What kind of South Africa do we want?

Phumlani Majozi says we must refrain from adopting a mindset that our national goals can be accomplished through shortcuts

As we wrap up year 2023, having learned the lessons, and about to start year 2024, now is the time to reflect on the kind of South Africa we want to live in. The reflection is important given that in 2024, we will mark 30 years as a democratic society.

Former President Thabo Mbeki once said that “we need a critical self-assessment of ourselves as Africans”. Now is the time for that self-assessment.

In my book “Lessons from Past Heroes”, published last month in South Africa, I have a chapter titled “South Africa since democracy began”. In that chapter, I reflect on the failures and successes of our democratic society. It’s a relevant chapter on the question of “What kind of a South Africa do we want to live in?”. Also a timely chapter as we will be marking 30 years of our democracy.

We must refrain from adopting a mindset that our national goals can be accomplished through shortcuts, without putting in much effort. Such a mindset will be the end of us. No society of our kind, with its huge challenges can take shortcuts in building sustainable, long-lasting foundations of prosperity.

That we are part of the African continent, the most destitute continent in the world, makes things more challenging. However, such a misfortune must not discourage us from forging ahead in the building of our nation.

It's imperative that we think at a global level given that as a nation state, we operate in the international system that has become hyper-competitive. Nations can only be relevant, in this hyper-competitive world, if they embark on reform that bolsters their economies. It all hinges on the right reform, right policy choices. However, we should remember that such reforms can be hard to adopt and implement in democracies as some interest groups may be opposed to them. That’s the nature of a democratic system of governance – implementing policing can be difficult as policies undergo scrutiny, debate, with various forces pulling in opposite directions.

Given such realities about democratic societies, strong leadership is critical if the country is to survive in this competitive international system. As our crucial national election approaches, we must ask, what kind of leader do we want to lead us? Is it a strong leader who will be brave enough to confront our colossal problems? Or is it a leader who will kowtow to interest groups and be slow on reform?

With weak leadership we cannot be able to propel South Africa to global prominence Our votes at the election next year will be consequential. The consequences will be both on domestic and foreign policy. A new path on these two areas of policy is needed and will not be brought by a weak, spineless leader, who is indecisive.

Do we want a country that perpetuates victimhood dogmas, resentments, envy, instils inferiority amongst its citizens, continuously blames apartheid for failure of its leaders? Or do we want a country that cultivates, fosters a culture of achievement and hard work? We all have to put in the work to better South Africa. It begins with us as individuals, and then trickles down to families, and then to communities, and then, to provincial and national level.

We all have equal responsibility to fix South Africa, regardless of race, gender, or region. Nobody should think they are better than others, or that they are owed something by other citizens.

Politicians thrive on the mobilization of resentments, brainwash people by promising them all kinds of “free goodies”. When they parrot these ideologies, they omit the fact that the money that finances the government does not drop from the sky or grow from trees. It comes from citizens who work hard for it.

The tax system is a mechanism by governments to forcefully transfer money from its original owners who earned it, to a myriad of state programs that are largely ineffective and inefficient. As politicians will be going around promising us “free goodies” ahead of the election, let’s remember these facts. No government program is free, as late Nobel economist Milton Friedman once said.

It is high time we build a country premised on robust economic productivity, fuelled by uniting public policies that unlock our potential. We must refuse being led by divisive leaders who want to enrich themselves at the expense of our peace and harmony. A nation of our kind has potential to outcompete many countries in the globe. However, we will not achieve that if we foster a culture of envy and entitlement, and promote policies such as wealth tax, land expropriation without compensation, race based policies like BEE.

Do we want a society where men and women make children and fathers are not there for their children? The negative societal impact of broken families has been well researched and documented over the past decades. South Africa’s disturbing rates of fatherlessness must come down. This is an issue that can be effectively addressed by us private citizens, not government bureaucracies. You can't overlook the rate of broken families as a contributor to the high rates of inequality in the country. It's also a contributor to the staggering rates of violence in black communities. We cannot afford a fatherless society. The price we are paying is too high.

Do we want a South Africa that is characterized by low crime rates, where citizens live in safety, jog at night in metropolitan areas? Or do we want a South Africa with rampant crime? Economist Thomas Sowell once said, “If you are not prepared to use force to defend civilization, then be prepared to accept barbarism ”. No markets, or businesses can thrive and create jobs in a society infested with crime.

According to a report by the World Bank recently, crime costs South Africa 10% of its GDP annually. Terrible! Murder rate has risen over the past 10 years. This is an extremely unsafe country. However, the good news is that this can be stopped, or I should say, the scary levels of crime can be drastically reduced in a few years. It's incompetence of the ANC administration that has left us living in danger.

Our official unemployment rate does not have to be less than 10% to drastically reduce crime; it can be done even at the current level of official unemployment rate, which is 32%. What lets us down is weak law and order, weak justice system. Citizens’ safety must be the first priority for our government.

What kind of foreign policy do we want as we begin year 2024? Is it a foreign policy modelled on the 20th century, during the Cold War, or a new, fresh foreign policy that factors in the geopolitical realities of today?

South Africa has a huge role to play on the global stage. It remains a superpower in Sub-Saharan Africa. It must aim to capitalize on that. Being anti-Israel is not in our interest. We should be advocating for peace between Israel and Palestine. Even Arab nations have been in the process of normalizing relations with Israel in recent years.

A new South Africa is needed, and the question of what country we want to live in is critical as we start year 2024. A society that does not ask such questions imperils itself and will find itself lagging behind because it overlooked the critical questions that can help revamp itself.

Happy New Year!

Phumlani M. Majozi is author of a new book “Lessons from Past Heroes” and a macroeconomist analyst. His website is phumlanimajozi.com. Follow him on Twitter: @PhumlaniMMajozi.