Once again, South Africa and many of our friends on this extraordinary continent have embarked on a set of journeys. That’s why this edition of Acumen has a three-part Cover Story examining the prospects for ourselves, our long-troubled neighbour Zimbabwe, and Kenya, a country that in many ways epitomises Africa’s challenges and opportunities.
Here at home, the ANC has chosen Cyril Ramaphosa as its new President. Will he be able to rescue the captured state? Will he see off the Zuptas, as EFF leader Julius Malema so memorably described the corrupt clique that has buried its rapacious talons into the national finances? Or will the old order prove too cunning and deep-seated for him to break their hold? It’s too early to tell, although the rand did bounce nicely on the news of Ramaphosa’s election. Suffice it to say that he was also the choice of business leaders across the board.
Putting an end to corruption and the looting of State-owned Enterprises is one thing, but finding jobs for the 27% of South Africans who are unemployed is another entirely. It’s a task made doubly difficult by the fact that more and more manufacturing work is being carried out by machines; to call Ramaphosa’s challenge ‘Herculean’ would be a distinct understatement.
It’s better to travel hopefully than to arrive, says the old proverb.
Zimbabwe has a well-documented history: one of Africa’s wealthiest, most productive countries moves from independence to economic ruin, with a fair amount of bloodshed along the way. The architect of both, Robert Mugabe, was deposed at the end of last year in the-coup-that-wasn’t-a-coup. His successor, long-time henchman, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has made some encouraging noises about the economy. Just like ourselves, though, it’s still far too early to tell if he’s serious or if he’s just another ZANU-PF thug, itching to get his hands into the till. The way he handles this year’s election will certainly give us more of a clue about Zimbabwe’s immediate future.
And then there’s Kenya. Politically and socially, it is troubled, with its courts forcing a repeat of last year’s Presidential election, worsening tribal divisions and near-anarchy in parts of the north as cattle-herders continue a two-decade long series of violent raids and counter-raids. Yet economically, its capital, Nairobi, looks to be making great progress as a place to do business. Many multinationals are choosing to base regional headquarters there, bypassing both Johannesburg and Lagos. In this sense, Kenya, as much as anywhere, provides a snapshot of Africa – so many problems, so many opportunities.
Elections are also due to be held this year in Egypt, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Libya, so it’s fair to say that large parts of Africa are on the move.
Africa’s tragic paradox is that almost every time a hopeful journey begins, it almost always ends in tears. South Africa was long held up as the example that broke this doleful chain, but the last eight years under Jacob Zuma have restored the link. We look increasingly like so many of our troubled peers.
Could it be different this time round? It’s impossible to speculate about the other nations, but former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan believes that South Africa, via its businesses, institutions, individuals and civil society, does have the capacity to produce a happy ending for our current journey. This edition of Acumen reports on an appearance by Gordhan at GIBS late last year. He reminded the capacity audience of how a similar alliance in the 1980s had produced sufficient impetus to throw off apartheid. It was time, he said, for all of us to work together once again to restore “the shine of the Mandela era”.
Could South Africa could do it for a second time? If we could, it would certainly be an inspirational example for the rest of the continent, yearning for its own set of journeys to end with happy arrivals.