South Africa had to deal with another dose of bad news this week. Figures released by StatsSA confirm what we have known for a decade: our economy is not growing. Economic output shrank by 2.2% in the first quarter, the biggest contraction quarter to quarter since 2009.
While everyone knew our moribund economy was yet to come out of survival mode, the decrease was still devastating.
It was a major dampener to the “Ramaphoria” that has prevailed since President Cyril Ramaphosa’s accession to the presidency a couple of months ago.
South Africans now need to let this harsh news sink in, make sense of it, and put it in perspective to be able to deal with it and move forward.
The truth is that our economy has been trapped in the doldrums for the past decade or so, growing at rates below that of our population and far below those of other economies in Africa.
A couple of weeks ago we welcomed the news that South Africa had been granted a stay of execution by credit ratings agency Standard and Poor’s, thanks to the sterling work done under Ramaphosa’s stewardship to fix public finances and state-owned companies, restore institutional governance, and deal with corruption and malfeasance. Our country and economy are in good hands, we remarked.
The last quarter of 2017 produced a pleasant surprise of 3.1% growth. It was perhaps due to these positive developments that the latest setback - accompanied by a steep fuel price rise and global headwinds from places such as Italy and the US - was so difficult to accept.
This week’s harsh news about our economy should not shock us into paralysis or overreaction. It’s merely a reminder that our national renewal project will be a long, arduous journey requiring concerted input from all stakeholders.
We can do nothing about the global headwinds that buffet us from time to time, but there’s a lot that is in our hands.
Ramaphosa this week told the Afrikanerbond at its centenary celebration it could play a role in speeding up land reform, unlocking huge economic potential.
Still, “Ramaphoria” alone will not spur growth. What South Africa needs now is commitment, investment and input from everyone using all that is at hand.
* Mazwi Xaba is the editor of the Sunday Tribune.