South Africa has seen a phenomenal transformation in the past 20 years. In 1994 a nation divided by apartheid came together to democratically elect a new president, a man who himself had invested 27 years of his freedom to ensure that millions of South Africans could have theirs. Our economy was technically bankrupt and has since tripled in size. Our black middle class is growing - albeit slowly. Millions have been lifted out of abject poverty and now have access to various services. We did not collapse as many predicted citing our post-colonial neighbours - Libya, Somalia, and Zimbabwe as poignant examples.
However, amidst the cacophony of high fives and debaucherous celebration, we'd be wise to remind ourselves that the journey started by Madiba, Sisulu, Mbeki et al. will require significant ongoing inputs. It would be wise for us as a nation to look in the mirror to determine where we are falling short. We are desperately struggling to solve crime, unemployment, corruption, and poor GDP growth. In order to rectify the above concerns, we need to acknowledge that we are falling short in four key areas. These are viz. political stability, healthcare, education, and job creation.
In order to be considered a significant global player South Africa will have to reform its economic strategy. The current frosty relations between business and government needs to be thawed and pushed towards creating a common agenda. This will include creating regulatory certainty that promotes foreign direct investment. Government will need to look at its own business plan to determine leaner and more efficient ways to boost the treasury's coffers. This will require a broader based tax system, not the current system where less than 10 percent of the population contribute to the government's tax revenue stream.
Transparency will help build government support. Kenya's open-data agenda has helped foster a culture of increased civil participation, distributed innovation and a government that is more participatory and transparent. Africa is increasingly drawing the right kind attention from foreign investors. Infrastructure funds and mid-cap funds are enjoying more support but this will only hold if political stability and accountability prevails. Private equity in particular is set to grow across Africa, including South Africa - bolstered by an increase in demand in resource rich countries including Angola.
As citizens, we have grown so used to corruption, abuse of power, nepotism, and broad political impunity that we dare not speak out and challenge the status quo. In order to be considered a global player, political accountability will need to be instilled. Leaders are there to serve the people - not their own agenda. The only agenda is that which promotes the wellbeing of each citizen - period.
Affordable and accessible healthcare is still out of reach to many South Africans. In sub-Saharan Africa, the statistics are far dire. One in six children born in the region will die before age five, and woman face a 100 times higher chance of maternal mortality than women in the developed world. Healthcare provision faces several challenges owing to the vast distances between patients and large rural populations.
Several models have been suggested that could help address this shortfall. These range from the training of community based health officers, telemedicine via mobile phone, and mobile health clinics. A combination of infrastructure creation and skills development therefore needs to be prioritised to ensure that South Africans gain access to primary healthcare. Once this pattern of service provision is established, downstream benefits in the form of longer economic lifespans and a healthier population can be realised.
The benchmark of any well managed society can be reflected in the levels of education seen in its citizens. In South Africa, this statistic is atrociously skewed. Historical efforts to disenfranchise black people needs to be addressed with the utmost urgency. Basic, accessible education will lay a bedrock enabling the growth of South Africa's economy.
Business needs to work with government to improve the education standards of our children. We have some of the world's most acclaimed legal and financial systems. In order to maintain this standard, we need to be creating a pipeline of well-educated young people to fill these positions. Particularly important is an education system that produces 'work-ready' graduates with specific vocational skills.
Entrepreneurship presents itself as the only viable long term initiative to help create jobs in South Africa. The government can no longer be an institution for mass employment. We have an abundance of human capital that is currently not being employed for productive means. As a nation, we are particularly skilled in being resourceful, driven, and hardworking. All requisite ingredients for developing a culture of entrepreneurial thinking. South Africa needs to work towards achieving 7 percent growth per annum to absorb the roughly 150,000 job seekers entering the market every year.
South Africa has proven itself as a manufacturing hub particularly in the automotive field. With further innovation and export development South Africa is well positioned to supply the EMEA region with advanced manufacturing capacity at a globally competitive price. South Africa's infrastructure crises are hampering effective job creation. Basic infrastructure issues like electricity, water, and sanitation need to be addressed by government - potentially using PPP's as a short term solution. The efficiency gains from such partnerships will lead to rapid and sustainable infrastructure improvements. Natural gas presents itself as a potential solution to South Africa's energy crisis. We have a strong service industry which needs to be marketed more aggressively to the international community.
Advances in technology play greatly in our favour and need to be prioritised. Construction, insurance, and banking are three immediate service exports in which we are world class. In Africa, there is a significant opportunity within the unbanked and underbanked, backed by an increase in demand from SME's for trade finance and cash management. In agriculture, we have an opportunity to empower the one in ten South Africans who depend on subsistence or smallholder farming. A sensitive subject given South Africa's colonial past, however one for which the government needs to action an ambitious national agricultural plan. The rapid growth of Africa's population presents significant opportunities for our poultry and grain sector.
Agriculture, manufacturing, retail, and tourism can act as an employment sponge for basic, labour intensive work. Whilst not a cornerstone employment strategy, it will lead to rapid, broad based job creation often requiring very basic skill sets. Further vocational training can be provided in these sectors to prevent generational skills gaps. Increased global demand for commodities will further fuel growth in Africa. The lessons learnt from the commodity boom of the 1970s has helped position South Africa and its neighbours to better harness the benefits of the next resource boom. The real challenge will be to ensure that pro-growth economic strategies supersede narrow sectional self-interest.
South Africa is at a crossroads in its economic and political future. In many ways, we are facing a tipping point where critical mass needs to be reached to ensure the sought after 'better tomorrow for all'. The honeymoon phase of our democracy has come and gone - we now need to prove to the world that we are a serious global contender - one to be reckoned with. This will require us to tackle difficult foundational issues along with developing a new partnership between business, government, and the people of South Africa. The bedrock of this relationship will require implicit trust and a spirit it of true nation building.
South Africans, domestically and abroad, have a duty of care to rally behind building efficient and effective political, commercial, and social capacity in South Africa. We have achieved a great deal as a nation in the past two decades but now is not the time to settle. We should not rest until we have strained and exhausted the full potential of our beautiful nation - that much we owe to those who gave their lives for this opportunity.