Horizons

My daughter once dated a helicopter pilot, he told me that flying a chopper was quite different to a fixed wing aircraft in that you had to pay particular attention to your horizons. I think that in national affairs we often make the mistake of not watching our horizons as we get so fixated on the problems at home and on the ground.

What is on our horizon at present that we should be watching?

For me the one thing is the fact that Africa is slowly breaking out of the egg that was laid at Independence many years ago. I have recently been travelling and visited 5 African States north of our borders – they are all making strong progress in critical areas – economic growth and diversification, infrastructure, services and governance. All have now got a functioning democracy and confidence in themselves and their capacity to run their own affairs.

Up to Independence and then for many years, despite all the rhetoric about Pan African ism, we have remained Euro centric and looked outside of Africa for aid, financial services, goods and services and export markets. Now suddenly these things are all available on the continent. Yesterday I was talking at breakfast with a Director of a local Bank that has just been bought out by an investor from Tanzania.

Just take South Africa, which in my view is still locked in the egg that was laid in 1994; they have spent a lot of time and energy in recent years trying to play a role in Bricks – the alliance that brings together Brazil, China, India and Russia. Pre 1994 South Africans regarded themselves as “not part of Africa”. Somehow different, even superior; this attitude is being perpetuated by the new leadership who have taken this mantra on board. It is a mistake.

South Africa’s future lies in Africa; it is one of several States who have the potential to become centers of innovation, enterprise, manufacturing and service provider. For these products they have a clear advantage over the Brick countries – proximity, culture and logistics. Its old model of growth based on the extraction and export of raw materials is no longer working. The gold mines are too deep, the costs per tonne of their iron ore, coal and other products such as platinum are no longer competitive and these previous drivers of growth are in decline.

In any event they cannot absorb South Africa’s new generations of educated and increasingly sophisticated young people. South Africa needs to industrialize and their logical markets are in Africa. South African professionals need to fan out over the continent using their skills as accountants, lawyers, engineers and miners. If you take out of the SADC region the four economies that are not performing (South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe) you are left with a region that generates about $500 billion a year in GDP and imports of over $100 billion a year and will expand this year faster than any other region on earth. US dollars generated by Zambian copper and Angolan oil, can be spent in South Africa on goods and services.

If South Africa recognised that its future lay with Africa and especially in the SADC region of Africa, they would pay more attention to regional needs for infrastructure and all sorts of imports. Just look at the Zimbabwean economy - $16 billion GDP with foreign trade of over $10 billion and over 60 per cent with South Africa. That is real demand, real growth; long term sustainable growth away from the extractive sector which is dying.

Another horizon issue is climate change. South Africa is already a net importer of water, food, timber and energy and if it is to grow, it is going to have to depend on imports to a much greater extent than previously. With climate change, South Africa is predicted to become drier and this will change the face of the South African economy and make it much more dependent on the other countries of the SADC for their needs. In turn this will create new industries in the countries with the potential to supply South African demand.

When you put all these factors together, the horizon is loaded with new opportunities and risks or even threats. If ignored, these will threaten the stability of the region and its 15 Member States. If factored into our common future these very issues could become the drivers of growth and help lift Southern Africa out of poverty and dependence to the ranks of middle income States with growing ability to compete internationally.

The other horizon issue in my view, is infrastructure – shipping and ports, roads, railways, pipelines and air transport, border management, energy, water, health services, education and science and technology, information systems – the list is endless and all loaded with opportunity. In South Africa, a business dinosaur from the apartheid era, National Newspapers (Pty) Limited has been transformed in 20 years into the third largest media group in the world. South Africa leads the world in mining technology. Three of its Universities are ranked in the top 500 in the World.

If we do not invest human energy and time into regional cooperation and the development of systems for the movement of people, goods and services across efficient and low cost networks, we are not going anywhere. I was shocked last week to see the national Chinese Railways constructing a new road outside Francistown – why not a South African firm like Group 5? How on earth can a Chinese firm outbid a regional company on a basic job like that – and then import the equipment and many of the people required.

We want to play in the big league but cannot solve the problem of congestion and corruption at Beitbridge border post? Beitbridge holds up every truck carrying goods northwards by anything up to four, even five days. With nearly 1000 trucks a day crossing the Bridge, this cost runs to many hundreds of millions a year. It represents a tax with no benefits to anyone except the corrupt officials at the Bridge, on every citizen who lives in Central Africa and reduces the competitiveness of regional goods. If you travel from Gaborone to Johannesburg the border crossing is a formality, crossing from France into Germany and you not even have to get out your car. Crossing Beitbridge is often a traumatic experience for everyone, visitors, businesspersons and locals.

This list of horizon factors in our collective futures is by no means exhaustive – I am sure many could add to the list. But you get my point. We need to focus our attention on what is important for us to keep our respective countries growing and prosperous. For that to happen, experience everywhere is that you have to work together on common problems to make progress. That means regional integration and the adoption of common values and practices. This is not an optional extra – is a fundamental prerequisite for the future.

Eddie Cross,
Bulawayo, 12th October 2014