11 reasons why I love South Africa and am staying!
In my last few blogs I addressed issues of concern in SA, including the currentelectricity crisis and the problems witheducation. This week I would like to take the opportunity to share my positive views about SA, why I will stay here and why you should stay or come back! I have identified 11 reasons why I love SA and here they are:
Freedom: I grew up in the old SA and as a result, I know what it is like not to have freedom. Granted, some people were freer than others and I was one of those that were freer. However, even me and people of my ilk were limited in what we were allowed to say, where we were allowed to go, who we were allowed to support, where we could live, who we could marry. For others the situation was so much worse! Today, we live in a country that is freer than most countries in the world and it is something we must cherish and expand. Yes, our freedom may be hampered by internal problems such as crime, poverty and the electricity crisis, but these reasons for a lack of freedom are not inherent and institutionalised. We need to address these problems head-on and expand our freedom.
Equality: I am by no means holding up SA as a country that has achieved equality, but as a country that aspires to equality. We do not have equality of income as is highlighted by our GINI coefficient (a measure of the inequality in a country, with higher numbers implying more inequality) of 63.1, which ranks us 152 out of 155 countries in the world. However, again, the inequality in SA is not institutionalised. Our constitution goes a long way to guarantee equality and our programme of black economic empowerment (BEE) attempts to address historic inequality. We have achieved some meaningful successes in developing a black middle class (which is larger than the white middle class). However, due to our high unemployment and problems with our education system (which is more prevalent in poorer communities), inequality remains high. If we can add employment growth and improved education to our good intentions, we can make a meaningful dent in inequality over the coming years. Regardless, I would much rather live in a country that is trying to reduce inequality than a country that deliberately treats a part of its population as inferior.
Diversity: SA is one of the most diverse countries in the world with people from numerous backgrounds. I see this as one of our greatest assets. It is true that many of the successful countries in the world have homogenous populations like China, Japan and much of Europe. However, there are even more examples of highly successful countries that are built on diversity, such as the USA, Australia, Brazil, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, etc. Diversity allows us to take the best from different cultures and to assimilate it within our natural culture. It allows us to find better solutions by applying broader input to problems. It also makes the country more vibrant and interesting.
Natural beauty: SA is one of the most beautiful if not the most beautiful country in the world, in my opinion. We have such diverse beauty, whether it is the quiet desolation of the Kalahari, the serene evenings in the Bushveld, our numerous game parks and farms, the spectacular scenes in Mpumalanga like God’s Window, the hustle and bustle of Gauteng, the grace of our rivers like the Orange, Vaal and Breede, the towering majesty of the Drakensberg, the beautiful beaches, the rolling hills of the Transkei, the untamed magnificence of the Wild Coast, the lushness of the Garden Route, the wild flowers of the Namaqualand, the beauty of Table Mountain, the history of Mapungubwe and the Cradle of Humankind, the reflection of Robben Island, the vibrancy of Soweto and the Bo Kaap and so many more places. This natural beauty is a huge asset to us as South Africans that most of us have the opportunity to enjoy. It also makes our country such an attractive tourist destination, which helps to boost our revenues.
Land and Natural Resources: SA is a large country with many natural resources. Over the past century, it has been raw materials like gold and platinum that have been drivers of our economy, but have also contributed to inequality through migrant labour, forced removals, etc. Going forward, we can tap more into our other natural resources and everyone can benefit. Our agricultural sector remains vibrant, ensures that we have food security and provides our country with products to export and boost our revenues. Our natural beauty allows us to be a preeminent tourist destination and there is so much more we can do to build up this industry, create jobs and earn foreign revenue. In SA, we have an abundance of space, sunshine and wind. We are ideally positioned to develop and become world leaders in alternative energy. When it comes to raw materials, we should do so much more to beneficiate the products and create local industries, rather than simply exporting goods.
Contribution to the World: South Africans have made their mark on the world in so many fields over our history in so many positive ways. We have been moral leaders over recent decades, producing 4 Nobel Peace Prize laureates, effecting a peaceful transition of power and being the only country to voluntarily giving up its nuclear programme. In total, we have produced 10 Nobel laureates, including 3 for medicine, 2 for literature and 1 for chemistry. SA was the first country to produce automotive fuel from coal, the first country to build an Antarctic base and Christiaan Barnard performed the first heart transplant in SA. The tellurometer (microwave distance measuring device), the dolos (used in building harbours), the Kreepy Krauly (pool cleaner) and the first helmet mounted sight system (for helicopters) were all invented in SA. South African and SA-born individuals have made and continue to make a big impact on the world, including Nelson Mandela, Jan Smuts, Elon Musk, Gary Player, Trevor Noah, Sol Kerzner, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Phillip Tobias, JRR Tolkien, Neill Blomkamp and so many more! On top of this, South Africans are highly regarded for their work ethic and entrepreneurialism wherever they find themselves in the world.
Opportunity: In my opinion, SA is a land of opportunity, but to fully benefit from these opportunities, our population needs to grow its skills base. As it stands, skilled people are in demand, whether it is scientists, engineers, doctors, plumbers, electricians or fitter and turners. It is vital that we build an education system that can provide those skills. However, in addition to this, we need more vocational training, apprenticeships and internships to allow people who may not have benefited from a quality education system to build skills, become more productive and to be able to build their futures for them and their families. As I mentioned in a previous blog, we must not be scared to import skills as it will help to build industry and develop local skills more rapidly.
Business infrastructure: An area of immense strength is SA’s business infrastructure. We have a very strong banking system, we have the best accounting and regulatory framework in the world, our mobile network is second to none, we have extensive (albeit aging) road and rail infrastructure, we have world class airports and ports and yes, we have a strong electricity network (even though it is experiencing hiccups at the moment). We need to keep our business infrastructure strong, maintain it and expand it even further. We must make sure we maintain standards and increase them where they are too low.
Healthy political discourse: One thing that we have in SA, which so many other countries in the world do not have, is healthy political discourse and an active press corps. Something we do not see is opposition politicians or journalists being jailed for expressing their views, even if it is negative and damaging to government. It also means that as citizens we are much more acutely aware of the problems within the country. It is not swept under the carpet and we are not bombarded by state-sponsored propaganda. We know what our problems are, we know what the shortcomings of government are and we can do our part in addressing them.
Demographics: Our population in SA is a young one, which is an asset in a growing economy. So many countries in the world, including most of Europe, Russia and Japan are facing demographic pressures with too few young people in the labour market having to support too many retired people. This increases the fiscal burden on the state and increasingly forces governments to implement austerity measures (cutting benefits, raising taxes, raising the retirement age, increasing the work-week, etc.). SA does not have this problem, but to fully benefit from this positive demographic trend, we need to get our young people employed. We need to fix our education system, encourage the development of new industries and liberalise the labour market to allow aggressive employment growth.
Inefficiency: Our public sector and state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are not the most efficient in the world. We just have to look at the recent problems surrounding Eskomand SAA and the results achieved by our education system. However, the problems within our public sector and SOEs are often not an issue of budget. SA spends more on health and education than many comparable countries and do not achieve outcomes that are as good. Why is this? In my opinion, the main reasons are firstly that in many cases, these departments and SOEs are not run and staffed by independent technocrats, but by political appointees and secondly, that we do not seem to be very good at translating strategy into delivery in SA. Why is this a reason why I love SA? It may be strange, but I would prefer to live in a country that is struggling due to inefficiencies than a country that is struggling due to insurmountable difficulties such as a shortage of natural resources, lack of infrastructure, demographics, drought, war, etc. Inefficiencies can be addressed through political will! Our government can, through making tough choices, better spend the money already allocated to budgets to provide much better outcomes to the populace. I remain very optimistic that we will move in the right direction in this regard going forward.
And there you have it. I love this place and I am staying! I am part of the solution. Are you? Please let me know what you think.
In the mean time, keep your talk straight!