The month of May kick-starts the commemoration of the 50th anniversary celebration of the founding of the OAU, as well as the African Union which was founded little over a decade ago. It is also a good time for the Union to reflect on how far it has come in its mission to “promote an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena”.
A McKinsey report reveals that despite the obvious challenges such as conflict, a shift in economic and social policy could see Africa making headway in the long run in terms of development.
The report classifies African states into three categories: Diversified economies; South Africa forms part of this group along with Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia. These countries are said to be the most developed, with the least volatile GDP.
The second categories of states are those in the Transition phase; countries such as Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya are included in this group. These ones are not nearly as developed as the first group, though exhibiting potential for growth. Pre-transition economies such as the DRC, Ethiopia and Mali constitute the third category of countries with the lowest GDP and are still very poor.
This is the state of Africa fifty years on. The truth is that the continent remains generally poor relative to its abundant natural resources. South Africa has played a key role in many developmental endeavours (such as NEPAD, SADC) both in the Southern African region and the continent at large through the contribution of financial and human resources.
Therefore, it is not surprising that recent reports of negative statements by Zambian deputy president, Guy Scott about South Africa (and South Africans in general) put a damper on things for some of us who believe that despite our country’s internal discord- within the international arena-South Africa has proven itself to be a force to be reckoned with. While I believe his statements were lacking tact, the level of truth in them cannot simply be swept under the carpet.
One of the statements made by Scott was one pertaining to the historical (under) development of South Africa in comparison to other African states. While at face value it appears that Scott is ignorant of the structural development in this country; the reality is that the rampant corruption, looting of state resources and abuse of public funds is undermining economic growth. Other areas compromised include education and health care and sanitation, which South Africa should, ideally, have under control.
In the eyes of Guy Scott and others who share his perspective, South Africa is a lot like the self-absorbed and ignorant spoilt brat of the continent who has most things at her disposal. In most instances her people refer to the greater Africa as the ‘other’ and suffer from severe xenophobia. This is despite the fact that her children have one of the lowest ratings of literacy and numeracy skills at basic education level- ultimately resulting in an inadequately skilled workforce.
Having listened to many ‘comic’ yet equally alarming conversations by some ladies on regular commutes to work, passing the snaking queues at the Home Affairs branch in Marabastad; it is clear how ignorant ordinary South Africans are to the harsh realities faced by fellow Africans. This is often revealed in statements that suggest that the demise of Mandela will signal the mass exodus of all immigrants. The snaking queues on the other hand, reveal the stark reality that, for many refugees and asylum seekers, South Africa is a beacon of hope.
Without seeking to justify our obvious short-comings as South Africans, the large influx of our fellow Africans is a burden on the economy of the country, and the scramble for scarce resources a direct consequence of that.How does Mr Scott suggest resolving this?
Truth hurts. Naturally, when confronted with absolute and unadulterated truth the first response is denial. However, the revelation of truth offers one the opportunity to reflect positively on what the implications are and how to best go about managing change (if any). So, the truth really acts as a necessary control measure to ensure that we don’t get caught up in our own illusion.
Of course South Africa has its own demons, but so does the rest of Africa.The latter, whose citizens make up the numbers of refugees and asylum seekers in the country, need to do some introspection of their own. The Guy Scotts of this world also need to be part of the solution and not merely criticize at will.Now is as good a time as any, especially within the context of the 50th anniversary of the OAU.