How to fix South Africa

by Owen Skae: Director of Rhodes Business School.

South Africa has come a long way since 1994 and there are many positive factors that can be highlighted. There is substantial goodwill amongst the people, free debate is tolerated, many citizens now have access to basic services and despite the lack of skills, there are many talented people who are committed to making the country a better place for all.

The government has managed the macroeconomic fundamentals quite well, in SARS we have a world class organisation, the stock market and financial services sector is amongst the best in the world, a press that is free and fair and the private sector by and large is competitive and extremely well governed.

However, we would be naive to think that all is well, when clearly we have fundamental problems, the most significant being the lack of emergence of a class of ‘new age’ entrepreneurs (who will fuel job creation), a well functioning primary and secondary schooling system, well managed public hospitals, efficient service delivery and of course the continued high crime levels.

It is one thing to lament these though, another to fix them. Without doubt, the biggest obstacle to achieving many of these is lack of management skills, precipitated by a lack of real commitment to invest in human development.

Secondly, there is often a lack of real commitment on the part of stakeholders about what really needs to be done to address the issues. Short term gain, pandering to vested interests and failing to see the big picture means that hard discussions are politicised, stereotyping takes precedence and people consequently opt out due to a lack of trust and faith in the leaders to really address their concerns. There is a sense that too often we talk past each other and there is a failure to really ‘get with the programme’.

Take education for example. At the end of the day, are the children’s needs really taken into account? There are without doubt highly committed teachers and principals who often work under the most difficult of circumstances, but somehow other interests are elevated at the expense of good teaching.

Perhaps an agenda to fix the country’s problems would go something like us:

  1. Government to convene a national summit to apply the key governance foundation of ‘intellectual honesty’ in engaging with the key problems identified
  2. Enter into a social compact between government, labour, private sector and NGOs with the guiding principle of putting the country and the marginalised citizens at the forefront of everybody’s minds
  3. Embark on a regional programme of raising the level of management skills in areas of key service delivery and begin to clear the backlog and ensure that the money where needed is spent. In short get implementation working
  4. Political parties to lead by example. Root out corruption wherever it exists and commit to the naming and shaming irrespective of who is involved
  5. Citizens to act responsibly and rather than take cheap swipes and snide comments at each other, engage with your communities and don’t wait for government to fix all the problems
  6. Commit to becoming an attractive country for foreign investment and remove obstacles to the creation of small businesses
  7. Commit to reducing cost of doing business in Sub-Saharan Africa so as to drive a regional market and boosting trade in Africa
  8. Mainstream entrepreneurship learning in schools and universities
  9. Pay attention to our environment, because we only have one planet and so we need to take care of it
  10. Publish the success stories and highlight role models in all sectors of society so to give our youth hope.

Useful resources:
Rhodes Business School
The essence of Rhodes Business School is ‘Leadership for Sustainability’ and our vision is to be the business school of choice for those aspirant leaders and managers who are committed to applying sustainable business practices.
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