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Johannesburg - It gives me great pleasure to have this opportunity to address you on this occasion. Business Report is proud to have a long association with the SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Sacci).
We are grateful for the trust that Sacci has placed in us as a print media partner once more.
Sacci is a powerful platform for business and other stakeholders to engage on critical questions of our time.
It is through constant and consistent engagement that we shall find ways and means to continue building on the foundation that was laid through such great sacrifice to bring about a country and a future we can all be proud of.
So, the purpose of my remarks is to help us reflect upon a few critical issues we face as a country, 20 years since the founding of our democratic dispensation. The organisers of this convention have chosen the theme for this year’s gathering to be: “Business in a New Africa Paradigm”.
It is an interesting theme as it is grounded in a firm realisation that something NEW is happening in Africa. Africa is on the move. Africa is ready for lift off.
In short, make sure your seatbelts are securely fastened, your seat is in the upright position and your tray table is folded – and let’s get down to business.
Out of habit, a lot of us most probably tune out those instructions from the cabin crew when we fly because we have heard them over and over again, and we naturally do what is expected of us before take-off and before landing.
There will always be exceptions, of course. But habits do often determine our response to what is happening around us. After all, we are creatures of habit. At other times, our habits may determine how those around us perceive or view us.
In that context, I have decided to premise my remarks around the following title: South Africa in the age of a resurgent Africa.
South Africa, whose natural beauty and heritage is like no other in the world, is an interesting place.
- What other country in Africa has four Nobel Peace Prize laureates?
- What other country in Africa is bordered by two oceans?
- What other country in the world better signifies the triumph of the human spirit over evil?
- What other country has such a diverse fossil and human genetic heritage?
The answer to all those questions and more is self-evident.
We might just as well declare the whole of South Africa as a World Heritage Site.
Consider, too, that South Africa is about the only country on the continent with “Africa” in its name.
So as a country, our destiny is closely intertwined with that of a continent whose name we bear. But do we know what Africa means to us, and what we mean to Africa?
I am certain that an answer to these two questions ought to be the basis of our engagement about what sort of Africa we want to see and what sort of role we see for South Africa in a changing Africa.
My role as editor of Business Report involves assimilating a whole range of information and determining how best to help our readers, a million of them, better connect with the world around them.
In the age of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube we have seen our industry – the newspaper industry – turned upside down. It is a challenging time, yet full of opportunity to create something new to carry us into the future.
So we are in an age of experimentation and invention. Some of your businesses are also facing tremendous change. Change is only natural.
Likewise, South Africa. Wherever we look, it is clear to see that our country is on the cusp of major change.
The world of business shows us all the time that you either embrace change or you become irrelevant and die.
In the age of a resurgent Africa, South Africa needs to stay relevant, or history will judge us as one country that many thought could, but never did, live up to its full potential.
And the potential for South Africa lies in its people – 51 million of them.
We have heard many pronouncements made about the need to invest in infrastructure so that we can unlock opportunities for growth and development.
It is, therefore, heartening to see the determination to close the infrastructure gap, which in terms of South Africa and Africa stems from our history.
And the kind of infrastructure Africa needs, should affect various facets of Africa’s development: think education, health, agriculture, innovation and so on.
By all accounts, Africa presents a unique opportunity for the world to find sustainable ways to feed its growing population. Roads, railways, dams and other critical infrastructure are necessary as 60 percent of the world’s unused arable land is found on this continent.
It is vital for business and the government to play a meaningful role in fostering an enabling environment to tightly integrate South Africa into the rest of Africa and unlock the economic potential of our people, especially the youth.
And speaking of human capital, the World Economic Forum’s first Human Capital Index released last week showed once more how little attention South Africa is putting on capacitating its people.
According to this index, Mauritius is the only sub-Saharan country among the top 50 countries in the world when it comes to maximising the long-term economic potential of its labour force.
With Mauritius ranking 47th overall in the 122-country index, the next highest placed countries in the continent are Botswana (79) and Kenya (81). South Africa came in at 86, Ghana at 87, and Namibia at 97. So we made it into the top 100, but another way of looking at this is that we came in at the bottom of the pile.
For interest sake, the global top 10 was: Switzerland, Finland, Singapore, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Norway, the UK, Denmark and Canada. Nigeria was 114th, eight positions better than last-placed Yemen.
Personally, I have always believed that the greatest asset this country has is its people. There is a Chinese proverb that says: A man (or woman) grows most tired while standing still.
Creative ways to create employment must be found. Therefore, whatever investments we make in infrastructure and so on, must be commensurate with the investments we make in education and skills development. It will be of no use to have power stations, dams and railways with nobody to run them.
So as we discuss infrastructure imperatives, we must also consider the importance of developing Africa’s human capital. It will determine whether Africa’s take-off is a smooth one, and whether South Africa, in particular, can gain altitude along with the rest of the continent in the years to come.
And technology will play an important role in connecting Africans. Where we sit, we are not burdened by legacy systems. The continent is leapfrogging the rest of the world in harnessing the power of mobile technology and the internet.
This is a new revolution. Africa has seen a fair amount of other revolutions – but this latest one is about rebuilding and creating opportunities for all. South Africa must be part of this revolution. To do otherwise will mean trouble down our path.
* This is an abridged version of a speech Business Report editor Ellis Mnyandu delivered recently at the SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s 2013 convention (#SACCI2013) in Johannesburg. Follow Ellis on Twitter: @Ellis_Mnyandu.