World Economic Forum Africa 2017
By Unathi Sonwabile Henama
The city of Durban hosts the World Economic Forum Africa (WEF Africa) between 3 and 5 May 2017. South Africa hosts WEF Africa after Kigali, Rwanda hosted the event in 2016. The biggest challenge facing South Africa is the stubborn unemployment rate, officially at 27%. The continued shedding of jobs since 1994 has meant the first decade of democracy was defined by jobless economic growth. Labour instability has been the order of the day in the second decade of democracy, leading to mining disinvestment, which increased after the Marikana tragedy.
South Africans remain highly indebted and a low savings rate. The investment toyi-toyi by the companies in South Africa is testament to the low business confidence. More than R720 billion lie idle in bank accounts of corporate South Africa instead of investing in the economy. The animosity and lack of trust between the state and the private sector is a reality, characterised with the emergence of #SaveSA initiative. With economic growth less than one% , it’s too low to assist millions of South Africa to escape the immorality of poverty. The recall of Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan and replacement with Malusi Gigaba has reduced investor confidence. The resignation of the Director General at the Treasury, has sent shockwaves, as this shows a loss of institutional memory.
The new Minister of Finance should have restored confidence in the markets that the change of the Minister of Finance, does not signal a change from the neo-liberal GEAR macro-economic policy. The labour unions have been incorrectly obsessed with labour broking and the national minimum wages, instead of adapting to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The need to adapt to the Fourth Industrial Revolution is the most pressing needs, as artificial intelligence has the potential to destroy jobs. This had the potential to create social instability, for a country with a high unemployment rate, and the most unequal society in the world. South Africa should be adapting, on how it seeks to benefit from the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Unfortunately, no amount of mass action would stop the force of artificial intelligence.
The labour unions must be at the forefront on devising strategies on how the adapt labour to be able to benefit from the skills required by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The World Economic Forum has identified 10 skills that will thrive during the Fourth Industrial Revolution, namely: complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management skills, coordinating with others, emotional intelligence, judgement and decision making, service orientation, negotiating, and cognitive flexibility. The Fourth Industrial Revolution can only be a force for good if there is a concerted effort by the state and the private sector to work together for a South African position on how to ‘’Prepare for the Fourth Industrial Revolution’’.
The loss of mining jobs has wreaked havoc on communities and small towns leading to the proliferation of illegal mining that has become a major crime syndicate in South Africa. The growth of job opportunities in the services sector of the economy, has been stifled by lack of skills, as the unemployed do not have the skills required by the services economy. Tourism has been growing but continues to be challenges by air access which is located in the Ministry of Transport, visa facilitation which resides in the Ministry of Home Affairs, personal safety and security which resides in the Ministry of Safety and Security, and perennial state of service delivery strikes that impact on business that should be mitigated by the Intelligence. What is clear is that the resource base that must make tourism to work, resides in other ministry’s which means that there must be a collaborative effort to ensure that tourism continues to drive economic growth. The National Tourism Sector Strategy (NTSS) sought to ensure that South Africa is one of the top 20 destinations by the year 2020. This objective would not be achieved unless we have more airlines arriving into South Africa, and we grant visa free travel to South Africa.
If we don’t do such, unemployment will remain stubborn, and Radical Economic Transformation will remain a populist rhetoric, absent with substance and a professional untruth. Today the forces of globalisation driven by the technology has created millions of jobs in the sharing economy. Companies such as Uber continue to be targeted with violence by meter taxi drivers whose understanding of competition, is to fight and kill. This occurs in a constitutional democracy where there is supposed to be rule of law and equality before the law. We must embrace the changes brought by the Fourth Industrial Revolution so that we can adapt in reskilling our labour and the unemployed to become beneficiaries of the jobs this economy requires.
Unathi Sonwabile Henama teaches tourism at the Tshwane University of Technology and writes in his personal capacity.
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