Brand South Africa research manager, Petrus de Kock, says this year’s South African Competitiveness Forum will bring in youth development and labour stakeholders to discuss how active citizenship can boost the country’s global competitiveness. (Image: Shamin Chibba)
This year’s South African Competitiveness Forum will focus on one of the core messages of the National Development Plan: that all citizens become active participants in the country’s growth.
At a media briefing held at Brand South Africa’s headquarters on Wednesday, 4 June, research manager Petrus de Kock said this year’s theme of active citizenship was an attempt to move from a mentality that expected the government to solve all problems to one that encouraged the individual to take active steps to grow the country. “For society, it’s a bit of a reality check to say there are limitations to the capabilities of business and [the] government.”
He said the forum would be based on the principles of Brand South Africa’s Play Your Part programme, which, in effect, would call on all citizens to work towards changing the country’s reputation and competitiveness. “Active citizenship will probably require a lot more crossover between [the] government and business, and much more interaction between civil society and business to drive specific types of programmes in places where you can create a better environment and more employment.”
The competitiveness forum bases its findings on the World Economic Forum (WEF) 2014 Global Competitiveness Index and the 2014 World Competitiveness Report from the Institute for Management Development (IMD). According to De Kock, South Africa had improved its standing in the IMD report by one position, moving from 53rd in 2013 to 52nd this year.
Changing the mentality to one of active citizenry was simple, he explained. “For instance, if you see something wrong in your neighbourhood do you ignore it or do you call your councillor? To alert somebody is better than to just sit and expect somebody else to do it. It’s really just a change of attitude. As South Africans, let’s stop waiting for stuff to happen; let’s make it happen.”
Labour a crucial role in competitiveness
The Deloitte and Manufacturing Circle’s Global Manufacturing Index found that South African business placed cost and availability of labour and materials as the country’s biggest competitiveness driver. It is one of the reasons that labour is a big part of this year’s competitiveness forum.
The strikes in the platinum mining industry had created a negative perception of labour in South Africa, De Kock explained, but it was not a true reflection on labour. The picture was varied. Salary earners across all sectors contributed to the bulk of the country’s tax. “Labour doesn’t only mean people working in mines and factories; it’s blue collar, white collar and professionals too. So labour has a much bigger story to tell in the history of the country and has a bigger role to play in the future of the country.”
New topics have also been added to this year’s plenary sessions. One of them will look at how South African expatriates can play their part in creating a competitive and reputable nation brand. De Kock said global South Africans were in a position to create partnerships with international companies. South Africans living in the United States, for example, were linking South African companies to those in Silicon Valley, he said. “That was through their own initiative.”
Another discussion will look at how regional and business stakeholders can market the nation brand. The breakaway sessions will include:
- Youth, innovation and nation brand competitiveness, which will analyse what the next generation is thinking;
- Internal and foreign direct investment;
- Education and skills;
- SA@Work – the role of labour in creating a new brand identity; and,
- Improved infrastructure and economic performance.
According to the IMD report, De Kock said South Africa had improved substantially in terms of infrastructure and economic performance, which bode well for the country’s reputation. International trade and investment, employment and prices were the biggest economic climbers, with the domestic economy remaining at 46th position for a second year running.
Basic infrastructure moved up one place from 53rd in 2013 to 52nd, health and environment rose from 59th to 58th and, despite negative media reports, education improved from 54th to 51st. De Kock pointed out that the growth in infrastructure corresponded to Brand South Africa’s international investor perceptions, which were found to be wholly positive.
As South Africa rolled out the National Infrastructure Plan, it was important to consider the country’s improved infrastructure performance as a way of measuring national competitiveness. He added that broadband infrastructure now had to be improved, especially in the education sector. “We have to move as soon as we can to get schools connected.”