public Service and Administration. The task is a large one, with more than one department, as well as budget oversight over an independent constitutional body. Today though, I want to bring to your attention the work being done by one of the departments in my portfolio, the lesser-known National School of Government (NSG).

I have been more than pleasantly surprised by both the quality and enthusiasm displayed by the staff of the NSG, who are quietly going about their business to improve the administrative capacity of public servants, including their ethical conduct and understanding of government’s role, as well as initiating programmes that elevate South Africa as a country and a government on the African continent and in the world. The NSG is only partly funded by the national fiscus; it is a cost-recovery institution with a trading account, and it also raises donor funds.

The NSG is currently hosting workshops on People-Centred Development and Participatory Monitoring, Evaluation and Governance in Africa programmes in Maputo, Mozambique, with a number of southern African countries, which include Mozambique, Malawi, Swaziland and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The management development institutes participating in these workshops are expected to take the lessons forward to their respective public service government departments to assist them in how to empower their citizens to participate in the design, implementation and monitoring of their development programmes.

Professor Richard Levin, principal of the NSG and an expert in this area, is facilitating the workshop. He is leading the consultative processes on the design, development and implementation of a curriculum for a Post-Graduate Programme on Governance in Africa, a programme geared towards tackling governance in the context of African challenges, opportunities and constraints while highlighting the pivotal role of continental organs such as the African Union (AU).

Professor Levin was recently elected as the Secretary-General of the African Management Development Institutes’ Network (AMDIN), which is highly respected internationally and is regarded by the AU as the leading structure on public servants’ training and capacity building.

Before I go further, one is certain that there are many naysayers when it comes to international work. We regard it as a subtraction or a diversion from the pressing priorities of our domestic or national lives. This is what makes the NSG’s work all the more innovative. They are successfully taking the work and objectives of AMDIN to fit in with the pressing needs and challenges of our country. By increasing the interaction with international partners, particularly our African brothers and sisters, we are discussing and exchanging information on the common challenges facing all of us. Thus, in Maputo, there isn’t a simple discussion on what is monitoring and how do you do evaluate it.

No! Participants are critically examining how we construct a public service that has the understanding and skills to ensure that the people (not just citizens) are involved in driving the development agenda of government – a people-centred, people-driven government bureaucracy. And to recognise that government is a contested terrain, that is open to diverse local and international interest groups and stakeholders intent on capturing it for self-centred objectives. I am sure as South Africans we can easily recognise these buzzwords – they ring in our ears and blind our eyes every day.

As we know, the mantra of the democratic government, ever since our founding father Madiba took his oath of office, is our belief that South Africa’s destiny is intertwined with the world in general and the African continent in particular – especially the southern African region. The NSG, in its own innovative and independent way, is breathing life into this mantra, by effectively articulating South Africa’s national interest so that it fits in with the overall objectives of the our region and continent. It is because of this positive trade-off that the NDP Vision 2030 envisions a South Africa that is an integral part of regional growth leveraging on regional platforms such as the Southern African Development Community to advance its own economic growth.

As many countries around the world have revealed, increases in trade and economic growth among countries is not precipitated by the number of trade deals signed or even trade concessions. Rather, it is also about a cultivation of a relationship on various levels. We must develop cultural understanding and common practices, so that we start to look at matters in similar ways.

Our continent was colonised by various countries, with different and varied practices. Even after the colonisers left, we retain these variances, and instead of promoting diversity, these differences become principled and concentrated. So a person in Johannesburg, South Africa will argue that Maradona was the greatest football player in the ‘80s and ‘90s, whereas someone from Dakar, Senegal, will say it was Michel Platini. The differences of our colonisers have become our own.

The NSG is embarking on a remarkable journey, intent on bringing all the African national schools of government (called management development institutes in some parts of the continent) together through a community of practice bound together by the AMDIN network. It has plans to engage with the East and West African regions before the end of this calendar year as well. This cultural belonging will have far greater impact on trading within our continent for South Africa, and every other African country. And the independence of this process would mean that none of the powerful countries in the geographic north will be able to seduce us easily with cheap baubles and empty promises of a life of ease.

Finally, our ANC-led government does not participate in the African international arena as a “nice-to-have”. Nor does it regard its role as wholly altruistic, or ego-centred. Rather, the ANC, my political home, recognises the strategic importance of progressive internationalism in a world where some of our political opponents would prefer us to suck up to the traditional colonial and neocolonial world powers and receive accolades. The ANC is under no illusion that our only sustainable path is to build an independent South Africa which is firmly ensconced in the southern African sub-region and our African continent as a whole. It’s the self-same strategy that informed OR Tambo when embarking on the struggle against apartheid while in exile. DM


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