Pali Lehohla, former Statistics South Africa head. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)
Pali Lehohla, former Statistics South Africa head. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

The real numbers: SA's economic growth is about the same as it was 27 years ago

By Pali Lehohla Time of article published Feb 9, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - Twenty  seven years ago, South Africa’s economic growth was in about the same space it currently is in today. 

It had a low growth cycle. Unemployment was rife through it is impossible to determine because there were no labour market surveys.

But job search possibilities especially for women were very constrained, thus the possibility of it being a sizable unemployment defined in terms of expanded definition.

There was open and brutal political inter-party violence. Although the situation was materially hopeless, society was immersed in conversations that were filled with hope.

This culminated into Codesa and paved the way for South Africa to be a country of hope.

Today South Africa is submerged in conversations of despair rather than hope.

It looks more like we are on a salvage operation from a sea wreckage.

Last week I was struck by experiences that were interesting but not unexpected: the Mining Indaba in Cape Town and the Social Compact Indaba in Pretoria which I attended.

The common theme was how communities especially those that are vulnerable have their material circumstances change for the better.

In this regard the summits discussed common themes of how an inclusive society can be achieved as well as how unemployment and inequality can be reduced.

Ironically the composition of the participants in the summits were different. The

Mining Indaba discussion was dominated by white males whilst the Social Compact Indaba was black and had a good representation of females.  What then is the problem with our conversations and what can we do to resolve these?

The obvious problem is why is the theme of concern not a unifier of stakeholders and why is each conversation running in its own cloud? How do we build bridges across these conversations and emerge with unifying solutions given that time is not on our side?

My fellow attendees in Pretoria had some important suggestions for ensuring that the theme of concern and those concerned should be part of the discussion.

One of the suggestions was holding these discussions in situ. For a moment I  thought of the mining bosses and their willingness to do so and less so for the social compact intersection.

The Canadian experience held a lot of promise on having an in situ engagement. They are paying attention to indigenous communities and how mining has historically undermined them.

They have a clear policy direction on how these can be done with some impressive results. For example, unemployment in some communities has been reduced from 90 percent to full employment.

This has been achieved through a prolonged engagement with indigenous peoples. In the Social Compact Summit the indigenous people and the marginalised made their point including and demanding that an in situ strategy is probably the only one that should work given the state of our burning platform.

South Africans may be exhausted by being workshopped but the challenges we face require reigniting the energy and excitement that possessed us in the pre-1994 period but hope has remained very rare.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa.


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