Harnessing Africa's potential

The global economic crisis has resulted in a paradigm shift in which the “rich and powerful have been humbled”, Eskom chairperson Bobby Godsell said at the Think!fest discussion forum at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown on the weekend.

Godsell said the crisis had resulted in the wiping away of about half of the equity wealth in the world. He stressed that the crisis of capitalism in the West didn’t mean that the rest of the developing world had to follow the path taken by China and India.

He said the crisis had granted the world an opportunity to re-examine concepts like economic growth, and that it “can’t just be a number on the Dow Jones”.

He said it was time that Africa was integrated socially, politically and economically, and wondered why trade between African countries was conducted in US dollars.

Godsell said Africa needed a common currency and market and called for a review in the way black economic empowerment was conducted.

“We don’t want to be India, where there’s a caste system,” he said, adding that meaningful empowerment involves “turning an employer into a partner and a transfer of skills”.

He said it’s time South Africa thought like the Asians, who have 30-year timeframes for programmes.

Political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi weighed in to say the crisis had given the world “an opportunity to reflect” and chart a new “developmental path”.

He argued that “we should go out and abandon the ideas that we have cherished”.

Echoing Godsell, Matshiqi wondered whether China was a viable model to follow.

“Is it development or is it economic development?” he asked.

The trajectory followed by China is backed by laudable figures, but is not sustainable environmentally and in terms of human development, Matshiqi pointed out.

The core of Matshiqi’s definition of human development involves what he called the “enlargement of choice”, especially for the girl child.

He said the South African middle class had largely been shielded from the economic crisis and only chose to “switch on when it wants to”. He emphasised that the “poor can’t switch off this reality” as they face hardship every day of their lives.

Harry Dugmore—who was involved in drawing up the country’s socioeconomic scenarios for the Presidency for 2014 and 2025—said Africa had the potential to emerge as the new India and China.
Before this happened, however, Africa had to restructure the way it does business.

He bemoaned the lack of integration and trade barriers that, for instance, meant that truckers travelling between Zimbabwe and Zambia spend seven days at the border before crossing. Dugmore—the MTN chair of media and mobile communications at Rhodes University’s School of Journalism and Media studies—wondered why South Africa bought most of its crude oil from the Middle East when it could easily get its supply from Angola, which was the biggest African supplier of petroleum to China.

He said it was imperative that South Africa set its manufacturing—especially involving small and medium companies—back on track in the way Italy had done.

He said more should be done to help small- and medium-sized entrepreneurs to start producing. To help them start up and flourish, Dugmore said these small companies should be exempt from onerous BEE requirements. “We need to become an entrepreneurial Africa,” he said.

Percy Zvomuya