Can South Africa recover its mojo?

Can South Africa recover its mojo?

South Africa, once the First World country in a developing Africa, the economic superstar, the leader in innovation and industry, now appears to have fallen on very hard times. Its economy has been demoted to second place behind Nigeria, its growth is among the slowest in Africa, it is plagued with strikes and dissatisfaction. The question is, can South Africa recover its lost mojo? Tom Nevin and Neil Ford discuss.

A common lament in South Africa these days is that in just 20 years, the country has lost is mojo. After a glorious dawn in 1994, an economic faltering is apparent.

Investment has faded, industrial unrest seems legion, the national football team’s performance is lamentable, larceny and corruption proliferate at the highest private and public levels, the few rich get richer and the millions of have-nots grow miserably poorer. The list is depressingly lengthy, the malaise epidemical.

Just two decades ago the mojo tank was full and South Africa was firing on all cylinders.

Much of South Africa’s negative persona must be laid at the door of the collective media, is a frequent complaint by the government, which says the press is obsessed with reporting the bad and glossing over the good things the government has done and continues doing to make South Africa better.

To which the media rejoin that they are not praise singers and their job is to keep the government honest by showing up its shortcomings.

In 2013, R12bn [$1,2bn] of the Gauteng Province Health Department’s budget could not be accounted for. Nearly R25bn [$2.3bn] disappeared in 2013 due to wasteful, irregular and unauthorised expenditure.

How the government is portrayed in South Africa’s press is a measure of the media freedom that prevails, far greater than any other in Africa and, probably, in most emerging economies worldwide. Such latitude is also a gauge, a mojo meter, so to speak. If this is so, then it is currently running on empty and it’s just the fumes that keep South Africa limping along.

It is interesting to compare South Africa, mojo-wise, not only with other emerging nations, but with more mature economies in the so-called First World. In all such regions mojo problems abound although with sometimes different cause and effect.

With the media as the biggest influence on South Africa’s mojo meter, a review of the way the mainstream media regards and reports current affairs and the effect they have on the national mood and how that, in turn, shapes perceptions and the national psyche, could be helpful.

Rhoda Kadalie is a highly regarded current affairs commentator with a penchant for telling it the way it is, and she sees it thus: “Corruption in South Africa is shocking,” she avers, hinting that it is one of the biggest causes for the precipitous fall in the national mojo.

“Wasteful and irregular expenditure has become commonplace in South Africa. The amounts across departments are enough to cause a major tax revolt. Alas, we do nothing.

When the Minister of Finance announced that about R100bn ($9.5bn) more will be raised from taxes, the already over-taxed middle classes, so distressed at having to juggle the balls of mortgage, education, food, healthcare and security in the air, despair. Squeezing the last drops of money from the taxpayer is completely unjustified given the levels of corruption.”

And why are additional taxes required? She quotes one example in dozens of others. “In 2013, R12bn [$1,2bn] of the Gauteng Province Health Department’s budget could not be accounted for. Nearly R25bn [$2.3bn] disappeared in 2013 due to wasteful, irregular and unauthorised expenditure.”

The South African Institute of Race Relation’s Lucy Holborn provides a depressing aside. “Twenty-five billion rands [$2.3bn] could have built 400 schools; it could have educated 2.5m pupils; it could have funded 1.2m students; it could have provided 7m child support grants; it could have built 24 children’s hospitals,” she reports.

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Written by Tom Nevin

Tom Nevin is a South African journalist, researcher and author and contributes to a selection of publications in South Africa and abroad. He is associate editor of London-based African Business and editor of Business Word Botswana. He is leading a programme that actively promotes small and micro power projects as a first step in encouraging the economic upliftment of the continent rural poor.

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