JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA
I’M SO FORTUNATE I WAS BORN in 1988 – it’s a blessing. I’ve imagined many times how different my life would be had the opposite been true – being born in early forties or thirties. It’s clear that life would not be the same. People who spent most of their lives prior 1994 endured a lot of pain that can be attributed to apartheid policies by then governments. They faced many challenges – no right to vote, discrimination, imposition of Bantu education etc. It’s too much to count that I myself find it hard to imagine the life they had to live every single day. It had to, indeed, be a struggle. Those who founded political movements such as the ANC risked their lives and their families because they had a “dream” – that they also get a right to vote, that they get equal opportunities as those who are white, not discriminated against because of the color of their skin etc. They were aware of the consequences and risks, but they sacrificed everything so that you and I, the next generation, can have a bright future.
When democracy came in 1994, it was the beginning of a journey to restore that which had been lost. Thanks to Nelson Mandela – a true leader. He inherited a mess, not only high rates of poverty but also people’s ire towards those who had oppressed them for decades. He as a leader weathered the storm and united the country on the brink of chaos. A supplement to his challenges was political violence between Inkatha Freedom Party and the African National Congress in early 1990s. 100s of people died in Kwa-Zulu Natal where I grew up, and Mandela’s words were:” In Natal, apartheid is a deadly cancer in our midst, setting house against house, and eating away at the precious ties that bound us together. This strife among ourselves wastes our energy and destroys our unity. My message to those of you involved in this battle of brother against brother is this: take your guns, your knives, and your pangas, and throw them into the sea! Close down the death factories. End this war now!” These were the words by Madiba, he couldn’t say it better. That’s what has made him one of the greatest leaders in the world. He could have done it differently – implement retaliatory policies aimed to those who had repressed Blacks for many decades or crush ANC’s opposition therefore igniting more violence. He never did. We should be proud of being South Africans because we can produce such leaders.
WE’VE ACHIEVED A LOT
South Africa has had many successes and what I wouldn’t call failure, rather challenges. After the struggle by people such as Nelson Mandela and so much pain from the apartheid government, the 1990s left us with so much to be proud of. In 1995 the South African rugby team won the 1995 Rugby World Cup, the following year (1996) the national soccer team won the African Cup of Nations. What’s interesting is that both of these events were hosted in this country – just a year after the democratic elections. For the first time ever, the national soccer team qualified for the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France. I remember the goal scored by Phil Masinga against the Congo – it took us there. These were good times for our country and will always be on our history books. It all depicted the talent we have and the direction of the future. We’ve built on all these successes till today.
In 2003 we got an opportunity to host the Cricket World Cup – which was entirely a success. It wouldn’t end there, Charlize Theron won an Oscar Award on her performance in the 2003 film called Monster, Tsotsi (a 2005 South African film) won an Oscar and I’ve seen Ladysmith Black Mambazo scooping Grammy Awards on numerous occasions. The recent event that highlighted the beauty and the remarkable capability of this country was the 2010 FIFA World Cup hosted here in South Africa. For the first time ever the event was held in Africa – it could only be here. I remember the opening and closing ceremonies of the event. The first game and the last game. The country was full of excitement and pride. These are all the reasons why we must be proud to be South Africans.
One of the challenges we face as a country is the high rate of unemployment. Many people are unemployed and our unemployment rate is currently at 25%. It’s been 25% for a long time. I think it’s very important to note that we suffer from structural unemployment – jobs are available but the problem is skills deficit. Many South Africans were deprived of an opportunity to go to school and attain skills that could get them better jobs. It has all become a challenge and has left many people dependent on government.
HIV/AIDS continues to wreck our generation. South Africa has the highest number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the world. An estimated 5.6 million people were living with HIV/AIDS in 2009. In the same year an estimated 310 000 people died of AIDS related illnesses. It’s a big challenge.
South Africa is a middle income state and therefore high rates of poverty can be easily reduced. I’ve always, or at least recently, suggested that to reduce the rate of poverty, we need to cut unnecessary spending. We need to advocate privatization, enforce property rights, advocate free trade, free press, de-collectivization of agriculture etc. Big government stifles growth and therefore prosperity.
Income inequality also remains a major challenge. Our Gini coefficient is currently 0.7. It’s a concern yes, but the most important thing to me is how government addresses it. I don’t believe creating government bureaucracies will be a solution. Rather they’ll impose a huge cost on the taxpayer – repressing individual freedom. Inequality can only be curbed through education, there’s no other cure – none.
THE STATE OF THE ECONOMY
South Africa is the largest economy in Africa and accounts around 20% of Africa’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Its GDP has soared over time. In 1992 it was $120 billion and today it is $408 billion. In the past 12 years South Africa has always, or at least most of the time, been in the top five of Africa’s best investment destinations. People from all over Africa come to this country to search for a better life. South Africa’s real GDP per capita today is estimated to be more than $3800. There’s been slow progress though because in the early 1990s real GDP per capita hovered around $3150.
This economy remains stable but the recent ratings cut by S&P highlights those times where things are not going well. S&P said strikes and social tensions could reduce fiscal flexibility and hurt growth. This is sad but it will pass and is a very small issue, as South Africa has experienced the worst, weathering the storm of the financial crises of 2008.
I’m concerned about our growth rate which has hardly been above 4% for many years. Experts have echoed that Nigeria will be Africa’s largest economy in the next 10 years. It’s hard to dispute that when you look at the numbers. Nigerian growth is more than 8% while ours hovers around 4%, and they’re the most populous country in Africa. If our government continues to fail to advocate free market reforms, we’ll pay a price. I believe the only way we can accelerate growth is to transfer the cost to the responsible individual. Why burden taxpayers with Eskom, Telkom, unnecessary public departments? There is some theory in Economics: That cutting taxes means consumers will have more to spend on goods and services therefore stimulating the economy. More demand on goods and services means businesses will make higher profits which will therefore increase investments and create more jobs. Milton Friedman got it all right. For us to grow faster we need to minimize the role of government in the economy. Of course few people listen to us.
SO BE PROUDLY SOUTH AFRICAN
It’s all been a challenge. We’ve come a long way indeed and to begin now and destabilize the country through seizing farms and nationalization of mines is a very bad policy. Don’t be disenchanted by internal squabbles in the ANC or Communist Julius Malema. This country is way better than radical politicians or extremists. There is still so much to be done, but we’ll need a society committed to change and building the country. All I can say is: Be proudly South African. PM
© PHUMLANI M. MAJOZI