Mr Pravin Gordhan, Minister of Public Enterprises delivered this address via video at Nation Builder’s In Good Company 2018 conference.
Mr Gordhan remarked that the themes of the conference such as innovation, managing and harnessing the energy of millennials and how to spread economic and other opportunities to all 55 million South Africans are all very relevant issues now and in the medium term. We are emerging from about seven years of State Capture, as evidenced by the start of the Zondo Commission, during which time the nation was slow to realise what kind of malfeasance was occurring. Both the State and the private sector were deeply involved.
We have a unique, fascinating as well as worrying array of factors of which to be mindful when seeking solutions for South Africa. Challenges affecting inclusive growth have become obvious over the past few years in the debate on how to overcome inequalities in both income and wealth in the developed world, as well as in the developing world which includes South Africa. One such ongoing challenge is in providing adequate employment for young people, many of whom are graduates. At the same time we must also re-train older people to cope with what is now called the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where digital technology is sweeping through production and other processes in this country and worldwide. The United Nations is hoping to create a common charter of basic rights for sustainable development which will benefit people worldwide. This would raise the standard as well as quality of living.
We are also experiencing economic turbulence, political uncertainty and a measure of disruption of trade and trade agreements as a result of geopolitical wrangling between major economic and political powers. It is uncertain where this disruption may end or what the configuration of countries, economies and societies will look like, a few years in the future. Equally worrying is the growing problem of immigration which is causing even the most progressive nations to be concerned about vast influxes. Thus insecurity of tenure, of jobs and identity are problematic issues in many parts of the world, just as in our own country. Nationalism and trade protectionism, which is the antithesis of the free trade ethos, are also sweeping the globe. Under the banner of free trade which all countries practiced, there was a measure of protection. However, this wave of protectionism and nationalism, if not constructively directed, could have dire consequences for future relationships between nations. “These structures are often accompanied by an element of racial chauvinism and even elements of fascism,” Gordhan suggested. Current tendencies display a disregard for the kind of nation building process which we started with our 25 year history in South Africa. Through the years, leaders of communities and interest groups which could become seriously disruptive if adequate attention is not given to innovation and nation building, have been carefully managing the process.
Perhaps the last of the developing concerns is the tendency to authoritarianism which is contesting the forms of democracy, developed over decades in the 20th century. This tendency must be carefully watched, for it is of great concern to those of us who believe in constitutional democracies, rule of law and in the kind of constitution we have in our own country. It is particularly concerning within key developed and developing countries across different continents of the world.
Therefore, what does it mean for us as South Africans and where should we focus our energies? South Africa does matter! We remain one of the biggest and the most sophisticated economy on the African continent, even if we are slipping slightly in relation to key performance areas in our economy which is affecting our standing at the top of the African continent. These lapses are not irretrievable. If we can develop a collective will, we can recapture these areas of loss.
There are certain important focus areas and imperatives which we face as South Africans. Firstly, how do we build our social and economic infrastructure to ensure that all the people of South Africa are removed from abject poverty, or poverty at any level? How do we ensure that they become active citizens in the economy and society of the country, capable of realising their full potential? Getting the economy to a 1.3% or 1.5% growth level is neither acceptable nor adequate to civil society or Government. Building confidence across the country is a crucial task, notwithstanding the many challenges we face. It is the optimists, those with a vision of what South Africa could potentially achieve, who should dictate the pace and direction of changes that we want to see and build upon in the years to come.
But how do we build confidence? What issues need to be resolved? Understanding the confidence-related factors requires understanding of our history. That we were a colonial outpost, subjected to British colonialism over many decades, should not be forgotten. The extended British and Apartheid governance over the country created a unique set of structural phenomena. These must be reversed or mutated into a more democratic form in order to build a shared approach to our democracy which will suit our purpose in the 21st century. From a Government point of view we are committed to- and invested in creating a South Africa where prosperity is shared, where we have an equal stake in this country. That is where we continue nation building, to ensure all are able to share in the resources, even to the least privileged. We must all have a shared commitment and stake to build into the future.
How do we build an environment in which investment takes place in our economy and in society from internal and external business? President Ramaphosa is convening a conference on 26th and 27th October to attract local and foreign investors. He will propound the optimistic approach to this economy by explaining the different components at a micro-level of our economy so that they appreciate the opportunities offered, both to invest profit and to build the economy of the country. This investment will allow us to create jobs and provide training to our young people over the next two to three years, laying the foundation for a more prosperous economy than at present.
We need to commit to moving beyond a 1% to 2% growth to a scenario where we see a 3.5% to 5% growth, as the National Development Plan requires, but growth from which all sectors of society can palpably benefit. “It is this lack of palpable benefit that is impacting on populations throughout the world and creating both a perception and an experience which says ‘growth benefits elites only’,” Gordhan explains. In this context, a better understanding of agriculture, what skills the country possesses and what is our potential to build agricultural capabilities in traditionally excluded communities can create phenomenal synergies amongst us. This is happening on a micro-scale, but which we need on a much larger scale today. Similarly, what current infrastructure and opportunities are there in the oceans’ economy, in tourism and in many similar sectors? These are the issues we should engage with in order to create the right kind of economic dynamism, which we require. However we must remember that a significant part of our population residing in peri-urban and rural areas still remains deprived, even today, 25 years into our democracy, because of limitations in administration, capability, financial resources, basic services or infrastructure. We have a huge information and resource asymmetry which requires that we build bridges between those who know and those who don’t know; those who have opportunities and those who have none. Failing to do this will increase antagonism between and amongst us.
An audience like yourselves with entrepreneurial experience and a flair for creativity and innovation should investigate how to initiate technology start-ups. We also need to train people from the black community in how to begin and run their own start-ups, sharing entrepreneurial opportunities with them too. A useful debate would be: How to ensure that the new technology start-ups are directed towards lessening inequality, increasing opportunity, empowering ordinary people and exciting young people to have the enthusiasm to work for- and create a better future for themselves while developing a new morality in the country, based on integrity, good ethics, and solidarity. Our country needs a spirit of sharing, which will be crucial in the next 10 to 20 years.
Gordhan congratulated the Mergon Group on organising the conference. He remarked that the theme of Nation Builder is most appropriate to our current environment and will be for the next few years. Nation building is the task that we face in every sense of the word; economic, social, technological; in creating the kind of understanding and empathy required in our society. It also helps to create a platform where we have the right moral standards, integrity, ethics and approach to ensure that we rid ourselves and our society of the gross corruption evident during the State Capture. “Stand up for what is right, for what the future holds for us and become the change agents,” Gordhan urged. Every section of our society is required to produce leaders with a sense of vision and of the context in which we are operating. “All of us should become more active nation builders as we go into the future,” he concluded.