Good governance, innovation can transform SA’s future

Professor Henry Wissink is an emeritus professor of public governance at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the research and postgraduate co-ordinator at the Aerotropolis Institute Africa. Picture: Supplied

Professor Henry Wissink is an emeritus professor of public governance at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the research and postgraduate co-ordinator at the Aerotropolis Institute Africa. Picture: Supplied

Published Jun 28, 2024



With the anxiety and excitement of the May 2024 elections fading, we are eagerly anticipating the outcome of the dominant or larger political parties negotiating the process of reshaping the government and its constitutional structures.

This is an opportune time to consider what changes are needed in South Africa and how good governance can benefit everyone in this amazing country. It is also appropriate to consider what should and could change in South Africa, and why the “visible hand” of good governance should be the prime consideration for the new administration.

The primary goal of politicians in South Africa should now, of course, be joining hands and focusing on addressing the most critical issues facing us. Generally, most citizens are aware that addressing the levels of inequality, unemployment and poverty is our primary challenge.

Despite our best intentions, we have struggled to achieve some of the laudable outcomes set out post-1994 and in the National Development Plan. The failure is partly due to the deep divisions between parties, and in our views and ideologies, or specifically the policy instruments for achieving the goals and their outcomes, as well as our failure to implement even the measures that we agree on implementing. Added to that are the corrupt and unethical practices that have become deeply entrenched in our society.

For example, there are debates on whether to control or intervene in the market and the means of production to create a more equitable political economy versus allowing for a free, self-regulating economy that could grow wealth in the long term for the benefit of everyone.

Due to our history and the large inequalities, unemployment and consequent poverty, realistic economic decision-makers also agree that we cannot slavishly pursue Adam Smith and Milton Friedman’s “invisible hand” economic philosophy, and we have to be extremely smart and innovative to manage the economy with a “visible hand”.

This can be done through employing good evidenced-based socio-economic policy analysis and planning. Some of the more historic radical policy approaches often appeal to populist support, but often lacks contextual relevance and include instruments that are often outdated as macro-economic policies to employ in modern-day liberal democracies and developing economies.

A significant part of our failure in South African society can be attributed to the failure to attend to effective implementation of policies, despite their best intentions and solemn public declarations by political office-bearers during swearing-in ceremonies.

Personal agendas, improper interference in the administration processes and a lack of commitment in some instances to the laudable ideas have impacted and undermined the success of a well-designed NDP and transformation agenda.

Recently, the Zondo Commission, in its report, extensively explained and exposed why the egregious actions of those implicated during the state-capture era may be the very plague that we need to combat in our own country to ensure survival.

The truth about the challenges in the modern world is that we must do everything possible to provide the best practices in good governance, along with the conditions, confidence, infrastructure, services and opportunities needed to promote a new South African version of the ‘visible hand“ in the economy.

Creating the appropriate policy frameworks, conditions and mechanisms is essential to continue developing, using, promoting and retaining the best of our political and administrative corps with strong leadership and functional competencies.

I am convinced that we have made significant progress over the past 30 years in educating, training and supplying a new generation of young professionals in South Africa. Many of the individuals are highly qualified and committed, and exhibit excellent insights and skills in driving and managing innovation in their respective divisions and fields.

One example of the kind of innovation that may serve as a “visible hand” strategy is the joint service-level agreement between the KZN Provincial Government and the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). This agreement aimed to establish the Aerotropolis Institute Africa (AIA), is designed to be a supportive institute focused on creating and developing smart airport cities (aerotropoli) in Africa. The AIA will particularly support a catalytic project of the KwaZulu-Natal Province Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs.

The Durban Aerotropolis strategy is a 50-year government large-scale urban development project, designed to promote the socio-economic growth and development of the region. Its primary purpose is to develop infrastructure, and industry, promote tourism and enhance economic or entrepreneurial opportunities to create employment around a thriving smart airport city in and around King Shaka Airport.

As part of the service level agreement to create such a knowledge-driven institute at the UKZN, the AIA has integrated this thinking into the core studies of our graduates to offer majors in undergraduate programmes focused on innovative transportation, supply chain and logistics systems to support the growing aviation and maritime industries in the region.

Additionally, the AIA has embarked on a postgraduate education programme that will be launched in 2025 to support the education, training and development of public officials in modern public governance practices, which are linked to innovation opportunities. This postgraduate diploma in Public Governance and Innovation will include electives that will allow students to engage in smart city and aerotropolis projects, such as the Durban Aerotropolis.

In addition, there will be opportunities in 2026 to enrol in a unique flagship Master’s degree focusing on the management of smart airport cities (aerotropoli). Both the postgraduate programmes will be offered as distance programmes and will be offered by the top experts and facilitators in this field. Join the new and innovative thinking in the world of public governance and innovations and watch the space @the AIA.

Professor Henry Wissink is an emeritus professor of public governance at the UKZN, and the research and postgraduate coordinator at the AIA. He is also the co-editor and author of the 2024 edition of a widely used postgraduate text: Improving Public Policy for Sustainable Development Impact in the Digital Era. He writes in his personal capacity.

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