A common vision for socioeconomic growth with the aid of good leaders in government could be the solution to South Africa’s struggling economy, says political commentator Jakkie Cilliers.
Launching his book titled Fate of the Nation: 3 Scenarios for South Africa's Future at the South African Institute of International Affairs on Tuesday, Cilliers attempted to answer difficult questions facing South Africa on the state of the economy (junk status), the high unemployment rate, insufficient innovation and research capability, and the impact of the migration of whites and the inefficient education system.
With the economy rated a junk status by rating agencies, Cilliers argued that South Africa’s market was unattractive to investors saying the economy was deteriorating rapidly as a result and compounding problems of unemployment.
He said he also sought to answer in the book whether changing the Constitution and vision of country could improve the growth rate of the economy. In his scenarios, Cilliers predicted the future of the country. He argued that there was still hope provided the governing political party took key decisions towards creating a common economic vision and deploying competent leaders to implement it.
He noted a significant difference in the government’s economic growth objective compared with the National Development Plan (NDP). The government projected a 3.3% growth while the latter sought a 5.4% growth.
Businessman Saki Macozoma, who was the respondent, lamented the reduction of manufacturing sectors which were stronger before but have gradually shrunk. He presented the restructuring of manufacturing as an example of industries that can be used to address unemployment problems. He said new technology offered new opportunities for South Africa. For example, South Africa had the capacity to manufacture batteries which were an important commodity.
He also lamented the fact that mines were producing raw material but the country lacked sufficient skills to process and innovate. He advocated for the agrarian reform as witnessed in countries such as China, saying if implemented in South Africa, it could lead to less hunger. He said that the obstacle to rural reform was politics.
He also noted that the government was, unfortunately, the inhibitor of economic growth due to some regulations and policies. He found it frustrating that every time there was a new minister, previous developmental projects were often abandoned, citing the country’s failure to migrate to digital platform due to new ministers coming in with their own priorities.
Another concern discussed was the migration of whites who held a majority of skills, education and managerial positions. The economy could no longer benefit from those skills if they are outside the country, argued Cilliers.
Cilliers also said a key contributing factor to unemployment was the quality of the country’s education system. He suggested a shift toward vocational education and single language education, English, as solutions to improve the quality of education and increase the number of skilled and educated people especially those living in rural areas. He believed vocational education would increase work opportunities in trades or crafts as the technician, or in professional vocations such as engineering.
Cilliers acknowledged that the ANC had been successful in alleviating poverty with the use of social grants but Macozoma cautioned that the use of social grants wasn’t a sustainable solution.
In Fate of the Nation, Cilliers also developed three scenarios for the country’s immediate future and beyond the Mandela Magic. He noted that the ANC was currently paralysed by the power struggle between what he called the Traditionalists and the Reformers. It was this power struggle that had led to the inept leadership, policy confusion and poor service delivery that plagued the country.
He mentioned that people elected to the ANC’s top leadership at the party’s national conference in December 2017 would be key to either sink or save the country. Whichever group wins, that would determine what the country’s future would look like.