South Africa is headed for great things

January 13, 2016

South Africa is headed for great things

 

Before diving headlong into 2016 it’s worth taking stock – from a distance – of what we went through in 2015. Protest, protests, and more protests; #complacencymustfall. It was the year that strengthened my belief that South Africa is headed for great things.

There weren’t more picket posters being waved in 2015 than in years before – demands for decent service delivery and fair living wages are a long-standing motive to take to the streets.

But the public dialogue of what is wrong with South Africa has changed.

Protests are more diversified and while disagreement and fiercely contrasting beliefs burn strong, it is harder to draw the line between rich and poor, black and white, ANC and its opposition parties, capital interests and social interests.

People are moving for what they believe in rather than standing for their clan.

The protests of 2015 were not things that just happened “over there”, contained in the community where the problem exists and mentioned in the news for the sake of responsible reporting. They were actively discussed and debated, splurged across the media and they set off cascades of reactions and counter-reactions.

We asked for fees to fall and they fell. We told the government that changes to visa requirements would hurt South Africa and the government ordered for them to be undone. We told Zuma not to play political puppetry with our finance ministry and responsible leadership was soon restored. Rhodes fell, Stellenbosch University will now teach in English, eTV was forced to screen Miners Shot Down, and a new bill placing greater control on the media was thrown out.

Whether you agree with these changes or not, 2015 was a year where the public made its voice count.

It’s just a start and there is a lot more than needs to be worked on, but South Africans are awake.

I am often asked by foreign investors and international traders to give my judgment on where South Africa is going. The summary is simple – don’t bring vast amounts of money in now; you don’t sow seeds while turning the soil. But there is no reason to run away either.

Our long-term forecast is positive. 2016 will be a year of transition for South Africa and it is necessary. One of the hot topics for the year will be white privilege, but before you instinctively reach for your hilt, stop and listen to the undercurrents of discussion. These discussions are not about land grabs, hand-outs, guilt or entitlement.

Yes, there are those who choose to wave their sticks for their personal agendas – both literally and from behind internet pseudonyms – but across mass media and household gatherings there are mature and conflict ridden discussions taking place to create a South Africa that represents South Africans.

Violence is unnecessary, but conflict in a segregated society is fantastic. Disruption and discomfort are needed for learning and while we are not required to agree we absolutely have to listen.

The next few years are going to hurt. The rand will continue to weaken as will Zuma’s leadership. Government bonds may be downgraded to junk, investment will slow and economic growth will be scantily numerical with little impact on the ground. Public discomfort will be more active and pressure will build for a change in leadership and economic structure.

But South Africa is not sliding into the abyss – rather it is turning the soil so that it may grow again as a functioning society.

Pull forward

The progress we enjoyed in the 15 years following apartheid was buoyed by a crisis-driven need to get fundamental structures in place and pull the country forward.

But progress based on turning a blind eye to underlying issues is naturally short lived. Before we can continue to grow we have to address the major void between cultures in South Africa – not just economically but empathetically. We cannot move forward as a separate society because that inevitably results in self-destruction.

2016 is crunch time. Short-term sacrifice will be a norm, but if it is embraced and done properly, South Africa’s future as an integrated, healthy community building through an inclusive economy will be secured. Other countries have done it and so can we.

 

By Pierre Heistein (Economic Advisor, Analyst, and Columnist)

Pierre Heistein