Our changing world: Implications for the Future of South Africa

Synopsis of talk given by Prof Robert Schrire of the Department of Political Studies, University of Cape Town at the Fish Hoek Valley Residents’ and Ratepayers’ meeting Thurs 25 August 2011

What a pity that there is so much apathy in the Valley with regards to attending – and belonging to – the very necessary and very effective ratepayers organisations. The Exco of the FHVRRA invited as guest speaker world class academic, dynamic speaker and political analyst Prof Robert Schrire to their quarterly meeting held on Thurs 25 August 2011, and a bigger audience would have done him greater justice.

In his speech Prof Schrire said that he was combining two different talks: “Our changing world – looking at global trends” and “South Africa and South Africa’s future”. He asserted that the world is changing dramatically and that we as South Africans need to adjust to it- for years we have gotten away with being oblivious to the rest of the world.

What Prof Schrire had to say:

‘We are part of a global ecological system and a global economic system. It is not a fair world: some countries behave irresponsibly and get away with it – look at the financial behaviour of the USA. China has succeeded because: 1. it is very poor and backward and 2. because it is very large. This translates into a formula for success as it opens up borders and encourages foreign investors. There are now winners and losers and South Africa is in danger of falling into the latter category. Countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan have a great advantage over South Africa because the former have incredible work ethics but we don’t. Also, workers in countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan are paid a pittance. This is an aspect of the universal model of economic development. Gradually the low paid workers will move up the production ladder to be replaced by the next set of low paid workers and ultimately, the lot of all will improve. Nowadays it is too expensive to produce basic goods in China and this is the reason why countries such as Bangladesh and Pakistan are coming to the fore. South Africa is too small to compete.

 Our problem is that we have skipped a stage. Apartheid excluded the majority of the population from the economy which led to the creation of a small wealthy white community and a huge proletariat at the bottom who at independence wanted to jump to the same stage as the whites. When power shifted to the ANC, a number of the politicians skipped a few stages but could not take their constituents with them which led to the development of three “nations” within South Africa: the whites, rich in a comparative sense, their black counterparts and the large majority of the blacks who are dirt poor. We have a labour surplus and to create jobs we need to pay low salaries at the beginning.

The golden rule in politics is for government and business to give good service. Competition forces good prices and good service. The only way we will get good governance is through competition Helen Zille is great because she is in a competitive situation. The huge problem in our country is that there is no relationship between performance and voter verdict. The winners are the bureaucracy, Cosatu and the upper echelons of the ANC. The losers are everyone else. In the “old days” the economy was viable with a growth of 3- 31/2 % pa. Now we are running down our capital.

 We need a sense of urgency, a president who is committed to change. There is nothing out there that is undiscovered, that cannot be fixed. With regard to the desperate state of our education: we have unqualified teachers, we no longer have the inspectorate, there is no authority in the schools. The SA Democratic Teachers’ Union put a stop to this. We need re-instate the inspectorate. We need qualified Maths and Science teachers. Pay Maths teachers 40% more than the rest!

We don’t need a big push, but a whole lot of small interventions. Jacob Zuma does not have the capacity to lead South Africa.

We have two possibilities:

 1. The people of SA will lose faith in the ANC quickly enough to make a difference. UCT has the best Black students in South Africa. I have not met one who likes the ANC and not one who won’t vote for them. The sad thing is that the proletariat has the least reason to be loyal yet are the most loyal.

 2. The next president will have a sense of urgency. He must be aware of the employment crisis. Unqualified people have been given responsible positions. State hospitals are in a disgusting condition – it is not rocket science to see what needs to be done. Every week should see the introduction of new reforms. Business as usual is not possible. Nothing concentrates the mind more than imminent execution. We are reaching the point of adapt or die.

The presidency is an incredibly powerful position for someone who knows how to use it. Jacob Zuma was never his own man and hasn’t the capacity to be so. We have a vacuum and the major reason is that he has never expressed a policy view on anything in his life.

The ANC does have people who have the power to be good leaders, who are concerned about the status quo. Mathews Phosa, a poet and a lawyer, is smart and tough. He had the votes but Thabo Mbeki did not allow him to run for deputy presidency. Motlanthe is intelligent and has a sense of urgency.

There are two great dangers in politics: a president and a party that are too weak or a president and a party that are too strong. We have a combination of both – a president who is too weak and a party that is too strong. There are two scenarios: the “coronary scenario” and the “gangrene scenario”. We have avoided the former and are well into the latter. The good thing is that gangrene can be arrested. As long as economic growth is higher than population growth, the gangrene has been arrested. We are at a turning point. We have a population growth of 2% and an economic growth of 21/2 %. In 10-15 years we will have a capital exit when young people start to leave the country in greater numbers.

Our problems are easier to deal with than those in Britain, the USA, China and Greece. It is a tragedy that COPE was premature in terms of issues and leadership. Splits take place when the dominant party begins to lose support. The DA is terribly important in weakening ANC support but it will always be seen as a White party – the historical identity is strong. The split will come within the ANC. If Malema becomes president it would be marvellous! All the right-thinking ANC people would split! However, the Youth League is not important. Up to now Malema has been useful – he creates a lot of noise.

The mantra of the government should be “jobs,jobs, jobs”. If we had an economic growth of 6% every year we would have enough to buy off the losers.

The debate is not between the DA and the ANC but between the haves and the have nots. We need leaders in our country who have a sense of urgency.”

Let us pray that those leaders will come to the fore.

We may feel that there is not much we as individuals can do but in our own small spheres there is much that we can. By instilling in our children or the children we teach the values of fairness, respect, honesty, kindness and the value of hard work we are doing something to help create a brighter future. And we ourselves must live by those principles!

And, indeed, we can become active members of our local Ratepayers’ organisations.

Read about the issues being dealt with by the FHVRRA and the Simon’s Town Residents’  and Ratepayers’ Association in their latest newsletters  



Prof. Schrire’s research interests are in the fields of South African politics and International relations.

His most recent publication is “Theories of International Relations, World Encyclopedia of Knowledge”, UNESCO, London.

He teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in international organisation and rational choice theories.

He has completed a BCom (Economics) degree at UCT, a Masters Degree from the School of International Service, American University, Washington DC, plus a PHD from the University of California and post-graduate studies in Economics at Columbia University.

He is in constant demand as a speaker at Universities worldwide and we are very fortunate indeed in having such a distinguished compatriot to address us on the bigger picture of world political development.

 Robert resides in Clovelly in the Scenic South with his wife and family.

(From the FHVRRA agenda)