The domestic economy needs a Lazarus moment


4 October 2020

US presidential debate offers valuable lesson

Conscience of a Centrist

By Kabelo Khumalo

Patrice Motsepe was correct when he declared for all the world to know that South Africa loves Donald Trump. In fact, Africa loves the Yankees – or do we love China more?

The US sneezed this week and South Africa and many countries around the world duly caught the flu.  Many South Africans deprived themselves of sleep to watch the US presidential debate between Trump, who thinks Africa is a s**t hole continent, and Joe Biden. Even the domestic fourth estate could not miss the “story of the week”. How nice!

I would love to believe that a presidential debate in Ghana would not elicit so much fanfare – and that on its own tells a story.

The debate was focused on US domestic issues, therefore there is no surprise that there was no reference to South Africa and the continent. By continuing to live and breathe Americana, we contribute to a culture where Washington remains intimately familiar to us and other capitals do not.

The US is said to be the land of the brave and free. The American dream is premised on the notion that anyone should be able to come to the US and find success. To many Africans, America is the promised land. It is a country were pigs fly.

The obsession with everything American also keeps the Yankees central to our culture, perpetuating a feeling of an alliance and familiarity with the US that will make subscribing  to their way of life near-instinctive to Africans.

Today, cultural imperialism tends to describe the US’s role as a cultural superpower.

American movie studios are generally much more successful than their foreign counterparts, not only because of their business models but also because the concept of Hollywood has become one of the modern movie business worldwide’s defining traits.

It took the egregious slaying of George Floyd for those who look like me to realise we cannot breathe at home – that this economy has reduced most black people to tenderpreneurs and, lately, covid-preneurs.

From Barack Obama’s historic election to the rise of Trump and his impeachment,  we know intimately more about what happens in Capitol Hill than what happens in our wards and local schools.

The Biden v Trump scream match was fruitful in one aspect: it opened the door to learn about the ABCs of economics. The mention by Biden of a K-shaped economic recovery was not the highlight of the night – but is worth examining in the South African context.

South Africa’s economy is bleeding – corruption has become part of our daily discourse.

The domestic economy needs a Lazarus moment. A K-shaped recovery means some facets of the economy recover (upward spike of the K) while the rest head in the wrong direction (the downward spike).

This naturally means that inequality will deepen and be a feature for a long time. A K-shaped recovery is typically a result of inaction by authorities in a time of economic crisis.

This is something that our government excels in.

Watching this government try to reignite this sickly economy has been like watching an old geezer making love – uninspiring, no passion left but rather mechanical in approach.

The simplest way to revive this economy is to turn South Africa into a big construction site. Infrastructure development will boost employment and support economic recovery.

“Unprecedented” is a word we’ve all heard many times in the past few months as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause illness and death. It will take unprecedented measures to bring this economy back from the brink.

A new bout of innovation and bold leadership is also needed to bring a moribund economy back to life.

In any past recession or depression, the economic solution has always been to stimulate demand for labour – to get workers back on the job.It is impossible to bring the economy back from the brink when Eskom’s pulse is fading.

The troubles besetting Eskom will likely result in a J-shaped recovery (a steep drop in growth followed by a slow rebound over a long period of time).

To even talk about a V-shaped recovery will be a waste of ink (that is a loftier ambition than the American dream).

The bottom line is that we need to bring back the manufacturing sector and be proud to produce South African products, made by South African hands.

  • Khumalo is Acting Editor



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