Create work with convicts, pensioners and marijuana
The situation is no longer about what we like; it is about what we would do – and afford to do – to improve the living standards of our people and to provide employment to millions.
As a first step, South Africa could legalise prostitution and bring sex workers into the formal economy. Making it a criminal profession has not made it go away; it has merely driven it underground.
Legalisation would allow these workers to be included in the official employment statistics.
Second, cannabis could be legalised. In the United States, the use of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes has been legalised in Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon. With its climate, South Africa could become the supplier of choice of cannabis for use in these states. With cannabis farming comes job opportunities for people working on the farms. Marijuana sales abroad would also raise valuable foreign exchange and improve our balance of payments. The legalisation of prostitution and the cannabis trade would also bring these industries into the tax net.
Third, South Africa could build large jails and take in convicts from all over the world. This could be a growth industry with substantial opportunities. A large numbers of convicts would require a large number of wardens, which would provide wonderful training and employment opportunities for South Africans.
Fourth, South Africa could become a retirement destination of choice. With a wonderful climate, we could build retirement villages for people from all over the developed world.
The developed world suffers from an ageing population and it is increasingly difficult to find caregivers for old people. South Africa has a large number of young people who could be trained as caregivers. More than 30% of the South African population is under the age of 15 and, in due course, many people in this group could be trained to care for the aged.
Housing the aged from the rest of the world would also result in a large flow of remittances into South Africa, which would also be beneficial to the balance of payments.
At the same time, it would improve the standard of living of many aged people. For instance, a person who earns a meagre pension of £3 000 a month in the United Kingdom would have (at the current rate of exchange) about R60 000 a month to live on in South Africa.
Last, it is necessary to consider a somewhat eclectic group of light vehicles manufactured in South Africa, ranging from passenger cars and a minibus to bakkies and an SUV. They are the 3-series BMW, Chevrolet Corsa bakkie, the C-class Mercedes-Benz, Isuzu KB bakkie, Ford Ranger bakkie, Nissan Livina, and Nissan NP 200 and Nissan NP 300 (Hardbody) bakkies, Renault Sandero, Toyota’s Corolla, Corolla Quest, Fortuner, Hilux bakkie and Quantum minibus, and the Volkswagen Polo Vivo (hatchback and sedan).
It is a collection of vehicles that caters for all tastes and needs. This gives politicians, government departments and municipalities a unique opportunity. These people could lead by example in their purchase and use of vehicles only manufactured in South Africa.
To see politicians in less flashy cars would also have important symbolic value. This is the least controversial of the suggestions in this paper: put politicians in smaller cars.
The spin-offs would be immense. The demand for vehicles would increase immediately, with these manufacturers increasing production capacity. This is immediately beneficial to employment.
A local purchase programme would also entice current manufacturers to produce more model ranges in South Africa, which again would be beneficial for employment.
Likewise, it would lure more manufacturers to South Africa because the government would serve as a ready market. Again this would be beneficial for investment and employment.
The implementation of these proposals will require leadership and vision by politicians and government officials. Surely we can expect this much of these groups in the quest to get South Africa out of its current economic difficulties?
It is time to commence with this debate. It is no longer about what we like; it is about what we can do.
Jannie Rossouw is the head of the school for economic and business sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand. He writes in his personal capacity.