Jacob Zuma and Julius Malema have done huge damage to South Africa. Their actions have harmed the international image of the country, affecting the tourism industry particularly and making it more difficult than it should be to persuade the world that the country is a great place to live, to visit and to invest.
This fact was brought home to me many times over the past two weeks. I had the privilege of delivering a series of six lectures on world affairs to passengers on board Cunard’s Queen Victoria during part of their 2019 round-the-world cruise.
My lecture on “Brexit, Trump and the new populism” was very well received by the hundreds, mainly British and Americans, who attended that talk. The favourite talk, though, was “Mandela and de Klerk: unlikely partners who changed history.” I was surprised at the number of passengers, some of them former South Africans, who told me beforehand and afterwards how much they enjoyed hearing about our country.
My lectures were scheduled for 45 minutes but the ship’s management came to me and said they had many requests for me to talk about current South African politics and “what would happen to the country.” I therefore added a 15-minute talk on, “SA, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.” This was generously received by the audience showing overwhelming interest in our country.
As always, I tried to give a balanced view and ended on a positive note. I believe in the future of our country. We will probably carry on limping along, never quite doing as well as we might if we embraced sensible policies and rid ourselves of a tired government that has been in power far too long. But we will certainly not go over the cliff as a country.
In many discussions, I was impressed by the number of people well informed about us. The theft, the looting, the maladministration, the state capture that took place under the Zuma administration are widely known. Many people hoped we would revert to sound economic policies and sensible economic management. I was told repeatedly that we need to forget the mumbo-jumbo about radical economic transformation and go for growth that will create desperately needed jobs.
Our high crime rate is famous. The number of murders horrifies people, but many passengers have the impression of utter lawlessness in unsafe streets. A woman came to me after my talk, saying she had been scared to get off the ship in Cape Town, except as part of an organised tour, but she would now be brave and venture into the city. Unless we do something about our crime rate and improve our crime-busting image our tourism figures will continue suffering because of the many potential tourists remaining away, believing the country is unsafe.
As for the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and their “Commander-in-Chief,” Julius Malema, I was left wondering just how many jobs they have destroyed, investments not made and economic growth forfeited because of their dangerous racial animosity. Most South Africans regard Julius as a figure of fun; foreigners, while not remembering his name, quote his racist anti-white statements. Passengers took seriously the threat to the future of the minority races and I was asked again and again if there was a future for our children. Julius needs to think deeply about the damage he does.
South Africa certainly has a niche for a party that pursues populist socialist policies, outdated, tired and ultimately unsuccessful as they are, but actively damaging the economic prospects of the country is surely not the way to go.
This opinion piece first appeared in The Star on 16 April 2019