woman standing on brown rocky mountain

A Vision of South Africa

Visions are often meant to be seen as a mental image of the future: people talk about having visions, about seeing visions, about having an image of what might be happening, either in the present or in the future. Well, that’s the eclectic use of the word. Another use of the word vision implies that someone can imagine something different – a change that they can bring about using various resources and individuals to create a new reality, and this is what we talk about when we consider leadership for example, but the same applies to individuals whose only leadership opportunities relate to their own lives or those of their family or close friends.

But vision can also apply to how someone views a situation – and that’s what we are doing here, to discuss an amazing country with some of the most unique and well known landscapes in the world, yet also some of the most challenging situations.

My 2018 trip to South Africa

It was 2018 when I visited Cape Town, Pretoria, Johannesburg and of course the amazing wildlife in Kruger. I went to see the big 5, and was successful; I went to skydive from a plane near Cape Town, and did that as well; and I went to see the stunning scenery around Stellenbosch and visit some of the vineyards there, and that happened too. Yet I always also had a sense of unease. I remember my hosts in Johannesburg telling me of abductions, thefts and carjackings (and worse) near the toll collection points on the road from Kruger to Johannesburg. Traffic would always slow down at such points – largely because there were not enough booths to allow the smooth flow of traffic – and so it was (apparently, because I never saw any evidence of it – thankfully) easy for those so minded to force individuals out of their cars at gunpoint – and the rest, I shall leave to your imagination… or vision.

Then in Cape Town, I remember taking my relatively expensive DSLR camera and running out of the house in which I was staying, running to a nearby bridge and taking pictures of a stunningly russet sunrise, thinking only afterwards that maybe doing so was not the wisest of things to do without someone with me. My guide in Cape Town also suggested that I should not show my camera too often…

Outside looking in, things look bad

All of which seems very sad. The economic mobility of the young population barely seems to have improved despite the end of, well, let’s call it the apartheid era… It’s not a term used much nowadays, but the South African government seems to have been unable to have created much change, even if there was once a vision for doing so.

The post-Mandela years in South Africa have apparently not brought about the vision of an economically rich country that it should have, according to Aljazeera in a report documenting South Africa’s progress during the 30 years after Mandela was released. After the end of apartheid, the economy grew by approximately 3% each year yet in a 2018 report, the World Bank reported that inequality was as wide as ever, with the top 1% of South Africans owning 70.9 percent of the country’s wealth, it added, while the bottom 60 percent hold just 7 percent.

South Africa should be doing very well, economically. Some would argue that it is: with inflation at 5.4% in August 2023 and at 4.8% in September and at 5.1% September 2022 to September 2023, it is actually lower than that of the United Kingdom (UK), where inflation in 2023 has been 6.3% year on year, and sometimes higher. Clearly, a drop from 33.8% of South Africa residents being classed as poor in 1996 to just 18.8% in 2015 is a good sign, but there is still a long way to go. Poverty coupled with a poor education system in some places creates economic waste, resulting in a lack of vision and people taking things into their own hands – enough said probably.

South Africa’s potential is there

Obviously, inflation is not the only statistic to examine, and South Africa is known to be very well endowed with rich earthly resources – after Russia (before sanctions), Angola, the DRC, Australia and Canada and a small number of other countries, South Africa provides a large number of the world’s diamonds – it is 7th on the list, according to various sources (though asking a web source for the diamond capital of the world after all will give you Antwerp in Belgium, which merely polishes and perfects the diamonds it trades globally. We will ignore Belgium for now). But if the diamonds were not enough, then we’d find that South Africa has the world’s largest deposits of platinum, manganese and we could also talk about gold, uranium, silver and so on…

Of course, politically, things seem to have been a little unstable to say the least. Jacob Zuma’s presidency was hugely tainted with allegations of corruption, prosecutions for rape and other high crimes and misdemeanours: liaisons with the Gupta family eventually led to the collapse of that government. Before that, Thabo Mbeki resigned following accusations of abuse of power in trying to eliminate his rival, and since Zuma, Cyril Ramaphosa has been in power, trying to hold together a governing cabinet (reshuffled since the Zuma years) and emphasising power policies, land reform (of the kind instituted by Zimbabwe under Mugabe) and internationally, courting Beijing as political partners, visiting the UK, Russia and Kyiv to try to bring about a peace treaty between Ukraine and Russia.

South Africa has plenty of vision

None of the above tells my vision of South Africa. A stunningly beautiful place, with some inherently unique, eating and feeding tourist attractions (lions often do well as an attraction), magically wonderful wine and some of the best braais on the planet. You can’t bottle or quantify (or sell) the feelings you get when you travel around the country, photographing some of the most amazing scenery and talking to the most wonderfully friendly people there.

The poverty is there, the crime (and certainly the perception of crime) is there and the economic issues are there as well, but the corruption and political infighting seems to have diminished, both of which creates a stable environment for international investment to return, something that Ramaphosa with his business background would understand well. And as I write, the Springboks (the ones with two legs rather than four.) have just proven themselves on the rugby field. It looks like South Africa might just be winning again. I hope so. Vision grows with excitement, and right now, South Africa has plenty of that.

Dr Peter Morgan is an experienced  management educator and writer, who has travelled widely, and who has worked with companies in the UK, in India and China.

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