The new leadership of the African National Congress (ANC) has taken important steps to set the country on a new growth path. But it will take more than political rhetoric and dipping into the country’s collective resilience to fostering unity, fight corruption, and rebuild the economy argues change management guru and business executive, Sello Rasethaba.

The message at both the 54th National Conference of the ANC and the National Executive Committee’s (NEC) January 8 Statement was loud and clear: ‘to unite, rebuild and revitalise the movement and lead an urgent programme of economic growth, job creation and transformation for the benefit of all South Africans.’

The approach and course of action as articulated by ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa embodies the values, the ideas and the direction South Africa has to take to move forward into the envisaged new knowledge driven industrial economy.  A new South Africa premised on a new sense of hope and optimism across all realms of the country’s socio-economic and political strata.

As espoused for the American context in the book ‘Barack Obama and the Rhetoric of Hope’ – a nation of shared opportunities, shared responsibilities, shared prosperity and a shared sense of community.

These are noble ideals and it is encouraging to note the commitment from the nation’s leaders that this will not be just talk to appease the ‘voter fodder’ ahead of the 2019 general elections, but is backed by concrete action for tangible results.

Be that as it may, it is important to state whilst the morning dew has not evaporated from the grass that this will require collective effort from all sectors of society; namely government, the private and private sector, civil society, multi-lateral development partners and communities, to turn the pledges for radical socio-economic transformation and inclusive growth in the country, into reality.

As the Financial Services Working Group of the South African Chapter of the BRICS Business Council (SAC-BBC) we welcome the stance of the newly elected NEC and will continue to play our role, in collaboration with our counterparts in the other working groups, to build on the momentum and tangible sense of hope and renewal that is currently at play to address the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and equality.

Addressing the high levels of unemployment is at the heart of all of South Africa’s challenges and is the number one priority for the government, the private sector and all social partners. In order for South Africa to fulfil Madiba’s dream of ‘political freedom that goes side by side with freedom from hunger, want and suffering’, all social partners should work in close collaboration to provide decent and productive work, particularly for the growing and agitated army of young people. Whilst this is the highest demographic in our population, it is concerning to note that the youth is everyday falling in the growing bracket of the unemployed or underemployed. The ANC has expressed an ambition to create at least one million jobs in the next five years. It has also pledged to tackle crippling lack of jobs for young people of which, according to StatsSA, the youth (aged 15-34 years) unemployment rate was 38,6% which is 10,9% points above the national average. To that end, the ANC has promised to scale up the youth employment programme to provide one million paid internships to unemployed people within three years.

As the FSWG we hold the view that South Africa’s membership in the BRICS alliance of nations could be put to good use to in pushing for a long-term, more stable relationship between exporting and importing BRICS countries in order to create jobs, increase economic security and inclusive development for everyone.

Worth noting is that 2018 is a historic time for our country, and the greater continent. We get to host the 10th summit of the BRICS alliance of nations, in Johannesburg. Worth noting is that South Africa will take over the presidency of BRICS from China. It is also encouraging that the newly elected NEC of the governing party recognises the importance of our membership to BRICS. This is cemented by a declaration by ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa when delivering the January 8 Statement, when he noted that: “Our membership of BRICS is an important tool to enhance multilateralism and we must leverage our 2018 chairpersonship of BRICS for the advancement of South Africa’s national interests and the promotion of a more equitable world order.” This is a positive sign and the FSWG welcomes such a bold stance from the leadership. 

That said, it is worth mentioning that BRICS nations must acknowledge the unique history of colonisation and racial oppression suffered by black and African people in South Africa. The oppressive system created race based socio-economic inequality where the majority is excluded from ownership and control of the economy. The South African State has introduced several measures which include Employment Equity and Black Economic Empowerment legislation in an attempt to bring about economic justice in the country. It has been 23 years since the dawn of the new democracy and, sadly, economic exclusion is still rampant in the wake of some progress in a few of the sectors of the economy. The BRICS programme in South Africa runs the risk of entrenching these inequalities unless in its resolutions and treaties it recognises that the radical economic transformation agenda is a reality in South Africa and must be incorporated into BRICS programmes.

As Bai Ming, Deputy Director of the International Market Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, observes China is a manufacturing powerhouse and should cooperate more with BRICS counterparts to create local jobs and increase the added value of raw materials from them. In that way, he opines, we can establish an industrial chain in BRICS. When we participate in global distribution of labour, we can stop relying only on developed countries. With our own distribution of labor and our own industrial chain, we can reduce reliance on developed countries and increase economic security.

We believe that South Africa has the capacity to generate employment to deal with its level of unemployment. If South Africa were to create five million jobs it would have the kind of momentum that would propel the country forward. The BRICS countries must commit to a developing program that will result in the creation of five million jobs in South Africa over the next five years but in less than 10 years to avert a crisis. China and India with their size could donate output equivalent to five million South African jobs. Russia could deliberately divert orders of what it would get in continental Europe out of South Africa.

South Africa has done a lot along these lines to attract and create sustainable jobs through its various programmes at institutions such as the Department of Trade and Industry, among others.  All we need to do as a country is to take advantage of our membership in BRICS by lobbying for the moving of five million jobs from India and China, not tomorrow but today. 

BRICS countries, we insist, have to raise a collective voice in economic globalisation and global governance on behalf of developing countries. This is particularly important in this era of rising protectionism. Strengthening cooperation will help further increase BRICS member nations’ voice in the global economy.

*Rasethaba is Chairman of the Black Business Council and Chairman of the Financial Services Working Group of the BRICS Business Council (South Africa)