The de­cline doesn’t hap­pen overnight

CityPress - - Business - Muzi Kuzwayo busi­ness@city­press.co.za

Wealth is like wa­ter, it is lost when badly man­aged. Ly­ing be­tween Kaza­khstan and Uzbek­istan, the Aral Sea, which was known as the sea of a thou­sand is­lands, is now largely dry as a re­sult of one of the planet’s worst en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ters.

Dur­ing the days of the Soviet Union, the gov­ern­ment di­verted the rivers that sup­plied it with wa­ter in or­der to ir­ri­gate the many agri­cul­tural projects in the re­gion.

The fish­ing in­dus­try that once thrived, is now al­most non-ex­is­tent. At its peak it em­ployed 60 000 peo­ple in the 1950s.

De­cay­ing boats are trapped in the dry seabed as if they’re hos­tile wit­nesses in what is now called the Aralkum Desert.

Lakes, seas, na­tions and cities need a con­stant sup­ply of mys­tique and good­will to at­tract trade which will then cre­ate em­ploy­ment for the lo­cals. When these are in short sup­ply, for what­ever rea­son, busi­ness leaves.

Mo­gadishu, in So­ma­lia, is the Aral Sea of busi­ness. In the year 1331 AD, the great Moroc­can scholar and trav­eller Muham­mad Ibn Bat­tuta wrote: “Mo­gadishu is a very large town. The peo­ple are mer­chants and very rich … Here they man­u­fac­ture the tex­tiles called af­ter the name of the town; these are of su­pe­rior qual­ity and are ex­ported to Egypt and other places.”

To­day Mo­gadishu is a sea of poverty that is syn­ony­mous with war and piracy. The de­cline doesn’t hap­pen overnight. The myth of Nel­son Man­dela, called Madiba Magic, brought in­vest­ment to South Africa as Ger­man car man­u­fac­tur­ers poured money into their plants. Our ports ex­pe­ri­enced un­prece­dented de­lays be­cause no one had an­tic­i­pated the eco­nomic boom. Our num­berone sales­man, Thabo Mbeki, got busy with for­eign lead­ers and in­ter­na­tional in­vestors. They loved this coun­try. Tourism boomed, money flowed, RDP houses were built, clin­ics mush­roomed, jobs were cre­ated, money was made and the black mid­dle class dou­bled. Of course, there were some glar­ing mis­takes. Drive around the small fish­ing vil­lages to see the dev­as­ta­tion caused by the poli­cies of the for­mer min­is­ter of en­vi­ron­men­tal af­fairs, Valli Moosa, with his Soviet-era ap­pa­ratchik at­ti­tude.

Greed in­vaded our beau­ti­ful land like pow­er­ful weeds that can crack boul­ders.

The Madiba Magic waned, our in­vest­ment grades be­came poorer, money left, in­vestors fol­lowed it and the re­ces­sion came.

Johannesburg is far from turn­ing into Mo­gadishu, but the signs are there.

The gov­ern­ment has taken a hos­tile stance to­wards busi­ness, es­pe­cially small busi­ness, whose ar­ter­ies are se­verely con­stricted by bu­reau­cracy. Big busi­ness is fine, it can af­ford to em­ploy peo­ple to deal with all the pa­per work. It also has the prof­its to in­vest off­shore, but small busi­ness is stuck like the fish in the Aral Sea. The suf­fer­ing will be long, slow and painful. As South Africans we need to stop think­ing of suf­fer­ing as our birthright and re­alise that bad things have not hap­pened only to us, and that they are as nat­u­ral as death and sick­ness.

It is time to ditch Jorge San­tayana’s non­sen­si­cal edict “Those who do not re­mem­ber the past are con­demned to re­peat it” be­cause causal cir­cum­stances are never con­stant.

Those who will make progress in this quag­mire of time are those who spend their en­ergy build­ing a bet­ter to­mor­row rather than try­ing to find a place in the glory of his­tory.

Free­dom does not end when the shack­les are dis­carded, but when de­pen­dency ends. Re­spect is not im­bued by pro­to­cols but when the rea­son to beg has been elim­i­nated.

And wealth is cre­ated not when par­ents show off, but when they save for the ben­e­fit of their off­spring.

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