By Chris Bishop
At time when many finance ministers around the world would be tearing their hair out, through the cloud of crisis came finance minister Tito Mboweni’s vision of a post-COVID-19 Utopia. A country with fewer Chinese imports bustling factories full of young hopefuls and a new South African airline flying overhead.
This was the word from Mboweni as he laid out his government’s R800 billion package of tax relief for corporates and more money for those on social grants in what he sees as a war for national survival as much as a plan to deal with a pandemic.
“This is like a war and everyone needs to go to the front to deal with this,” says Mboweni.
Looking to the future he said the South African economy should think hard about what it is going to look like after COVID-19 has wreaked its havoc on business.
“When companies rise from the ashes they should be thinking of new ways of doing business. We should be rid of the old ideas and imagine the new… We must take young people, who are not in education or employment and train them into economic activity,” says Mboweni.
“We should be thinking about projects like expanding Durban Harbour. The other day Pravin Gordhan was talking about building a new airline from the ashes of SAA. We should set up a new national agriculture board that will identify our under-utilized fields.”
Mboweni said the country should also look at new mines and making more of what it consumes in what he said could be the economy.
“We should set up manufacturing to make what we need and stop relying on imports from China,” says Mboweni.
In a country where almost one in three are unemployed, Mboweni’s words are likely to be popular. Yet the dream appeared beyond the South African economy when it was booming 15 years ago in the good times before junk status..
There is a precedent. When the former Rhodesia – now Zimbabwe – became a rebel state in 1965 by breaking away from Britain – it suffered sanctions imposed from its former imperial masters . At the time, Rhodesia imported about 90 % of all its goods from Britain and made the remainder at home. A few years into sanctions the reverse was true and the country built up a robust manufacturing sector based on import substitution.
If this could support a pariah rebel state in Africa in the 20th century, maybe it could help support a democratic state in Africa in the 21st century.