Op-Ed: On Durban, WEF Africa, and Radical Economic Transformation

PUBLISHED: Mon, 08 May 2017 12:19:49 GMT

The city of Durban became Africa’s Davos last week as it hosted WEF Africa 2017, from the 3rd to the 5th of May. Sihle Zikalala‚ MEC for Economic Development‚ Tourism and Environmental Affairs in Kwazulu-Natal‚ had lobbied for the event to occur in Durban. It was estimated that the direct impact of hosting the event would be at least R64-million with a total impact of over R155-million.

With the majority of delegates arriving in Durban via OR Tambo airport, the city would have benefited more if it could have offered more direct flights.

The event was a great opportunity for Durban to rebrand itself after it was stripped of the hosting rights for the 2022 Commonwealth Games. It has acquired a new image, like a fresh coat of paint. It has also learned that mega events such as the Olympic Games and the Commonwealth Games are expensive to host, and divert spending from pressing social needs such as housing, healthcare, while demanding the building of additional infrastructure and superstructure.

In addition, the host country would be liable for cost overruns, which is a perennial reality of hosting mega event. South Africa had also learnt its lesson from the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The government has a high debt ratio, which was party impacted on by the huge expenditure to fund the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

The ratings agencies had expressed concern about the high debt that the state is carrying, which was one of the reasons that it downgraded South Africa. The legacy of the World Cup is evident in better roads infrastructure and world class stadia.

Besides using the 2010 World Cup as a marketing tool for investment and tourism, South Africa did not think carefully about what it sought to benefit from the event. These lessons are now part of our collective memory, which made it prudent for Durban to accept the decision to the stripped of the 2022 Commonwealth Games. South Africa was not about to give the Commonwealth a blank cheque.

The WEF Durban was hosted using existing infrastructure and it was a more sustainable event that the 2022 Commonwealth Games. The benefit came in the form of thousands of visitors who descended on the city, while the city was able to have a conversation about its investment opportunities.

In addition, the state and private sector had an opportunity to engage after the Cabinet reshuffle. The Cabinet reshuffle has hardened attitudes. It has accelerated what was dinner talk to the boardroom, raising the issue of corporate South Africa potentially having to disinvest from SA Inc. under the disguise of diversification.

The lack of trust and suspicion between the two has become a reality of the day. There is the allegation that the private sector would rather sit on R700 billion in their bank accounts that invest in their economy.

Labour instability in the post Marikana era has dampened investment, as labour unions have been reckless in demanding salaries that they don’t deserve. This led to retrenchments, but it is alleged that the union leadership couldn’t care less as they live a life of opulence and abundance.

The retrenchments have thrown millions of South Africans into a sea of poverty, unemployment and inequality. The state has failed to manage labour instability, and crime is too high – forcing businesses to spend a disproportionate amount of money on security, which should be the responsibility of the state.

Today, capital is concerned about the direction of our country, ranging from state capture to threats about property rights. The state is failing to address these issues, and instead the political rhetoric has taken a racist tone in the epithet White Monopoly Capital.

Those leading the rhetoric do not have the R700 billion to create thousands of jobs, that money is held within the private sector. Capital is a motive force that must be engaged to invest in our economy to create jobs and prosperity.

With jobs, our citizens would be able to fend for themselves and depend less on the state which has more than 17 million social grant dependents. Poverty is not a nice thing – it is a form of lifetime apartheid that deprives the human spirit of its huge potential.

I will only believe Radical Economic Transformation if it achieves what Dudley Seers wrote in The Meaning of Development: “The questions to ask about a country’s development are therefore: What is happening to poverty? What has been happening to unemployment? What has been happening to inequality? If all three of these have declined from high levels, then beyond doubt this has been a period of development’’.

Radical economic transformation must never result in radical economic irresponsibility. Restoring human dignity with jobs and a growing economy is the ultimate act of patriotism that must be dividend of democracy.

Unathi Sonwabile Henama teaches tourism at the Tshwane University of Technology and writes in his personal capacity.

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