President Cyril Ramaphosa. File photo: Ben Curtis/AP.
President Cyril Ramaphosa. File photo: Ben Curtis/AP.

Cyril Ramaphosa can emulate Mexico’s successes

By Shannon Ebrahim Time of article published May 17, 2019

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As President Cyril Ramaphosa prepares to unveil his strategy for turning the country around, it would be useful for him to take a leaf out of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s book.

South Africa has more in common with Mexico in terms of its developmental challenges than perhaps any other country and López Obrador has moved in leaps and bounds to transform Mexico in the 10 months since coming to power. 

His commitment to people-centred development, war on corruption, an investment drive and progressive social policies serve as an inspiration for South Africa.

López Obrador has become personally involved in structuring the proposed laws to fight corruption. 

He was quick to declare corruption a felony and he cancelled the construction of Mexico’s new airport despite the fact it was already a quarter built, all because it had not been an open tender process.

In an effort to ensure his presidency regularly communicates with the nation, López Obrador holds daily press briefings following his 6am security briefings.

This has gone a long way towards bringing his electorate along with him and conveying the rationale behind the government’s decisions.

López Obrador’s greatest frustration has been that the Mexican economy is not growing at the 4% or 5% he believes it is capable of, but projected growth for this year is expected to be 1%. 

Ramaphosa is also faced with a projected growth rate of 1% unless he manages to speedily unlock investment potential and create jobs in order to grow the economy. 

While the levels of inequality are not as huge as in South Africa, Mexico is still faced with a massive wealth gap that López Obrador is doing everything he can to narrow.

He has had to find creative ways to free up revenue from the national fiscus to finance his social programmes. 

He has done this by reducing the bureaucracy, cutting government salaries and eliminating private health insurance for civil servants.

Understanding that Mexico’s young people need greater opportunities if they are to avoid falling into crime, López Obrador has vastly increased the number of government-funded scholarships to the most disadvantaged populations.

He has also set about boosting development in the poorest states of Oaxaca, Chapas, Veracruz and Guerrero through infrastructure projects. 

The emphasis has been on promoting private investment in order to develop these communities. 

Most admirable in the context of Latin America, López Obrador has placed special emphasis on the needs of the indigenous population which comprises 10% of the nation, as well as Afro-Mexicans, who number 1.4million. 

Not only has he honoured these communities, but he wants to empower them and has ensured that for the first time they are appearing in national statistics.

Mexico’s energetic ambassador to South Africa, Ana Luisa Fajer, has also taken the initiative to develop people-to-people contacts between Afro-Mexicans in the state of Oaxaca and the people of Limpopo province. 

Fajer believes Mexico has a lot to learn from the way South Africa preserves its indigenous languages.

Mexico has 68 indigenous languages, although most of them are dying as they are not taught in school.

She has also initiated a creative cultural project of twinning two of the thickest trees in the world - the Sagole baobab in Limpopo which is the second-thickest in the world, with the Tule tree in Mexico, which is considered the thickest.

Mexico has an innovative underground pipeline which provides the Tule tree with 12 hours of water a day.

Fajer also believes that South Africa can learn from Mexico’s experiences in dealing with migration, since it is a country of origin, transit, destination and return of migrants, which remains a major challenge for the South African government.

As Mexico has developed a stronger middle class, it no longer has a stream of undocumented migrants leaving for the US. 

Most of the migrants passing through Mexico to the US come from the more impoverished Central American countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

Mexico has developed a strategy to invest in these countries to boost growth and reduce the factors which compel their citizens to migrate.

South Africa is primarily a country of destination for migrants and it would also be best served by focusing on improving the living conditions in neighbouring countries such as Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi to reduce the number of people that are compelled to leave their home countries in order to seek an income.

Mexico is working with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to look for best practices in dealing with migrants and fine-tuning its asylum and refugee policies, much of which can be shared with South Africa.

South African can also learn from Mexico’s attempts to empower women by giving them microcredits, not just social grants and making grants conditional on children attending school, and parents signing up with public health clinics.

Given the similar developmental challenges, the countries could collaborate on a range of issues, and perhaps even work towards Mexico joining the juggernaut of the BRICS grouping.

* Shannon Ebrahim is the group foreign editor for Independent Media

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