Opinion / 16 September 2019, 4:00pm / Pali Lehohla
JOHANNESBURG – South Africa was welcomed into the world as a miracle country in 1994. We averted civil war and created a government of national unity.
In time, we had raised enough resources to fund free education and provide social grants without which grinding poverty and death would cripple society.
In the past 10 years, we have dug ourselves into a pit that we seem unable to get out of.
Last week, we tried to put our best foot forward at the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa in Cape Town.
But the national psyche had been gripped by Uyinene Mrwetyana and Leighandre “Baby Lee” Jegels.
Marches in Cape Town, Pretoria and Johannesburg, instead took the thunder away from the WEF.
Zambia, which saw us through the most difficult of our times of struggle, withdrew form a friendly game with Bafana Bafana. Madagascar wouldn’t have us either.
Nigeria became the most vocal regarding our conduct, and we had to close our embassy and the consulate in Abuja and Lagos respectively.
Suddenly, the sun began to go down on South Africa. What happened to the miracle? What will happen to the notion of the developmental state?
Chalmers Johnson defined a developmental state as one that is focused on economic development.
He provided nuggets of wisdom in analysing Japan’s development, and subsequently, those countries called the Asian Tigers.
He argued: “Japan’s economic development had much to do with far-sighted intervention by bureaucrats, particularly those in the Ministry of International Trade and Industry.”
I am inclined to contend that the apartheid state was a successful developmental state in as far as applying the input architecture of deployed “far-sighted intervention by bureaucrats”.
Japan and South Africa drove the industrialisation drive.
Given where we are with an economy that is backfiring, violence against women that has gone rogue, criminality on the ascent, a dejection from our African compatriots, the loss of a miracle nation status has been lost.
We first need to recognise that we had invested deeply in ourselves to earn the title, and we have to reclaim it.
We have to recognise that the apartheid state in fact was a developmental state.
Perhaps, we need to break away the shell of both a miracle nation and the racist and brutal developmental apartheid stat.
We may start reconstructing our future with women and children as well as the continent of Africa. Former president Thabo Mbeki once argued that the RDP houses and all these other things we may spend money on are not that difficult to do – they can be done.
But what is difficult is the South African psyche.
He asked if we can focus on that and understand it with the aim of resolving it so that the solidarity of the human spirit can emerge and enjoy the fruits of material life.
By breaking the shell and getting to the kernel, we can start dealing with our pain and liberating ourselves from the scars.
Dr Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general and the former head of Statistics South Africa.