With only moderate expectations for South Africa’s economic growth this year, especially amid political uncertainty ahead of the national elections, part-time lecturer at the Wits School of Governance Professor Ebrahim Fakir on Thursday said that, especially in the business environment, “people have to accept that it cannot be ‘business as usual’”.
Speaking at the University of Stellenbosch Business School’s (USB’s) Executive Development and the Institute for Future Research’s joint business knowledge seminar, held in Sandton, on Thursday, he said this year would be distinguished by several themes.
Some of these include an expected stabilisation period, while service delivery and certainty surrounding government institutions remain in limbo. Accountability, oversight, ethics and morality will also continue to play a key role in the sector.
In a country that is faced with high levels of unemployment (27.5%), poverty and a gloomy outlook for gross domestic product growth, USB faculty member Dr Nthabiseng Moleko said that even though South Africa is “clustered in the same category as other developing countries”, its growth levels are not high enough to sustain the levels of development needed to push the economy forward.
She highlighted that the country’s agricultural and mining sectors, which have been embattled with increasing climate change risks, such as droughts, and volatile commodity prices, would, under normal circumstances, drive growth, but have been unable to do so in recent years.
To turn the situation around, Moleko told delegates at the seminar that an increasing shift towards improving not just trade, but also increasing foreign direct investment, would be imperative for South Africa to avoid a disaster.
Akin to this is an increased focus on and continued improvement in the country’s education, which both Moleko and African Capacity Building Foundation executive secretary Professor Emmanuel Nnadozie believe is critical moving forward.
However, Nnadozie warned that education, especially that of tertiary institutions, is “not the silver bullet to all of South Africa’s problems”.
During his presentation, he welcomed the drawing up of the country’s National Development Plan (NDP) – a long-term development plan which stipulates how South Africa intends to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality, while also accelerating growth in the economy.
While it’s goal are “very desirable”, Nnadozie stated that, within the NDP framework, an increasing focus needs to be placed on improving the quality of education in the country, so that the country is in a position to compete on globally competitive standards.
He explained that higher and better education will contribute to a rise in income, which would, in turn, impact on poverty rates, while higher productivity would have a favourable impact on the local economy.
In a nutshell, Nnadozie said that, while progress had been made, challenges remained, especially considering that skills development initiatives were not always delivering the desired outcomes, or that some graduates were not able to apply their learning to real-world situations.
Not all is lost, however, as he highlighted that basic education had been on an upward trend with improving matric pass rates year-on-year, “even though the margin is sometimes by just 2%”.
The number of university graduates and youth with a national senior certificate, had also increased.
In the interim, he pointed out that issues such as the quality of primary education, math and science education, as well as the availability of scientists and engineers locally, will need to be addressed before significant progress can be anticipated.
Institutional development, education delivery in the form of teaching, as well as better educational outcomes and the capacity to implement policy locally will also need to be dealt with.