Char­ity be­gins at home

Let’s put our­selves be­fore the rest of Africa

Finweek English Edition - - Openers - BY STEPHEN MUL­HOL­LAND stephenm@fin­week.co.za

IT HAS BEEN AR­GUED in this space from time to time that South Africa does it­self no favours by iden­ti­fy­ing with the con­ti­nent of Africa and its prob­lems rather than con­cen­trat­ing its re­sources on do­mes­tic needs.

Thabo Mbeki sel­dom misses an op­por­tu­nity to re­mark that “we as Africans” be­lieve in some­thing or other and, of course, he had his min­ions in Par­lia­ment drool­ing over his “I am an African” so­lil­o­quy. Imag­ine if his Ja­panese coun­ter­part stood up in the Diet and proudly an­nounced, as if it were a world shat­ter­ing mat­ter: “I am an Ori­en­tal”.

He would prob­a­bly be shipped off for ob­ser­va­tion.

As we cling to the old and justly de­spised sys­tem of racial clas­si­fi­ca­tion, this sen­ti­ment of Mbeki’s would ap­pear to dis­qual­ify Indi- ans, Coloureds and whites from the prized ap­pel­la­tion of “African”. And, with an ar­ro­gance and cru­elty wor­thy of the Nats, our Gov­ern­ment has con­signed our Ori­en­tal cit­i­zens to a no man’s land.

Be that as it may, we were in­ter­ested to learn from the Sun­day Times man at­tend­ing the an­nual World Eco­nomic Fo­rum in Davos, Switzer­land that oth­ers are now com­ing around to the view that we should pro­mote and care for South Africa first rather than be­com­ing all misty-eyed over Mother Africa.

Re­cently your correspondent spent six weeks in the United States visit­ing Or­lando, Jack­sonville and Mi­ami in Florida and Hous­ton and Dal­las in Texas. Fol­low­ing the habits of a life­time I read the daily pa­pers wher­ever I was. Men­tion of Africa was scarce and of South Africa in­vis­i­ble.

Africa brings to mind in the av­er­age Amer­i­can images of death and de­struc­tion, open sew­ers, dark streets, starv­ing chil­dren, de­crepit Aids vic­tims and child sol­diers grin­ning be­hind their AK47s.

Of course there is the small mi­nor­ity who ac­tu­ally have pass­ports and are ad­ven­tur­ous enough to visit Africa. But if South Africa, for ex­am­ple, dis­ap­peared off the face of the earth overnight, the de­vel­oped world would hardly no­tice. We con­sume less than 1% of the world’s out­put of eth­i­cal drugs.

There are cor­po­rates whose an­nual turnover ex­ceeds our GNP. We are a pim­ple on the earth, al­though our lead­ers strut self­im­por­tantly in the cap­i­tals of the world giv­ing ad­vice left, right and cen­tre.

In Davos Brian Bruce, Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer of con­struc­tion group Murray & Roberts, told the Times: “We’re off the agenda, and I don’t think we’re helped by the views of Africa as a whole.”

Bruce added: “I think peo­ple are pre­pared to view South Africa dif­fer­ently to Africa (but) we spend too much time try­ing to stand up for the whole of Africa.”

Even the African di­rec­tor of the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum, Haiko Alfeld, agreed with Bruce’s view that SA sac­ri­fices far too much for the con­ti­nent. He com­mented that SA had “un­der­achieved” at Davos by cre­at­ing an iden­tity as the voice of Africa.”

He is quoted by the Times: “There was a de­lib­er­ate de­ci­sion made that SA in­ter­ests should be sub­sumed by African in­ter­ests here. Cer­tainly In­dia and China do not have to come here with an Asia Tiger agenda – they pro­mote them­selves.”

There’s a view, clearly, that to at­tract greater in­vest­ment flows to this coun­try SA should dis­tance it­self from Africa and its un­end­ing slide into an­ar­chy, dis­or­der, vi­o­lence and eco­nomic de­cline.

This is not to do with race. It’s to do with re­al­ity and with the re­al­ity that the role of the Gov­ern­ment in South Africa is to serve the needs of the peo­ple of SA and not those of the peo­ple of the con­ti­nent.

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