Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Online Letter
Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
Today’s front page of The Star brings us coverage of the riots in Mozambique, sparked by rising prices of electricity, water and bread.
Maputo Airport was closed yesterday, leaving many South Africans stranded, as rioters burned a petrol station, vandalized shops and attacked a food distribution warehouse. Passing cars were stoned and fires lit haphazardly.
We should be shocked by the chaos; but the scene is just too familiar.
Our news channels frequently cover service delivery protests in our own communities, with burning tyres and rubbish strewn in the streets, and the strikes have brought enough chaos of their own. I marvel at how the petrol attendants’ union has now jumped on the bandwagon. How far we have come from the World Cup "gees".
But the reaction of a South African businessman from Roodepoort to Mozambique’s riots gives us pause for thought. "I think every businessman has been inconvenienced," he said, speaking of travellers who could not enter or leave Maputo yesterday. But the riots are understandable, he suggests, because "there are no unions in Mozambique and there is no formal way for workers to engage the government."
Is South Africa’s formal way of engaging government by walking out on learners just before exams and turning the injured away from hospital?
If that is the difference unions make to a country, I aver that the system of unions is failing. China is another country that has no trade unions, and yet China’s economic growth is remarkable, particularly in the present global economic climate.
China is also rapidly buying up businesses in Angola, Zambia and Botswana, in what is seen by some as a growing domination of Africa’s industries by the People’s Republic of China. South Africa’s own textile industry has been damaged by China’s dominance. But Chinese industry and the Chinese Government have shown a keen interest in becoming partners in the economic development of Africa, and I feel there is a great deal of synergy between us.
As with any interactions in trade and industry, the interests of both parties must be valued, in a delicate balancing act based on responsible action. The importance of maintaining this balance has, no doubt, been on the agenda of the first World Emerging Industries Summit, which ends in Changchun, Jilin Province, today.
Having been unable to attend the Summit, I requested that His Worship the Mayor of Umvoti Municipality convey my message of support. I felt it important to place on the Summit’s agenda South Africa’s own commitment to assisting the development of emerging industries. We have engaged in widespread programmes to achieve this goal.
We have recently launched a revised Industrial Programme Action Plan which hopes to take our industrial base into the challenges of the 21st century. This programme has highlighted how the world we live in is progressively moving towards global industries manufacturing products globally for a global market. We are committed to enabling this to happen in spite of national barriers.
In South Africa, we are also placing greater emphasis on the new range of products and industries emerging from environmental concerns, ranging from cleaner engines to renewable sources of energy and new recyclable materials. These are signs of a world in rapid transformation, which will cause the present world to become obsolete and old faster than most expected.
Africa has the historical possibility of leapfrogging into this new world, by-passing intermediary stages of industrial development.
Africa offers the opportunity for a country like China to partner with us to become the engine of this transformation and reap its long-term benefits.
But Africa and China are different, and may have different cultures, priorities and objectives. It is essential that we recognize this fact as we move forward, so that we may pursue closer ties with China which see the flourishing of a greater number of African-Chinese joint ventures upon African soil. This is by far more preferable than the growing antagonism towards perceived Chinese domination.
And growing antagonism is something that must always be dealt with swiftly, lest we find ourselves in a situation in which our citizen’s sense of injustice and powerlessness ignite protest. We have seen it in South Africa. We are seeing it in Mozambique. We see it throughout the world. A lesson must be learnt about balancing economic and social demands. How does a government serve people and money?
I cannot help but think of the people in Eshowe who are left stranded because there is no longer a bus service. When I was Chief Minister of the erstwhile KwaZulu Government, we ran a bus company that made no money. It did not make good business sense. It was not financially viable. But it served the needs of our people and, ultimately, that is what any government is elected to do.
The Roodepoort businessman is right; people are being inconvenienced by rising economic demands. That is putting it mildly. The question is how our own Government will balance the needs of the people with the needs of the fiscus. If the delicate balancing act fails, we will not only see more protests, but a growing perception that power always dominates.
Yours in the service of the nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP.
Contact: Ms Liezl van der Merwe, 082 729 2510.