Sunday Times

How to cre­ate jobs

- PETER BRUCE Mining · Industries · Cyril Ramaphosa · Mexico · Poland · Warsaw · New Zealand · Thailand

The jobs sum­mit. It was, no doubt, a sin­cere ef­fort to find a so­lu­tion to our mon­u­men­tal lev­els of un­em­ploy­ment. It is agony watch­ing Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa try­ing to es­cape the eco­nomic mon­ster busy swal­low­ing us with­out fur­ther an­noy­ing the beast. A stim­u­lus that doesn’t stim­u­late. A mone­tary pol­icy com­mit­tee that knows it should be rais­ing in­ter­est rates but can’t. Unions that must con­stantly be soothed. The state as­sets that can’t be sold.

We South Africans talk too much and there’s a cu­ri­ous se­cu­rity in that. Per­haps the less we do, the fewer mis­takes we make?

Or have we talked so much we’ve lost sight of what we are? Yes, there’s colo­nial­ism and apartheid and cru­elty and divi­sion and dis­dain and greed and theft, and a lot of that is still around. But at our core, eco­nom­i­cally, we are a na­tion, black or white, of min­ers and farm­ers.

In our di­vi­sions we for­get that. We’re re­ally good at min­ing and farm­ing. If we could mine (and process the min­er­als a bit) and farm (and process the food a bit) at four times the cur­rent rate, we’d be much bet­ter off than get­ting stuck on grand plans to cre­ate “value chains”.

What is it with “value chains” that so fas­ci­nates our pol­i­cy­mak­ers? They’ve con­vinced them­selves that if you care­fully study how a prod­uct is made and mar­keted and con­sumed, you can re­peat one suc­cess over and over. They take hu­man er­ror or ge­nius or free will out of their equa­tions be­cause the “value chain” is Truth.

Ex­cept it isn’t. We should mine our as­tro­nomic min­eral wealth for all it’s worth. Dig it up and ship it out. That’s our part in the global “value chain”. In­stead we say, No, wait, why ship this out when it’ll just come back here as a Ja­panese screw­driver? Why don’t we make the screw­driver in­stead?

The “ben­e­fi­ci­a­tion” case sounds rea­son­able, but it’s stupid. The Ja­panese screw­driver guy al­ready has cus­tomers all over the world. When we go into his busi­ness our­selves we cre­ate a com­peti­tor where once we had a cus­tomer. We could po­ten­tially com­pete but it would have to be on price. That would mean weak­en­ing the rand un­til a litre of petrol costs more than R35.

Or we in­duce the Ja­panese guy to make his screw­drivers here, in SA. On his terms.

We won’t grow this econ­omy un­til we play to our strengths. The state is pre­par­ing to grow the num­ber of black com­mer­cial farm­ers ex­po­nen­tially. Bril­liant! We’re good farm­ers. And it doesn’t have to be com­pli­cated. There are mar­kets for every­thing. There’ve been gun bat­tles in Mex­ico for con­trol of avo­cado farms be­cause avo prices have risen so sharply. We could out­pro­duce the Mex­i­cans any day. Plant fruit trees. Ex­port the fruit. The same with plants. You just have to have land and wa­ter and pa­tience and we have it all. Pa­tience maybe not so much.

Our eco­nomic plan­ning should be sim­ple: en­sure a young farmer can har­vest an or­ange on a Thurs­day and have it in a mar­ket in War­saw, Poland, on Satur­day. It means build­ing good roads and more air­ports. There’s the link be­tween good in­fra­struc­ture and pros­per­ity.

And then there’s the one slam-dunk get-rich-quick scheme the ANC is just de­ter­mined not to grasp, a symp­tom of its ad­dic­tion to vic­tim­hood. It can’t bear to think of SA as a place where for­eign­ers come to play and have fun. It is tourism. The Namib­ians get it. I re­mem­ber a Namib­ian leader im­plor­ing his peo­ple to look af­ter tourists. “Hold them in our hands, keep them safe, make them want to re­turn,” he said.

The thing is, dear pol­i­cy­mak­ers, the ben­e­fi­ci­a­tion you seek is right in front of you.

Fruit and min­er­als can be pro­cessed or ex­ported straight. But in tourism, God has al­ready done the ben­e­fi­ci­a­tion. It is our coun­try in all its glory. It is an ex­port we don’t have to send any­where. Peo­ple will come to us.

But we make it hard and un­pleas­ant. We should is­sue 30-day visas on ar­rival, no ques­tions asked. Then those vis­i­tors will spend their hard cur­rency on us. Don’t you get it? How does New Zealand take tourism re­ceipts in 2017 of $10bn (R147.69bn) and we only man­age $9bn? How does Thai­land pull $57bn? (Clue: visas on ar­rival.)

The gov­ern­ment should trust the peo­ple more. The peo­ple are re­silient. Ask the poor. We don’t need no value chains. Let’s break them chains and do what we do best. To­gether, keep­ing it sim­ple.

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