Just over 32 years ago in 1987, Clem Sunter published a book entitled The World and South Africa in the 1990s . For South Africa, he played the ‘High Road’ scenario where proper negotiations between the real leaders of the major parties would produce a political settlement that allowed the country to return to the world stage. However, he made it clear that in the long run a thriving economy in which everyone participated was a precondition for the country to become a winning nation.
Now let’s focus on South Africa in the 2020s.
The first and second flags influencing the future are interrelated: the battle against corruption and the improvement in quality of infrastructure. The latter refers not only to state-owned enterprises and physical infrastructure like roads and ports, but also to national education and health. For a country to win, it needs a sound platform on which to launch its strategy of moving up the rankings in the Premier League of nations. China recognized this in 1978.
The third flag is around the effectiveness and integrity of the country’s leadership along with the setting of an inspirational vision which puts all South Africans first and which can only be achieved through co-operation. I believe that Cyril Ramaphosa has started down the path of turning this flag green. Although the pace of reform is frustrating to some people, there is no doubt in my mind that we are in a new era.
The fourth flag is about building on the pockets of excellence that this country already possesses in so many different fields. It is about using them as examples for poorer performing institutions to escape mediocrity by raising their game too. We are not starting from scratch.
The fifth flag is the critical one. It is about encouraging entrepreneurship and small business development throughout this country because it is the only way of reducing the hideous unemployment rate and giving ordinary people genuine economic freedom. Collaboration between the formal and informal sectors of the economy will be required to make this happen.
The last flag is around land reform. The issue needs to be settled in a way that provides an equitable solution for all our citizens while maintaining the high level of productivity and quality of agricultural products for which South Africa is renowned. The possible effects of climate change must also be figured into the equation.
The South African scenarios
As I implied at the beginning of this article, there have always been two crossroads for South Africa to take the High Road in the long run. The first was political and successfully navigated towards the end of the last century. However, the second crossroads was economic and is where we stand right now having had almost ten years of disappointing GDP growth and even a recession.
I am prepared to follow the instinct of my colleagues in the 1980s. Despite all the negative feelings at the time about the country’s prospects locally and overseas, they maintained that the door was opening for the High Road to prevail. At present, the pessimists are back in fashion but as I mentioned earlier there is a new game in town and we are still the most sophisticated economy in Africa. Thus, I give a return to the High Road trajectory, with all the flags I talked about turning green, a heads-up with a probability of 80%.
Nevertheless, that leaves a 20% probability for South Africa descending down the ‘Low Road’ to a Waste Land- a future which nobody in his or her right mind desires in a world that is getting tougher by the day.
Let me finish by posing a question: if we can win the Rugby World Cup three times, surely it is not asking too much of this country to take the High Road twice when its future is on the line? When push comes to shove, ordinary South Africans can do extraordinary things!
Clem Sunter was right in the eighties, and many times subsequently. We can take heart from this extract!
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