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Just desserts

Nov 26 2010 05:30 Jan de Lange

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A COUNTRY and its people get the government they deserve.

South Africa has so many issues with obvious solutions, but the government simply has neither the will nor the resolve to do anything about them. This reminds one of the old adage: for a politician it is safest to just talk.

This has for many years applied to what former president Thabo Mbeki and his then deputy, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, singled out as South Africa's most important obstacle shortly after the 2004 election.

Mbeki, of course, declared the intention of raising the country's economic growth rate to above 6% a year. To this end he drew up the accelerated shared growth initiative for South Africa (Asgisa) – described in a brochure with a colourful cover and clever plans in elaborate wording.

It was Mbeki’s version of industrial strategy and a development plan focused on microeconomic issues.


But this would clearly serve no purpose because of the country’s lack of skills – professional skills, particularly in engineering, finance (such as accountants and auditors) and the health sector.

For the first time government acknowledged South Africa’s acute shortage of artisans – backbone professions for a country wanting to develop its infrastructure - as well as a culture of entrepreneurship in the manufacturing sector.

During the apartheid years the trades were probably the professions in which work reservation took the most scandalous toll of Coloured people. Today this is something that could reduce one to tears.

Had we created pride in artisanship among our Coloured people, had there been proper realisation of the value of skills in which people could use their hands creatively, our problems would have been far smaller.

But tears are to no avail.

What would help is to get enough skilled people into occupations that create jobs. To that end, an Asgisa subdivision was specially created with yet another acronym ending in "sa": the joint initiative for priority skills acquisition, or Jipsa.

State-entrenched xenophobia   

If we could recruit the correct skills from abroad in this way, investment would also be attracted to the country. We would be able to turn technology to better account, build the infrastructure that we need, and even improve our schools and hospitals – as well as create jobs.

Jipsa made provision for importing the skills we were unable to find domestically.

Because a dysfunctional education system simply cannot produce the skills we require, it is virtually impossible to get them unless they are imported.

It's a good plan – except that the social manipulators have given themselves the tremendous responsibility of seeing to it that no foreigner who could possibly take work out of South African hands may enter the country.

Xenophobia is not limited to underdeveloped communities – it's a reality within state bureaucracy, which has a complex and practically impenetrable system of quotas limiting work permits.

In 2008 the department of labour reckoned that the country had a shortage of 502 000 skilled workers –which was probably an underestimate, said the Centre for Development and Enterprise, the research organisation funded by the private sector which has maybe carried out more research on skills development than any other body in South Africa.

The centre has taken great care to calculate the size of the quota set by the department of home affairs in 2008 for skilled foreigners permitted to enter the country. This department somehow or other came up with the figure of 36 000.

How many skilled foreigners then used the privilege of coming to work here? Exactly 1 133.

Deadly lethargy to poison man and beast

It's difficult to believe that a government appointed by its voters with an overwhelming majority is unable to exercise better control over state bureaucrats and thus avoid sabotaging its economic objectives.

And what should one make of the impending acid mine water disaster which has now become unavoidable, and which the mining industry scientifically and with incredible accuracy predicted many years ago? For 18 months a rational, logical and affordable solution lay on the table.

Could a government be so hopeless as not to grab this opportunity?

The government was adequately warned that the acid mine effluent streaming from the old Swartrif shaft in Randfontein in the Western Witwatersrand basin would cause an ecological disaster.

The officials took no notice. Today the results are there for all to see – just take a look at the Krugersdorp Game Reserve or speak to farmers on the West Rand.

One has to accept that the same fate inevitably lies in store for the rest of the Witwatersrand basin – but on a scale four times the size.

Despite everything, government will blame the mining industry. If the voters believe this, they deserve the government they get.

In 2004, former president Thabo Mbeki already identified a shortage of skills as South Africa's principal problem, and six years later government has still done nothing about it.

 - Fin24

 

jan de lange  |  economic growth
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