South Africa’s Third Decade of Democracy
Minister Molewa in the 2013 Water Budget Speech in Parliament talked of next year, 2014, as the beginning of the South Africa’s Third Decade of Democracy (3-DD). She said that "as we approach the third decade of democratic governance, we reassure all South Africans that we will spare no effort in realising their dreams as well as the resolve of the democratic movement to build a 'better life for all'".
This is indeed an admirable goal and the vision of a water successful future for South Africa will surely resonate with all South Africans. We shall obviously organise our efforts to modify our water behaviours at both personal and corporate levels around efficient water use and management, support and partner the programmes to build new, as well as rehabilitate and maintain older water infrastructure, and of course participate in the campaigns to ensure 100% payment for services. Or shall we? In most of the public dialogues we have on such issues, the first barrage is focussed on the shortcomings of the current system/government. Phrases like “inefficiency”, “corruption”, “loss of skills and competencies” tend to dominate. In effect what are presented are two very questionable positions:
The first position is that at some point in the past, South Africa had an ideal water situation. This was of course true for that segment of the South African population that the Apartheid government took care of, at the expense of the vast disadvantaged majority. In its quest to create a White utopia in the South, the Apartheid regime spared no effort to ensure that its little European enclaves did indeed have all they needed on tap (excuse the pun). We know now that this was done at the cost of denying any reasonable service to the majority, let alone the moral and social costs associated with this crime against humanity.
The second questionable position is that this democratic, non-racial South Africa will not be able to pull off this task. Resident in this view is a reasonable pinch of racism and a good dollop of Afro-pessimism. The latter finds it expression in the broader South African discourse regularly, to the extent that Africa Day passed us all by with more discretion than was polite this year. Each day our news broadcasts are filled with the economic woes of Europe and North America, phrased as the “Global” economic crises. This in spite of the fact that most of the developing world and Africa in particular is on a strong growth trajectory. South Africa and South Africans need to decide where they stand.
Ernst and Young’s 2013 Africa Attractiveness Survey offers some useful data supporting this statement. Sub-Saharan Africa’s economic output grew from USD 344.1 billion in 2000 to USD 1334.2 billion in 2012, a growth of 287%. Africa as a whole was the leading world region in terms of the number of countries that grew at 7% p.a. on average over the 2000–2009 period. Africa boasted 11 countries, with Asia in second place on 10. Here again it is important to see the difference between those business leaders who have active operations in Africa versus those with no business presence in Africa. Of the former group surveyed, 86% believed that Africa’s attractiveness would improve in the next 3 years while only 47% of those without a footprint on the continent believed this to be the case.
The cherry on the top of the Africa Attractiveness Survey is that 41% of respondents put South Africa as the most attractive country to do business with and 61% put South Africa in the top three.
This is in no way denying that Africa still has many challenges to deal with, but South Africans considering a different African view may change the global sentiment about the continent and may markedly improve South Africa’s economic outlook and future.
Similarly, if we can deal with a small number of powerful opinion makers who are strongly driven by schadenfreude, we could positively change South Africa’s water fortunes. We have the foundation of a small but strong water science and technology community who have ensured that South African water science is in the world’s top 20. We have a crusading Minister who is undaunted by the challenge. We have emerging partnerships with industry in the form of the SWPN (Strategic Water Partners Network). We have a much more empowered civil society who are expressing on the one hand their dissatisfaction through social protest and on the other hand a willingness for partnership, as has been experienced in many projects of the Water Research Commission in recent times.
These, together with the Presidential Infrastructure Programme and the National Development Plan, appear to be the right ingredients to realise the 3-DD vision of a better life for all through a water successful future. A key contributor will be an ability to look at it a little differently, and tinge the scepticism with just a little coating of optimism.
Dhesigen Naidoo is the CEO of the Water Research Commission and writing in his personal capacity.