5 August 2014
It was nearly 20 years ago, on 7 October 1994, when Nelson Mandela stood up to address the National Press Club on 14th Street in Washington, DC. Then, the newly elected president of a democratic South Africa thanked the people of the United States for their help in ending apartheid in South Africa.
On Monday this week, it was President Jacob Zuma’s turn to address the world’s biggest economy when he took to the same podium as Mandela to speak to the US press. His message was somewhat different to that of Mandela, though.
South Africa has a much better story to tell, Zuma said. Its people have access to basic services like clean water and sanitation, and the country’s economy has grown tremendously since 1994. Close to half of its people are now in the middle-to high-income brackets.
The number of people living in absolute poverty has been reduced, and 16-million are receiving social assistance from the state in the form of grants.
Foreign direct investment in South Africa is growing, with 130 foreign companies either entering the country for the first time or expanding their investments last year, contributing to a total direct investment inflow of $8.2-billion, which is double the figure for 2012.
Inflation has been reduced and the tax base had been expanded more than sevenfold, while the market capitalisation of businesses on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange has grown eightfold. Gross domestic product (GDP) has grown from $136-billion to $400-billion.
Not bad for a 20-year-old, Zuma quipped.
“We have made enormous strides in expanding access to free education, housing, electricity, clean water and sanitation to people who did not have these basic services before,” he said.
“We increased our gold and foreign exchange reserves from 3-billion to 50-billion US dollars. We really have a good story to tell about 20 years of South Africa’s democratic rule.”
But even the best democracies in the world have their challenges. And on Monday, Zuma shared with the America press how the country planned to sustain its economic growth while reducing the high levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality that still exist in the country.
“We are the first to admit that we still have a long, hard road ahead of us as we confront the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality. Fortunately, we have a roadmap in the form of our National Development Plan, Vision 2030.”
According to the NDP’s ambitious targets, poverty should be a thing of the past, unemployment should be reduced and growth should average an annual 5.4% by 2030.
“These are not easy targets, but with determination and hard work, nothing is impossible,” Zuma said, adding that, even with its current challenges, South Africa had a sound economy, stable banking sector and vibrant population, all ingredients of a growing nation.
Zuma also painted a picture of country that was now more open to investment, with about 600 US companies currently investing in the South African economy.
“The presence of these companies demonstrates that South Africa is a viable investment destination,” Zuma said, adding: “We look forward to the further expansion of trade and investment opportunities with the US and other key markets.”