/ 10 April 2014

Shaping the next 20 years

SADC’s regional indicative strategic development plan prioritises science and technology.
SADC’s regional indicative strategic development plan prioritises science and technology.

Southern Africa and South Africa are each undergoing political and economic changes. These changes are directly related to continental and global developments. It is striking that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) is 22 years old with a combined population of about 257.7-million and a gross domestic product (GDP) of US$471.1-billion — compared to its predecessor, the Southern African Development Co-ordination Conference, whose population between 1980 and 1992 when it was transformed to SADC was 60-million with a GDP of $20-billion.

The enormous changes (both in demographics and needs) increase the importance for determined and aggressive approaches from governments, the private sector and civil society. It is in this context that SADC’s regional integration agenda, expressed through the regional indicative strategic development plan, is constantly undergoing reviews to be responsive to the ever-changing dynamics in the region and globally.

Put in place in 2005, the plan prioritises science and technology, the private sector, ICTs, statistics and poverty eradication. Its main goal is to “deepen integration in the region with a view to accelerate poverty eradication and the attainment of other economic and non-economic development goals”. By comparison, South Africa is celebrating 20 years of democracy, just two years short of being as old as SADC.

The country has a population of 51.7-million, just 8.23-million short of that of SADC between 1980 and 1992. What is the status quo today? Depending on how one sees it, the glass is either half empty or half full. This is, however, too simplistic to capture the various experiences of South Africans. There is a section of the population for whom the glass is actually empty and for them there is nothing to celebrate after 20 years.

Yet, for a small section the glass is not half full but almost full or even completely full, and for them there is a lot to celebrate. Perhaps the simplest representation of South Africa today is that there has been a lot of progress within a context of seriously challenging demands and historical adjustments. Certainly, South Africa has not managed entirely to shake off the legacy of apartheid, but no one can deny that human rights, freedom of expression, civil liberties and the strength of the Constitution are some of its major achievements today.

SA still needs improvement

Challenges still abound, such as the temptation to restrict these rights through legal and other policy directives, for example, the protection of state information. Violations of human rights are still a serious problem, for example, police brutality in the Marikana deaths and that of many protesters over the past few years.

In the lead-up to the elections this year, there have been isolated but dangerous signs of intolerance which, if not managed, could lead to the destabilisation of the democratic process. Corruption is rife and continues to be a sore in the lives of the poor. Crime is still problematic, especially violence against women and children.

Amid this, however, the Con­sti­tution has remained the guiding star. The public protector has used the Constitution and other related legal frameworks to tackle these issues without sparing the powerful. For democracy to survive and thrive, it needs strong institutions such as the public protector. It also needs an informed population that is economically empowered. Currently South Africa’s economy is under strain.

Not only is it impacted upon by global demands, but the incessant strikes in the mining industry have almost brought it to its knees. It is unlikely that the economy will grow above 4% in the short term. Inequality remains high, raising questions about which economic model the country should pursue to close the gap.

There are many challenges, but equally there have been successes in the past 20 years. What is clear is that the country needs to invest in its population, particularly the youth, through a determined in­tervention around key areas such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem). These are the same requirements as for the region as a whole.

It is in this context that this year’s Drivers of Change and Investing in the Future awards are inviting nominations from individuals, organisations and businesses that invest in youth and the key areas in Stem.

Bhekinkosi Moyo is the deputy executive director of the Southern Africa Trust.

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