Last week I wrote about racism in our public discourse and I was accused of merely describing the problem and negating the role of politics in fixing our economy.

Well, here is a stab at a solution:
– Every South African corporation with a national footprint should employ one intern aged 20-29 for every 10 employees they have and pay them a small stipend while giving them on-the-job-training, experience and exposure to the world of work. That will take a couple of million young people off the street and kick-start our labour market.
– Every church, mosque, synagogue and community hall needs to serve as a place of skills-transfer for micro-enterprise, recycling, crafts and primary manufacturing. If messages of hope and justice don’t have hands they don’t have integrity.
– Every primary and secondary school which closes their gates at 4pm should open them at 6pm for two hours of community college, using technology to share the best thinking on entrepreneurship, life-skills, leadership, management and administration with the 17 million South Africans on social grants.
– Every public “servant” that touches a budget of more than R10 million needs to visit a corporate board room and factory floor to understand how value is created.
– Every business leader with a turnover of over R10 million needs to visit a township’s primary care clinic, crèches and spend a morning with the young men and woman waiting for a piece-job at the traffic lights to understand the country in which they operate.
– Lastly, every “white person” or “black person” or “coloured person” needs a shot in the arm to cure their mental dermatitis, so they can understand that they are simply a person, as is the other.

Mark Wessels, Reuters
Mark Wessels, Reuters

Now to the economy:
– Dump the idea that you can transform the economy by regulating it on the basis of race and pick up the idea that you can transform it by incentivising the rapid doubling thereof, especially the absorptive primary industries.
– Dump the idea that the “rights” of working people include permission not to work when they please, striking blow after blow to a weak economy, while others have no jobs to speak of. All wage agreements must be set for three years or more within which no unprotected strikes are allowed.
– Dump the idea that you can “deploy” a “cadre” to serve a constituency and then leverage procurement to alter patterns of ownership and distribution. This only leads to incompetence, institutional incapacity and corruption. Let the people deploy and recall their representatives and give the market a fair role in sinking inefficient, exploitive and uncompetitive players.
– Dump the idea that the “West” is a monolithic bad guy. Wasting years of an African-American presidency in the US we have blindly perpetuated a pivot to Brics while destabilising strong trade relations with wealthy markets and missed out on a partnership for US-led investment in Africa, via South Africa.
– Finally, dump the idea that land, shares and tenders are the faces of wealth. There has been no increase in land over the last 100 years of global prosperity but rather an increase in valuable additions of buildings, machinery, technology and increasingly services on top of land. Pursue these things instead, using knowledge. Most people do not own shares and never will. Instead, they have and employ skills to earn a living. Pursue these instead, using education and training. Tenders are a means by which governments spend the money that their country’s industrious citizens have made through enterprise. Unless you grow the latter first, you’ll soon find yourself putting out fiscal fires started by the non-payment of the very tenders you were obsessed with getting.

South Africa has rich mineral resources, a great climate, a rich tapestry of skilled labour compared to African neighbours and rich diversity which is a strength not a weakness. What we are short on is vision, pragmatism and resolve. Could we please swop our nostalgic-communist leaders with development economists and exchange our post-colonial capitalist CEOs with concerned citizens? Could we make a fire under the middle class before inflation does?

When I asked a respected business leader recently “what must be done about corruption?”, his response was jarring; “ … some people need to go to jail”. I think he’s right.

Some people do need to go to jail instead of being redeployed.

Some people need to go to school and work and not on strikes and protests.

Others need to go to their parents and communities who taught them to be racist or entitled or ethically bankrupt, and ask for a cultural refund.

It’s a simple choice; are we going to be South Africa and be great? Or are we going to build a Zulu kingdom, at odds with a Gauteng fortress and Capetonian castle, with stretches of undeveloped and contested no-man’s lands in between?

Personally I’d prefer a functional social democracy under the rule of law, where honest effort and collective responsibility heal the deep wounds of the past without creating new fissures along racial, class and ethnic lines. I think your kids would prefer that as well.


Marius Oosthuizen

Marius Oosthuizen

Marius Oosthuizen is a faculty member and researcher at the Gordon Institute of Business Science. He teaches leadership, strategy and ethics, and heads up the Future of Business in SA Project. He is passionate...

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