“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary.”

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”  – Winston Chruchill

As the honeymoon period of Nelson Mandela’s presidency fades away, South Africa must face the harsh reality of the country’s current status. With an unemployment rate ranging close to 25% and one of the highest murder and crime rates in the world, the citizens of South Africa face a steep climb toward the equality they were expecting when apartheid ended.

The question is – is the latest Economist right? Is there merit in the degenerative light they are placing SA in?

The Marikana fiasco has  prompted a wave of criticism of the ANC for its seemingly inept management and for its failure, more broadly, to fulfill its promise of a better life for all. Inequality has grown since the ANC took charge in 1994, even though poverty in absolute terms has declined and the number of South Africans living on less than $2 a day has fallen substantially. Still, a current culture of “you owe us” is being bread under the youth. The failure of the government to educate young South Africans is fueling the persistent inequality of South Africa.

Additionally, there are now talks to adding a fourth year to university studies to right the wrongs of the failing high-school system. This is one of the most serious errors committed by over-zealous politicians in SA, to use the education policy as a blunt instrument to solve complex problems that require fine-tuned strategies for change (see the Times Live article: “Here’s the blunt truth”).

Amidst the hodgepodge of new and old problems, including unemployment, inequality, economic indicators and education, The Economist still followed an easy kind of journalism: making up your mind about the situation and then finding the facts to fit into it. It is certainly correct to cite inadequate inequality as being a factor for the uncertain future of South Africa; still, it will take more than the statement of “better leadership” to solve. Solving the inequality crises through massive quick redistribution of wealth will in contrast level down, rather than build up.

It’s not like South Africa is the only one doing badly, one needs just to look at the current state of the EU, US and China who are facing their own economic woes. Our economic problem is due to governments murky and constantly fluctuating economic policy which is already putting strain on people feeling the brunt of high food and fuel prices. Lack of investment into mass production and monopolies whose major shareholders are government officials (which are rife with incompetence and miss-management), hamper any chance of economic growth or recovery.

It is indeed troubled times, one cannot argue with that sentiment. Still, The Economist has painted a picture that they have done countless times before. Some time ago, they argued that Africa is the hopeless continent – now they believe the opposite. There is much that needs to be focused on in SA. I believe (highlighting this effervescently) that we need a structured, limited goal system to focus on what needs to be done, one step at a time. Institutional problems is hampering our great economic potential, SA has the means and the correct plans to implement (as the NGP/NDP), but what will this help if the government just isn’t delivering?

The Economist, albeit just to storm up a pot of controversy, has brought many worrying and indeed correct problems to the world attention. The way they did this might not be in good taste, but certainly South African politicians and the ruling ANC cannot go unaccounted for their actions in the public limelight anymore.

Maybe our holy grail for survival is the National Planning Committee’s National Development Plan. This plan in its holistic form, touches on much more than just your average economic problems. We need our political leaders to create and implement this economic ideology, we have the means, we just need the leadership behind it. A feeling of inclusiveness within our society is needed to make things work.

One can sit in a corner and cry for our beloved country, but why will that make any difference? The Economist reports will obviously have an impact on investor sentiment. In the short-term, the impact will be negative and will cause damage to the economy, but this criticism could help SA in the long run. Alerting citizens, the government, the business world, the world, that we need urgent policy reform, and a stable government to include us within it.

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary”.

For 4inmore, by P.C van der Walt


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