Conversations on South Africa’s ‘moment of hope’.
As South African President Cyril Ramaphosa approaches his first 100 days in office, it’s undeniable that the mood of many a conversation around the nation’s dinner tables and water coolers has lifted considerably, after a decade of doom and gloom. Corruption is finally being tackled, investment is firmly on the agenda, and economic growth is being prioritised.
“The greatest thing that has been achieved from December last year to this moment has been putting this country on the pedestal of hope,” said Professor Thuli Madonsela. The former public protector was the guest speaker in a recent conversation with Investec CEO Stephen Koseff, hosted by Joanne Joseph and titled, Making South Africa Great Again.
“When there’s hopelessness, things fall apart,” Madonsela said.
“Corruption is not just a thief of a country’s resources. It is also a major force that works against development,” she said.
"How do we build momentum, so that we can have inclusive growth--where everyone in society benefits?"
Already, Ramaphosa’s administration has taken steps to reverse the rot of state capture, purging the boards of state-owned enterprises and government agencies of unfit individuals on an almost weekly basis. Investigations into high profile cases of criminal and corrupt activity have been launched. The ANC is being strengthened with new deployments and strategies to build cohesion; and a major campaign to drum up international investment is underway.
But Madonsela, who witnessed firsthand some of South Africa’s darkest moments over the past few years during her time in public office, cautioned against complacency. She reminded her audience that, where the pessimist complains about the wind and the optimist expects it to change, the realist adjusts the sails.
“Make South Africa Great Again” is a great concept, because it’s about restoring yourself to your days of glory,” said Madonsela. But as much as it’s a great concept, it’s a bit of a difficult concept. We are a great country, but we’ve never really been at a stage that we could say that we have really achieved our full potential in terms of greatness.
“So I would say (it’s) more like, “get South Africa back on track again,” she said.
“We’ve pressed the reset button,” agreed Koseff. “Coming off the back of apartheid… we never really got the chance to live up to what we can be,” he said.
“So how do we (build) momentum, so that we can have inclusive growth--where everyone in society benefits?”
Towards Inclusive Growth
‘Ramaphoria’--as the nationwide sense of hope brought on by February’s change in administration has been playfully named--has been justified in many meaningful ways. But it certainly hasn’t stemmed the widening social unrest related to poverty and inequality. A prolonged national bus strike over wages, debates around radical economic transformation and violent protests in North West have dominated news headlines in the first half of 2018.
“Part of the reason we are having people angry is because the democracy dividend is visible to people like me and my children. I am here, I’ve been public protector. Financially and socially I have experienced my portion of the democracy dividend,” said Madonsela.
“But I’ve met people (whose) democracy dividend is elusive. They work hard… but (they) are poor. The system is not meeting them halfway.”
“Rural children don’t just want to farm. We’re in the Fourth Industrial Revolution--and at the door of the Fifth Industrial Revolution.”
“(We need) clarity of policy and honesty about the things that need to be done, particularly the issue of social justice. Ramaphosa promised that we will be inclusive and transparent in terms of mapping the way forward,” she said.
Both the ANC and the EFF have affirmed that radical economic transformation is part of the vision for their way forward. It’s a term Koseff doesn’t like to use, because it means “different things to different people,” he said. Instead, he prefers ‘accelerated inclusive growth.’
“You’ve got to create the right kind of environment,” said Koseff.
There’s a whole lot of red tape that we still have to eliminate... There are some elements around how we execute the BEE scorecards that need to be fixed up. We’ve got to make sure that we don’t trip people as they walk past,” he said.
“We need to work as a team -- business, labour and government.”
One realistic way of doing that, Koseff and Madonsela agreed, is investing in viable and vibrant rural and township economies, by developing skills and helping to create and support small and medium enterprises.
With unemployment reaching almost 27 percent--and way higher among the youth--relying solely on government for the five percent economic growth needed to create a meaningful amount of jobs isn’t a viable option. Globally, Madonsela says, the fastest growing economies are the ones that invest in start-ups--particularly those that are tech-based.
“We have to move away from the approach that rural economies are only based on agriculture,” said Madonsela. “Rural children don’t just want to farm, and in a world where we’re in the Fourth Industrial Revolution--and at the door of the Fifth Industrial Revolution--you want to take those revolutions to rural areas,” she said.
“That’s the good thing about the technology industry -- you can take it anywhere.”
South Africa’s education system has failed young people, particularly those living in rural and township areas. For its own benefit, business will have to play a more involved and strategic role in bridging the widening gap between South Africa and the rest of the world, as we move into the next industrial era.
“There are lots of ways to grow the economy,” said Koseff. “But you have to grow the skills. That’s our challenge, is to find these kids, because they’re there,” he said, adding that Investec is involved in the Youth Employment Services initiative, a groundbreaking social contract between government, business and labour established to create one million opportunities for young South Africans.
“Inclusive growth does two things,” said Madonsela. “One, it gets everyone to buy into the concept of South Africa -- to feel like they have a stake in South Africa Inc. But secondly… you also maximise growth. Because when you have a whole group, but only invest in a few, then you miss the opportunity of utilizing everyone’s potential.
“The Constitution puts it so nicely,” said Madonsela. The vision of a new South Africa is a South Africa where everyone’s potential is freed and everyone’s life is improved.”
For more videos from the Investec event, click here.