I was catching up on recent posts over at the Enterprise Resilience Blog and saw that Stephen DeAngelis has written on South Africa's growing troubles with supplying electricity to the country.
Since I just spent two months there from the end of October through the middle of December, I had the (unfortunate) experience of not only sitting through a few blackouts but also had the chance to gain some perspective on how the country has changed the past 14 years from the people I worked with--mostly white South Africans--as they still represent the majority of working professionals and business management.
Basically, it is not just about the electricity that you hear complaints--corruption in the government is rampant, with investigations and scandals plaguing the police, the courts, and the government. The radio stations every morning are often making fun of the government and its incompetency.
My white South African friends told me that the old government used to put forth 10-year plans for the development of the country which aided in the country's significant growth and economic rise versus the rest of Africa. However, as most of us know, that same country was tainted by apartheid.
When apartheid ended, and the multiracial government took over, it began to often reject any symbols or practices of the former government and continues to do so today, down to the fight songs sung at rugby matches. One of the casualties was the planning and execution discipline of the former government.
Mr. DeAngelis comments on the entire article, but this section stands out for me:
The government of South Africa has known for nearly a decade that this day was coming. It didn't ignore the problem, but it was unsuccessful in enticing private businesses to built new power plants. In the meantime, it delayed any new construction projects by Eskom. When the green light for new projects was finally given, it was too late to prevent the shortages they are now experiencing. The result is growing frustration and slowed development.
"South Africans are appalled by the daily interruptions to their lives. Workers sit idle, televisions flick into darkness and silence, elevators stall between floors, gas stations cannot pump, cakes remain forever half-baked. Every intersection with disabled traffic lights becomes a four-way stop, with drivers in each direction maddeningly delayed as the endless lines of cars inch forward."
South Africa is a beautiful country and I could see it and its people yearning to develop and enjoy the benefits of advances in industry and technology. However, its government's leaders as a whole are still inexperienced as leaders and will have to learn from their mistakes and adapt to the essential responsibilities of government.
The government also has to teach the poor population how to earn a higher standard of living not through entitlements and hand-outs but through hard work, education and entrepreneurship. For example, one affirmative action quota in South Africa asks for at least one black South African to be present on every corporate board in the country. In an investigation of this program, one woman was found to be on 26 different boards alone and with very little or no contribution. This kind of scenario helps neither the boards integrate the mostly black poor population nor does it help educate and develop black leaders that could contribute positively to the corporate environment.
There are obviously positive stories as well where poor South African blacks have succeeded in acquiring an education or in becoming an entrepreneur, but it is no wonder my South African friends are betting against the government in the lead-up to the World Cup in 2010. They are betting that somehow the government is going to screw everything up, and having listened to the radio each morning on the way to work, I can't say I left South Africa without any doubt in the country's future success.
My hope is that the government finds its way so that the next time I am back in South Africa I won't be left in the dark.