Alexandra township in Johannesburg with Sandton skyline in the background. South Africa needs to unravel bottlenecks if it is to draw benefits from its relationship with China, says the writer. Picture: Themba Hadebe/AP
Alexandra township in Johannesburg with Sandton skyline in the background. South Africa needs to unravel bottlenecks if it is to draw benefits from its relationship with China, says the writer. Picture: Themba Hadebe/AP

South Africa is privileged, but why isn't it prospering?

By Paul Tembe Time of article published Jul 13, 2020

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How can South Africa leverage on its relationship with China to benefit from the current goodwill emergent from the heightened solidarities of the Covid-19? 

How will South Africa ensure a long-term gain amid quick turnaround initiatives in quest of solutions-based practices caused by the Covid-19?

South Africa is privileged beyond any other African nation in its relationship with China.

South Africa is also regarded as an important partner in the promotion of the Belt and Road initiative in the region and continent.

How has growth evaded South Africa in the past two decades? South Africa enjoys three inherent advantages not found in other African countries - geographic location, foundational infrastructure and human and natural resources.

South Africa needs to unravel bottlenecks if it is to draw benefits from its relationship with China. Bottlenecks that impede South Africa from its developmental potential are: i) discrepancies between short-term policies and long-term legislation and the perceived lack of safety and security in the country.

A policy is a statement of intent, implemented as a procedure or protocol. South Africa has for two and a half decades been applauded by friend and foe as a nation with progressive policies. But why have these progressive policies fallen short of helping South Africa unleash its potential of prosperity for all?

The answer is simple. Policy merely guides actions towards those most likely to achieve a desired outcome. Most policies may easily be rendered amorphous depending on the leadership at any given time.

One such example is a string of progressive investment incentive policies. However, South Africa continues to lack an investment incentive law. As a matter of fact, the South African investment incentive in the law book only consists of one sentence, contrary to most countries in the world that house departments that interpret and legislate investment incentive policies into law. The advantage with the law is that it has the power to compel and prohibit behaviours.

Policy on the other hand guides actions towards those most likely to achieve a desired outcome.

Security and safety in South Africa has been the subject of criticism. The bad publicity, beyond failing to attract investors, has also blocked other revenue streams.

Tourism has been one of the hard-hit industries - even before the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is an irony that a country with a security industry that is worth billions of rand is regarded as one of the most unsafe places to visit.

The “Ease of Doing Business Index” places South Africa at number 82 as the least friendly place to do business after a fall from position number 28 in 2006; the country took the greatest dive from position 43 to 73 between the years 2015 to 2016.

This is a serious setback and a waste of efforts and resources made to attract tourists and investors to South Africa since the success that followed the 2010 World Cup.

Fortunately for South Africa, despite all the bottlenecks it still enjoys a decade-long head start over the rest of the continent. In short, the more than $100 billion pledged through the Focac “action-plans” as in “eight measures” of China-Africa co-operation and the BRICS can still be salvaged in time for South Africa to unleash its developmental growth.

If South Africa urgently attends to the above-identified bottlenecks and divorces long-term national development goals from short-term party politics policies, the future looks very bright.

South Africa will be better off using the pause-button brought by the Covid-19 pandemic to formulate long-term investment incentive policies through legislation. Legislating of investment incentive policies will create stability and assurances sought by China and investors the world over.

In fighting past historical injustices South Africa should not be caught re-inventing the wheel or vindictively wanting to right the wrongs of the past at the expense of technological and economic growth for future generations.

* Tembe is associate professor at the Institute of African Studies Zhejiang Normal University. Jinhua, China. He is also based at the Thabo Mbeki African School of Public and International Relations.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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