In­no­va­tion helps up­lift the poor, en­sures real rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion

Musk and Xuza should in­spire South Africans

Sowetan - - Opinion - Vus­lat Bayo­glu ■ Bayo­glu is ex­ec­u­tive chair­man of Canyon Coal

Pre­to­ria-born Elon Musk, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Tesla, is one of the world lead­ers of rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion.

Not the po­lit­i­cally con­tro­ver­sial ver­sion. He is part of the Fourth In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion that has the po­ten­tial to change life­styles and pro­duc­tion meth­ods on a global scale.

To ap­pre­ci­ate the rad­i­cal ex­tent of Musk’s trans­for­ma­tion ini­tia­tives, watch Tesla cre­ate sleek elec­tric cars and pow­er­ful bat­ter­ies.

The dol­lar bil­lion­aire who lives in the US wasn’t born a mil­lion­aire. He has his own rags to riches story. But it is a story that should in­spire South Africans who would like to trans­form not only their own lives, but the lives of oth­ers through in­no­va­tion.

Fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Musk is Siyab­ulela Xuza, a young man from Mthatha in the Eastern Cape, who ob­tained an en­ergy en­gi­neer­ing de­gree from Har­vard Uni­ver­sity. While at Har­vard, Xuza in­vented cells that can make the bat­ter­ies of gad­gets like cell­phones last longer. His achieve­ment has won him in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion.

The Lin­coln Lab­o­ra­tory in the US was so im­pressed with his achieve­ment it named a planet dis­cov­ered in 2000 after him. We now have planet Siyax­uza in the main as­teroid belt near Jupiter.

Musk and Xuza are the gen­uine role mod­els of rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion. Their tech­nolo­gies have a huge po­ten­tial to change the way we live, play and do busi­ness.

The hope­less­ness that one en­coun­ters on the streets is de­press­ing but the work of Musk and Xuza shows that we have the po­ten­tial to turn things around if we get our priorities right.

We need part­ner­ships that work be­tween govern­ment and the pri­vate sec­tor. It’s un­help­ful that not much is be­ing done to im­prove pri­vate sec­tor con­fi­dence to en­cour­age huge in­vest­ments.

The govern­ment des­per­ately needs a thriv­ing pri­vate sec­tor that can grow the cake, which can then be shared. This re­quires a rad­i­cal change in mind­set, stim­u­la­tion of in­no­va­tion and creation of new prod­ucts and tech­nolo­gies.

Try­ing to re­dis­tribute a thin and shrink­ing slice of the econ­omy through in­ef­fi­cient spend­ing of state re­sources means ev­ery­one be­comes equal but poor – ex­cept for the po­lit­i­cal elites.

It’s im­por­tant for ad­vo­cates of rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion to un­der­stand that the power of govern­ment to change peo­ple’s lives de­clines if pri­vate sec­tor in­vest­ment is not en­cour­aged.

Gov­ern­ments don’t cre­ate in­vest­ments or jobs. Com­pa­nies do. All that govern­ment needs to do is to cre­ate the right con­di­tions for in­vest­ment and in­no­va­tion to thrive. So, it is the duty of gov­ern­ments to at­tract brains that can in­no­vate.

The US is an en­gine of in­no­va­tion for the likes of Musk and at­tracted a ge­nius like Xuza be­cause it has de­signed in­sti­tu­tions that make it easy and at­trac­tive for in­no­va­tors from all over the world to make it their home. We too can do it.

It is wor­ry­ing that we are not in­no­vat­ing fast enough. The World Bank’s 10th edi­tion of South Africa’s Eco­nomic Up­date re­leased last month pro­vides a wakeup call.

The re­port ex­plains how in­no­va­tion can help up­lift the poor. In our fash­ion­able po­lit­i­cal lan­guage, it means in­no­va­tion en­sures rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion.

The Word Bank re­port says in­no­va­tion in­flu­ences the wel­fare of low-in­come house­holds by re­duc­ing their cost of liv­ing within sec­tors that have an im­pact on their daily lives, such as public trans­porta­tion, food and agri­cul­ture. It men­tions an un­con­ducive busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment, ex­pen­sive trad­ing costs and low skills base as im­ped­i­ments to in­no­va­tion and start-up com­pa­nies in South Africa.

This frank as­sess­ment by the World Bank re­port gives us the ba­sis on which we can build the pil­lars of the real rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion driven by in­no­va­tion. That’s what we need right now. For­tu­nately, we have Musk and Xuza to look up to.


Siyab­ulela Xuza, who in­vented cells that can make the bat­ter­ies of gad­gets like cell­phones last longer, is a gen­uine role model of rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion, says the wtiter.

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