Leaving Behind the Lost Decade
Estimated Time To Read: 2 minute(s) 59 seconds
We’ll be hitting a milestone later this year. It will be 10 years since the start of the global economic crisis that hit us like a tsunami in late 2008.
When it hit, global markets fell by up to 35%, creating panic worldwide. Capitalism as we knew it appeared under threat and the outlook was decidedly gloomy. For many individuals around the world hardships endured.
US car companies were in trouble. The SA mining industry seemed doomed after a very long commodity super cycle began to dissipate. There were even some who predicted that there would only be one gold mine left in SA.
What was not anticipated was the level of government and central bank intervention that would be implemented globally to rescue the situation in one of the greatest ever economic experiments. Money is fluid, a bit like a river and it flows continually – it is not focused on the past, but constantly looks forward.
While South Africa was in a position to take advantage of these opportunities, sadly, if we look back, it appears that due to other political priorities our minds were elsewhere.
‘A lost decade’ was how some people referred to the period ahead.
Since 2008, internationally, real success stories in technical innovation have unfolded. Arguably the most important milestone was the roll out of the Apple iPhone in late 2007 – the first smart phone. This, and all its associated Apps, brought about a major shift in the use of technology. All the Apps depended on the iPhone (initially), which in turn depended on a data-storing innovation known as the Cloud.
It was around the same time that Amazon launched the first Kindle, and by 2011 more eBooks had been sold than hardcopy versions. Airbnb, the biggest hospitality group in the world today, which ironically doesn’t even own a single hotel, was launched in August 2008, recording 21,000 guest arrivals in the first year. It now has 200 million guests arriving annually around the globe.
Skype, developed in Estonia, was taken over by Microsoft in 2009 to radically alter the way we communicate by putting an abrupt end to the expensive international phone call. The music industry was turned upside down by Spotify in Sweden; today it has 140 million users and only half of them pay for the service.
Facebook had a whopping 100 million users in 2008; it’s now at 2 billion users globally. Then there was the advent of the controversial Uber era and this depended entirely on another modern marvel, Google Maps. And let’s not forget Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp and Snapchat. Where would our … er we mean our kid’s … social lives be without them?
There have been a few clear learnings from the last decade for SA, and with potential changes in government ahead, opportunities abound.
What we want and need now is a government that is focused on the future. Our leaders need to continually be assessing the global environment and how our country might benefit from the momentum. While we may well run out of mineral resources someday, there is so much more that SA can do to take part in riding the next wave.
We need to identify how we can turn our greatest weaknesses into our greatest strengths. To start with our government needs to set up policies that attract businesses looking to benefit from our weak currency. We should be taking advantage of the wave of innovation exploding around the globe, actively trying to attract business entities to SA, in an effort to create much-needed employment opportunities.
Amazon has just set up call centers in Cape Town staffed with both local and international employees. This is a clear indication that we have the ability to host and run first-world infrastructure. The multiplier effect of having companies like this here would be hugely beneficial to our economy.
We also need to be braver and bolder in enticing more tourists to SA. The tourism industry provides a huge opportunity to create many jobs for South Africans in different sectors. We have literally only scratched the surface of our real potential in this area. Barriers-to-entry need to be taken away.
On reflection, the last 10 years have been a lost decade for SA, not simply because of the culture of corruption but also for the lost opportunities in an ever-changing, innovative world. The true implementation of the National Development Plan by its co-creator Cyril Ramaphosa would be a great start. As South Africans we have the ability to get our country back on track both economically and socially. The path may be rocky but we need to be brave and innovative. We need to think, speak and embrace a new narrative.