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A look at South Africa

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page – Saint Augustine

The above quote from strikes a chord within me. Although I don’t know a thing about Saint Augustine, I agree with his notion that visiting regions, countries and continents distant and near has a profound effect on one’s perspectives. One learns to appreciates the environment at home more and discovers new cultures and ways of living.

Over the past two weeks I visited Zambia and South Africa. In the former we were mostly staying in lodges relatively far from the city life. In SA however we stayed in one of the suburbs surrounding Cape Town. Both countries (the few areas we visited to be more accurate) are absolutely beautiful and the people we met were really friendly.

A lot of relatively recent history has taken place in Cape Town. From the native tribes living there in relative peace to Dutch trading posts and later on colonialism, British colonialism, the various various wars between settlers, natives and colonial powers and last but not least apartheid. As a result Cape Town really is a proper melting pot. What is sad to see however, is that it is a massively unequal pot at that.

After leaving Cape Town international airport, it wasn’t hard spotting the shanty towns dotted throughout the city. It seemed like each non-shanty town (for lack of a better word) comes with a township in close proximity. Many of these now have electricity but many also lack adequate plumbing as well as proper waste management services. The most intriguing aspect to me was trying to figure out how such wealthy and picturesque areas such as Bakoven or Constantia could be near these places of vast poverty. Whilst there are likely people who could give a much better picture of the causes of such inequality, my (very basic) research has pinpointed a few key areas that overwhelmingly contributed to today’s situation:

1) Apartheid: whilst this point is no surprise, one may be excused to think that more than 20years after the end of this regime, measures should have been introduced to counteract the devastation created under that government. But it’s not just the unequal distribution of assets that occurred under the regime, in large parts the educational policies pursued by the Apartheid government have resulted in proportions of the adult population lacking very basic educational qualifications leading to massive ramifications for the broader country and economy. Would you as a multinational company invest in a skilled manufacturing project in a country where many of your prospective employees are essentially illiterate? Didn’t think so. It would cost a lot of money to train these people and there are many countries with a similarly cheap workforce yet with better education and skills.

2) A porous border: With a massive influx of refugees (due to economic, politic and religious strife) knocking on Europe’s door from the Middle East and Africa, it is no surprise that SA is also a target destination of many refugees. Despite the high unemployment present (latest figures stand at 25% of the workforce), the perceived wealth available in the country and relative comparison to other countries within the wider region are the main reasons why SA remains a destination of choice. As a result, xenophobic violence is unfortunately all too apparent and a constant influx of refugees exacerbates the already very large employment issue in the country.

3) Energy infrastructure (or lack thereof): In the years following the Apartheid regime, the new SA government invited the private sector to invest in new power plants whilst the state owned electricity supplier was halted from building new power stations. Due to various reasons, the private sector did not want to get involved and the country subsequently saw few investments in its energy infrastructure despite unabated population growth. The following Wikipedia page highlights the developments of the South African population vs its electricity production during 2004-2010 (ouch!). The first load shedding had to be introduced in 2007 and has reoccurred at various intervals since. The problem of insufficient capacity is being addressed, but in the meantime the energy sector remains restrained. As an interesting aside, the border region with Namibia has some of the highest sun irradiation levels in the world and is now being looked at as a place for solar energy plants. This is significant if you look at the other chart on Wikipedia which shows that approx. 70% of the energy generated in SA comes from coal….

Out of the above issues, education is probably the one which could affect the country’s economy the most. It is a generational problem and will take a lot of effort to fix. Over time, I’m sure the country will be able to overcome the difficulties. There were some suggestions flagged in an excellent book that I unfortunately decided not buy (grrr). One of them was that SA should form state enterprises modelled on those in China. This would enable further development in manufacturing where the private sector is currently lacking. Overall this was meant to be an analysis of a country that massively enjoyed visiting, hope you enjoyed it!

The country is truly beautiful and has lots to offer. I definitely have plans to go back at some point and explore some of the other regions and cities more extensively. I would also recommend anyone to go out to visit Cape Town and the region around it. Message me if you want to know of good places to visit J

Happy Tuesday!

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