We’ve got to trade ourselves into wealth

First published in City Press on March 1, 2015. Some slight edits have been made since.

Last week I witnessed something truly unexpected at the Gauteng state of the province address.

It wasn’t some of the members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) making fools of themselves with a few volleys of unspirited interruption during the premier’s speech.

It was what Premier David Makhura said.

Hardly 15 minutes into his speech, Makhura broke with orthodoxy and declared that the focus of his speech would be “the economy, the economy, the economy”.

WTF? But we want to hear about e-tolls, many of us thought.

Over the next hour, the premier outlined his economic plans for the Gauteng city region, an idea that will undoubtedly spawn a New York-style conurbation over the next decade. He kicked off with stats highlighting Gauteng’s current economic prowess – a trillion-rand economy, 36% of the country’s GDP, 10% of Africa’s, 60% of South Africa’s exports and 40% of its industrial output.

The plan pragmatically leveraged what was already existing, five corridors around historical economic hubs, while ambitiously reconfiguring the spatial and economic divides of the province.

The economist Ha-Joon Chang explains what happened in his country of birth, South Korea, for it to become an economic powerhouse over 50 years. Following a devastating war with North Korea that killed 4 million people, the average citizen took home just under R1 000 a year. Meanwhile, folks in Ghana, Africa’s shining star, earned double that.

Today, the South Koreans earn nearly 10 times what Ghanaians earn, live 14 years longer and are 70% more likely to be employed. Incidentally, South Africans actually fare worse. Our people live 30 fewer years and are 87% less likely to have a job than South Koreans.

Chang contends South Korea’s rise can be attributed to “a clever and pragmatic mixture of market incentives and state direction”.

There are, he says, things a developing state can and should do to grow its economy:

Developing its own manufacturing industries and protecting them in their infancy;

  • Banning the exportation of raw materials, such as our minerals;
  • Either banning or taxing to high heaven any products that compete with products local industries make (as the West does with farming);
  • Incentivising innovation and being lax about protecting  other countries’ intellectual property;
  • The development of transport and financial infrastructure; and
  • The subsidisation of key industries and the standardisation of products, such that the country can benefit from scale production thereof.

These things are all simple to conceive but difficult for most emerging market nations to achieve.

Firstly, they put you on a collision course with developed nations. Secondly, most governments that take their eyes off social benefits usually find themselves on a collision course with their voters.

In unequal societies such as ours, there is little patience for an outlook that advocates short-term spending sacrifices for long-term investment benefits.

Both of these require massive gumption in leadership, of the sort not often seen in African liberation movements.

And that’s what was so unexpected about Makhura’s speech.

He invoked four of Chang’s solutions. The others he could never implement at a provincial level. One then wonders if he would if he were a national leader.

“He sounds almost like a Republican,” I heard someone whisper as Makhura extended his government’s hand to the private sector for the umpteenth time in the speech. It’s a dirty word that, especially in a liberation movement.

But he was not alone. President Jacob Zuma in his state of the nation address two weeks ago punctuated “small business is big business” with a huge grin.

Even in the concessions made to small business in Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene’s inaugural budget speech on Wednesday, one gets the sense the powers that be have realised we can’t hire ourselves out of unemployment or nationalise our way to equality. We’ve got to trade ourselves into wealth.

Truth be told, it was refreshing to know we are beginning to believe Africans can indeed be more than workers, hewers of wood and drawers of water. 

The Selfie… (a professor’s view)

This mini thesis on the Selfie comes from Laurence Allard, a French Professor of Communication Sciences in Paris and Lille, co-author of the book Mobile Phone and Creation (Armand Colin / Recherches), and creator of the Mobactu blog. She was interviewed by Olivier Laurent for Time Magazine in mid-2014.

“The selfie originates from established self-portrait practices in the history of painting and photography, but also from online practices best represented by the use of profile pictures.

“It possesses a real genealogy. But it has also found its own autonomy and definition. Today, we’d be mistaken to define the selfie as a narcissist object or simple self-portrait.
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Mandela’s first words as a “Free” Man

25 years ago, after 27 years imprisonment, Mandela is finally released and proceeds to make his first public speech in three decades.

Be warned, this clip is long… and captivating.

Did Judge Masipa get it oh so wrong?

First Published in Bona, January 2015

Last year’s trial of Oscar Pistorious for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp left us all with many questions.

Many of these questions related to the what exactly happened that fateful night on Valentine’s Day 2013 when South African Olympian, Oscar, shot four bullets into the door of the small bathroom of his Tshwane home, that model and upcoming TV personality Reeva was in.

But perhaps the biggest question of the trial has been about the judgement and sentence that judge Thokozile Masipa handed down to the paraplegic athlete.

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The New Freedom Charter

This past weekend the ANC’s 103 anniversary statement emphasised the spirit of the Freedom Charter 60 years after its penning. In my last City Press column of 2014 I penned some thoughts for a new Charter I hope might be crafted soon…

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The Mail & Guardian accusses me of being a Loudmouth!!

In December 2014, the M&G, ran a feature on what they called “Social Media Loudmouths” and someone there thought it an apt description of me. They interviewed me about my feelings about and my social media work. Here’s a few moments from that interview.

It was really cool getting to talk about the online experience with Joonji Mdyogolo, a writer I admire greatly. I got to share my first tweet “Waiting for Goddot” and my observations about the newbies: “the new twelebs are racy, edgy, candid. That’s why they say, ‘black twitter has no chill’. We used to do #TwitterInTheDark in the dark; they do it the whole day.”

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Real Solidarity

First Published in City Press in August 2014. In memory of my hero, William Lynch Jr

Years before President Obama became the first person of colour to be elected to the highest office in the USA, the city of New York had its own Obama-Moment in the form of David Dinkins, the first and only black man to become Mayor. This was way back in 1990, around the time that Mandela was being unveiled to the world.

Dinkins and his deputy, Bill Lynch, also a black man, were huge supporters of the Anti-Apartheid movement and responsible for the huge ticker-tape parade that New York City held in Madiba’s honour when he started his 8-city tour of the US there in June of that year.  Over 700,000 people came out that day.

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