The world is changing fast and to keep up you need local knowledge with global context.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed with negativity and the problems facing this country. There are benefits to taking the time to look at all the positives, says Johannesburg actuary Marius Strydom. He recently started his own consultancy company, MLAX consulting, and offers services to the South African financial services industry, including to stock brokers, asset managers and insurance companies. On BizNews, we’ve given 5 top batty and brilliant things that make you a real South African. Here, Strydom gives five top reasons why we should all stop worrying about all the problems and start loving this beautiful country of ours. – Marika Sboros
By Marius Strydom
South Africa, The Good News – Many commentators, including myself have explored the problems facing our country over recent months. Loadshedding, corruption, attacks on the judiciary, a weak economy and unemployment come to mind. However, it is not all doom and gloom, and there is light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s spend some time looking for it.
1. Influential South Africans are speaking out against the problems that we face.
In response to attacks on our judiciary, 26 of SA’s most senior judges, led by Chief Justice Mogoeng, have committed themselves to a steadfast fidelity to the constitution.
A meeting between the judges and President Zuma is on the cards. It is clear from these moves that the SA judiciary remains vigorously independent and will not lay down without a fight. It also has powerful people in its corner.
Increasingly, insiders are speaking out against Nkandla upgrades and Minister Nhleko’s report. Most vocal has been Gauteng ANC chairperson Paul Mashatile who reportedly raised the issue again at the recent summit between the ANC, SACP and SANCO. Nelson Mandela’s daughter and grandchildren have taken exception to claims that Mandela’s Qunu home also had a “fire pool”, confirming that Mandela had paid for said swimming pool himself.
Even ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe has called “reckless” Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko’s statements that more money must be spent on Nkandla.
A strong anti-corruption campaign is building in SA, led by civil society figures such as Zwelinzima Vavi, David Lewis, Mark Heywood and Irvin Jim. This will culminate in a mass march to the Union Buildings on 19 August.
The march already has wide support, including from NUMSA, Section27, OUTA, Equal Education and Solidarity. Even the ANC national spokesman, Zizi Kodwa stated that “people have the right to march, we can’t stop them”, and “I am sure the organisers themselves are ANC members”.
This march could be a very effective mechanism of putting pressure on the ruling party to address corruption issues and any opposition from them against it could cast them in a very poor light with their supporters.
2. The opposition is active
Opposition parties in SA are working very hard to keep the pressure on the ruling party, to build support and to prepare for increasing votes in next year’s municipal elections and the general election in 2019.
The ANC is facing a two-pronged attack: on the one side, the EFF continues to use its position in parliament to keep the issues surrounding Nkandla and Marikana alive and well. This is not going unnoticed within the ranks of the tripartite alliance. The recent speech at the SACP congress by General Secretary Nzimande where he urged the Young Communist League (YCL) to take on the EFF and to make sure it “dies” (“organisationally”), in my opinion highlights the concern that there is for the party’s growth potential. The EFF remains a populist threat to the ruling party.
On the other side of the spectrum, the DA’s new leader Mmusi Maimane has been extremely active since his election. Following his #AskMmusi campaign in May, he actively helped promote the DA’s Vision 2029 strategy and has visited large parts of the country including the Nelson Mandela Metropole, Nkandla, Soweto, Marikana, Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Mpumalanga and Polokwane. In the last week, he launched a charm offensive in Kwazulu Natal. He is also a darling of the SA media, being quoted daily by many publications.
I don’t see anything that can better focus the mind of the ruling party than growth in opposition support.
3. The economy keeps ticking over
During the first quarter of 2015, the SA gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 1.3% in real terms (after inflation). Although this is a low rate of growth, at least we are not going backwards, and most forecasts are for this to lift to over 2% by next year. A resolution of load-shedding and a pick-up in commodity prices could imply a much higher growth rate. SA’s unemployment rate jumped during the first quarter to 26.4% on the narrow definition, which is the highest it has been since 2011.
We need stronger economic growth to turn this trend around and success with the NDP to markedly turn it around. The rand has stabilised against the dollar over the past month after depreciating by c.15% over the past year. The JSE has recovered some of its recent losses and is now up 2% on a year ago.
Our economic indicators are not looking great at the moment, with the rise in Government debt to GDP to 44% (compared with 22% in 2009) and a current account deficit of 5.1% adding further concern. However, we are nowhere near panic stations and there is room and time to address these issues. Most importantly, we need to deal definitively with load-shedding to avoid shaving 0.5% (based on Stage 1 load-shedding) from our annual GDP.
The NDP needs to be rolled out aggressively so that we can start building infrastructure, creating jobs and boosting the economy. We also need to avoid “own-goals” like putting pressure on the tourism industry through more stringent visa requirements (government needs to relook at this) and strikes.
SA continues to have a robust economy, which creates jobs, earns foreign currency, delivers taxes and grows in real terms. We just need to do the right things to avoid a deterioration and more importantly to put it on the strong growth trajectory.
4. We live in relative peace
I know that crime is a serious issue in SA, which affects the most vulnerable of society most severely, including the poor, women and children. It is an issue that deserves our continued attention and our strongest efforts. However, it is important to acknowledge that we have made some progress over the past 20 years, although the pace has been much too slow.
More importantly, unlike many places in the world, we are not in a state of war or civil war. It is little comfort for those that suffer from violent crime, but unlike in warzones like Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Sudan and the DRC, most South Africans are free to go about their day-to-day lives without disruption and violence. They can go to work or school; they can earn a living; they can feed their families; and they can contribute to society.
Let’s continue to strive for lower crime levels while using the relative peace that we enjoy to be productive citizens, to speak out against injustice and corruption and to interact in a constructive way with each other.
5. And then all the other good stuff
There is so much that is great about this country. We enjoy a level of freedom that many countries envy and that we did not know 25 years ago. We strive for equality, at least of opportunity, although much more needs to be done. We have wonderful diversity of people that helps us to find unique solutions and makes this an exciting and interesting place to live.
We have so much natural beauty. We have an abundance of land and natural resources that if properly utilised, can make us a leading country. We have made some great contributions to the world in the past and we are in a strong position to continue doing so.
We are a land of opportunity and we need to grow our skills base so that more people can benefit from it. We have one of the strongest business infrastructures in the world and companies and investors recognise this.
Political discourse is vibrant and healthy in this country and we must make sure that we continue to allow people to have their say, even if we disagree.
We have a young and growing population and have to think about ways to improve their education and levels of employment. And finally, we suffer from inefficiency. It may be strange, but this is really an asset for us, because we can do so much better without having to spend more money. However, it is only an asset if we actively become more efficient (otherwise, we are wasting money).
We are in this together. Be proudly South African and don’t let criticisms of our problems become criticisms of our country and its people. I know you want the best for this country, otherwise you would not be here.
- A full version of this blog appears on South Africa, the Good News website