South Africa has an opportunity and a responsibility to lead Africa into prosperity. Every conversation South Africa has on Africa is fraught with accusations and counter accusations. Some South Africans, both rich and poor feel that they have no moral responsibility to look after Africa’s refugees and economic migrants. The conversation gets very acrimonious whenever Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Commander in Chief Julius Malema, an unapologetic Pan Africanist speaks.
The ruling party, African National Congress (ANC) since taking power has been trying to pacify both domestic and African constituents in cognisance of the important role Africa played during the fight against Apartheid. There is a strong constituent within the party advocating a nationalistic approach. This approach has been reflected by the language ANC leaders have taken in some instances in the past. President Ramaphosa was accused of fanning flames of Xenophobia when he spoke of regulating foreign businesses at an election rally in March 2019. In a speech following Ramaphosa’s announcement of the Coronavirus economic plan on the 24th April 2020, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni announced a locals first policy.
During the funeral of former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, President Ramaphosa had to apologise to Africa after he was booed by the crowd while giving a eulogy following Xenophobic attacks on African migrants. Aside the EFF, most political parties including the official opposition Democratic Alliance tend to take a nationalistic stance on immigration. Recently the former Mayor of Johannesburg Herman Mashaba has become a rallying point for those who want the government to take a tougher approach to foreign nationals, “makwerekwere” as they are known.
While the anti-foreign policies might pacify citizenry in the short term, it is not the most prudent approach in the long term for Africa’s most prosperous economy. South Africa has and is facing deep structural economic problems. All but a few of its state-owned enterprises have been operating at losses for the past decade and are close to collapse. South Africa Airways is facing liquidation and Eskom, its power utility is in a similar state.
This slide will continue for some time if South Africa does not take action. South Africa should learn from Germany. As it emerged from the ruins of second world war, Germany knew it needed to change approach. The military route had been completely shut for it. Systems were put in place to ensure that Germany could not be allowed to threaten other countries militarily again. Although annihilated militarily, the desire for leadership never left the Germany people.
On realising this, the Germans decided to use the economic route. Together with the French they created the European Union. In it they created markets for their products and rocketed to number one again. While the British and the Americans were celebrating their military victory, Germany was busy climbing to the top of the ladder and this time through peaceful means. When the British finally realised that the country they had burnt to ashes was on top of the world again, they could not fathom it. Out of spite they decided to commit economic suicide and left the European Union.
Whatever people might say, the Germans are ruling the world. They lead the most prosperous and biggest market in the world without firing any bullets. South Africa should emulate that and create a rival economic market to the EU. Africa is blessed with abundant minerals and the most arable land in the world. Africa can feed the rest of the world if proper leadership is found. South Africa needs to jump at this chance as it is currently technologically and better resourced than any other country in Africa.
It can create new markets with tariff free products. To achieve this, it needs to drop the short-sighted nationalistic approach. It also needs to lead without arrogance. Leading with humility makes it easier to carry everyone with them. South Africans also need to properly identify themselves as Africans first, every time and not when it suits them. This means embracing everything within the continent including poverty and finding comprehensive solutions of tackling them.
The approach the South African government has taken in tackling the Coronavirus pandemic is commendable. Although some African countries have also rose to the occasion, South Africa is the most visible and identifiable. They need to seize the mantle and leverage the goodwill they have cultivated and lead. The ball is the South African’s court. Failure to seize it will be its downfall.