Mon, 24 Feb 2020

It is a good thing that big business, government, labour and other partners are meeting to discuss ways to get South Africa out of the economic situation in which it finds itself.

We should hope that those representing government will participate meaningfully in the discussions, uninfluenced by tested and failed political ideologies of centuries past, driven largely by people who keep going on about political party policy resolutions that neither speak to the times nor promise any progressive, lasting solutions for South Africa.

We should also hope that such demagogues will participate with open minds in the discussions, have their eyes opened or be convinced to stand down for the sake of South Africa.

No one should be prisoner of their own word if sticking to it stands to result in the worsening of their own situation and in ensuring the fortunes of a whole country remain forever in check.

Reading the key elements of the 2020 ANC January 8 Statement - a document that cannot be ignored because it purports to be the blueprint that will inform both the 2020 State of The Nation Address and the governing party's priorities for the year ahead - one is left uninspired, even frustrated by the nonchalance of it all.

The statement reads like it was hurriedly pulled out of an old book that we have read many times before, offering nothing new, and that wasn't written with the realities of today in mind.

The key promises, priorities if you will, shouldn't even be there anymore. They should have been acted upon and their successful implementation celebrated several times over the past 25 years, had too many opportunities not been squandered because of greed and archaic political ideologies.

Anyone accepting to read them in a public gathering today, as if they carried new, exciting, prospects for the country, seriously needs help.

The wheel is turning

As political and economic seasons come and go, so do annual World Economic Forums in Davos, Switzerland. The next one is around the corner and South Africa doesn't seem to have a good story to tell yet.

Having failed to find anything to inspire renewed hope in the governing party's 2020 January 8 Statement, let us hope that the discussions between government, business and other partners currently under in Johannesburg will culminate in something convincingly positive, around which a fresh, new, narrative can be developed to win first, the minds and hearts of South Africans at home and in the diaspora, followed by the investor community scheduled to gather in Davos, in just over a week's time.

Ratings agencies are already breathing heavily down our backs. Hate them or love them, they too must be convinced by the new narrative - assuming that there will be one.

Waving the scarves

Whether there will be a convincing new story to tell the world or not, we know that the multi-coloured scarfs will be out, and another Team SA will be strutting its stuff in Davos at our cost, or claiming to represent our interests, very soon.

Nothing will stop the trip from going ahead, even if it will be just for the photo opportunities that come with being there and people appearing to brush shoulders with the world's powerful, participating in high-level, intelligent, conversations on how best to attract foreign investments and run successful economies.

Instagram-perfect

It is a pity that other than the Instagram-perfect pictures being shared by the scarf-adorned members of Team SA every year, almost nothing gets said about country gains and lessons learned during previous World Economic Forums.

Even less gets shared about the themes and key intended marketing thrusts ahead of each subsequent WEF to excite South Africans - at home and in the diaspora - and to rally their support behind Team South Africa's key messages to the investor community.

South Africans cannot be enthusiastic endorsers of the country's investment in the WEF if they're not made proud ambassadors of the country.

One simply needs to google "happiest nation on earth" and see what comes out. For those who do not have the time, here's the result: According to the 2019 Happiness Report, Finland is the happiest country in the world, with Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and The Netherlands holding the next top positions.

The World Happiness Report 2018 ranks 156 countries by their happiness levels, and 117 countries by the happiness of their immigrants. Among the reasons given for people's happiness are subjective well-being, jobs and earning, income and wealth, health status, social connections, absence or very levels of corruption, environmental quality, education and skills, and personal security.

Can those who have been given the responsibility to lord it over our country's affairs be seen to drive our country's resources into programmes to make at least some of these attributes come true? Were that to happen, would it not provide Team SA with easy stories to sell to investors and others out there, instead of empty promises told through impressive, yet expensive, country promotion videos that only scrape at the surface, repeating things we already know about South Africa being the most industrialised economy on the continent and so on and so forth?

READ: Solly Moeng: SA is looking for love in the wrong places

In the absence of good stories to tell about our SOEs, especially the most crucial of them all, Eskom, team South Africa has its work cut out for it. The world it will encounter again in Davos is highly connected and has easy access to information, online and through established networks, that will help it confirm or dismiss the promises that will be made in power point presentations and country promoting videos.

In fact, many already know about recent developments on Eskom. No spin that pushes stories about alleged sabotage and lies by boards and ministers will wash. Team SA will need to rehearse a good explanation and read from the same script on this one, as questions about Eskom are likely to come up.

To win hearts and minds, it must insist on a 360 approach to country communication that involves civil society, business, and government and ensures that country promotion messages get endorsed by the reality on the ground and a greater number of citizens. In the continued absence of any of this, the whole exercise will be akin to company executives going around claiming that their company is the best employer when its own employees will be the first to issue warnings against taking the leadership claims seriously.

All is not lost if we start doing things right for South Africa and all its people.

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