The Long View
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In this consideration, respected trend analyst JP Landman focuses on the South African economy, examining its history, its current state, and what he perceives as its future fate. By questioning and challenging the preconceived ideas and the media-portrayed examples of what members of the public might deem a modern and developed society, Landman goes beyond the present to give readers a solid, long-term, and informed view. As an economist, the author deals neither in optimism nor in pessimism, only realism. In this examination, he provides a vision of South Africa’s future that transcends the daily drama of the snapshots seen on television and in the media, providing a proper understanding and view of the realities that the country faces. It is only in letting this truth speak, Landman argues, that South Africa can move forward confidently and with purpose.

Published: Jacana Media an imprint of Independent Publishers Group on
ISBN: 9781920292126
List price: $14.99
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1.

What makes a modern, successful society?

Modernity is a journey, not a destination.

The second half of my graph tells you why I am so relieved that we made it through the past – and why I think the future will be better.

> In the last nineteen years, the South African economy grew by 77% in real terms.

> Since 1994 per capita income growth has been recovering, at first very slowly, then at an accelerating pace. By the end of 2006 it was back at the high point it had reached in 1981. These were Twenty-Five Lost Years, as Professor Servaas van der Berg of Stellenbosch University has called them.

> Our growing wealth has enabled us to do an enormous amount of social development: water, sanitation, housing.

> It has also made possible the maintenance and expansion of our infrastructure.

> In 1998, we could afford to set up the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral). In 2012 Sanral spent R12bn building, upgrading, repairing and otherwise looking after South Africa’s national roads.

> Transnet, for the first time since the mid-eighties, is investing in rolling stock.

> Right now, South Africa is building two power stations. Granted, these should have been built in the early 2000s already. There is correction and improvement, not stagnation. In addition, the private sector is investing the equivalent of the generating capacity of a power station in renewable energy. These investments will increase South Africa’s electricity generation capacity considerably. Now we need to fix the distribution system.

> For the first time since 1982 we are expanding our higher education infrastructure. Two new universities are being built, one in the Northern Cape, the other in Mpumalanga. A large medical school is being overhauled. These are not easy projects: there are problems around staffing and finding qualified people, among other things – but at least we are expanding and investing. That did not happen for thirty years.

How do you define a modern, successful society?

To me, it’s a country in which people have a good standard of living. Even if you have a low income you have access to decent public services. The infrastructure is good, there are efficient, well-run hospitals, the roads are fine. Good universities and schools are within reach of most people. You can walk around at night because your neighbourhood is safe. There is music and art, and it does not have to be in multimillion-rand venues.

In other words, I’m talking about a society in which the organisation and institutions of national life allow citizens to enjoy a better life and realise their potential.

Northern European countries are my ideal: the Netherlands, Germany, the Scandinavian countries. These I regard as modern, successful societies. They all have their problems, but if I must choose an ideal model, it would be something along those lines. Certainly that is the kind of society our Constitution envisages. Obviously it will take generations to make it real in South Africa.

Clearly, Johannesburg is not there. Even Cape Town is not there. Collapsing municipalities are not there. However, we have pockets of modernity. We must hold on to them, make them bigger and get the whole of South African society up to that level, even if it takes many generations.

Modernity definitely does not mean being without problems. Rather, one must have the flexibility and openness to recognise problems and challenges, respond to them and address them.

Modernity therefore is not so much a destination as an ongoing journey. As soon as one has recorded some significant progress, it becomes clear that new obstacles must be overcome.

Can modernisation be African? Or does it betray Africa?

Before we go any further… Let me address a worry that almost everyone has. Can we become a successful nation and still respect the traditional aspects of our lives and our cultures? Can we achieve modernity whilst holding on to the stuff that makes us uniquely South African?

It’s an entirely reasonable thing to wonder about. The process of modernising is a disruptive one. It forces a lot of change. It disrupts cultures and values. It turns old economic and power relationships upside down. Insiders become outsiders, finding themselves out in the cold. Institutions are transformed; some survive, many do not. This makes the journey to modernity a scary one. For some the journey is a tragic one. Not everybody emerges a winner.

In making ‘modernity’ part of my definition of success, I take on a controversial subject. Modernity is often linked to Western values and culture. A scholar like the American political scientist Samuel Huntington claims that modernisation is a product of Westernisation. As such, it is not regarded as something a proud African nation wants to strive for. Using modernity in that way, however, is to twist the fundamental meaning of the term.

Modernity is, for me, simply about creating a better life. The most common-sense definition of modernity I have come across is that of Professor Molefi Kete Asante from Temple University in Philadelphia. ‘I would contend that modernisation is not a by-product of the West; it is a natural product of societies seeking to make life more comfortable and convenient for their citizens.’ As he points out, India and China are modernising, but they are certainly not doing so in a Westernised manner. Success doesn’t require Westernisation; it requires constant change or evolution.

I find myself firmly in Asante’s kraal: one can modernise without sacrificing one’s own traditions. As Professor Njabulo Ndebele put it: ‘It is the quality of organised living that counts.’

Japan is still Japan

In his book, Civilization: The West and the Rest, the eminent historian Niall Ferguson describes how Japan has become a modern, successful society:

‘Since the restoration of imperial authority in Japan in 1868… the country had been engaged in a breakneck modernization of its economic, political and military institutions.

‘The men who engineered this transformation were far from slavish Westerners. Rather, they sought to harness Western institutions to Japanese ends, a program encapsulated in the slogan fukoku kyõhei (rich country, strong army) in the belief that Japanese essence could only be preserved by embracing Western science.’

If you’ve ever visited Japan, you’ll know that it is still Japan. It hasn’t become some Westernised version of itself. But it ‘works’ in the sense that Northern Europe ‘works’.

The impact of modernity on traditional Japan is movingly illustrated by the movie, The Last Samurai.

The forces for and against South Africa.

The drivers of modernity

There are no hard-and-fast rules when it