The City of Surreal Ramaphosa on the banks of the Rubicon

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

Cyril Ramaphosa’s vision of “a first post-apartheid city with skyscrapers, schools, universities and factories” (if implemented) has all the potential of becoming a disastrous social engineering experiment wasting resources on a massive scale. Not because the idea of a new city is wrong per se, but simply because the president is ideologically wedded to state-led development, holding a very negative view of the role of the private sector.

Ramaphosa doesn’t consider the private sector as efficient or more effective than the public sector, despite the fact that State-owned enterprises are mismanaged, bankrupt and a drag on economic development with Denel and the SABC even struggling to meet salary commitments.

Peas of the same pod

The creation of such a city is, in the Ramaphosa framework, not a vision of dynamic economic growth, but an ideological blinkered perspective of how government can improve society. Ramaphosa and all the social engineers within the ANC are, in that sense, not far from the approach of Hendrik Verwoerd. The National Party was, just like the ANC, a force pursuing transformation through prescription and limitation of choices.

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Pro-poor LED fails our cities, towns & the poor: Enterprises of the right kind generate city growth

Johannes Wessels
@johannesEOSA1

There is an intriguing symbiosis between cities and towns on the one hand and enterprises on the other. As the world population urbanise, so are business activities.

Physicist Geoffrey West in his “Scale:  The Universal Laws of Life, Growth and Death in Organisms, Cities and Companies” says based on city growth one can state precisely what will happen with the number of businesses in that city: a doubling of population does not require a doubling of grocery stores or filling stations, economies of scale kick in in a predictable manner. The reverse is also true.

Geoffrey West & Scale

Unfortunately, South Africa’s economic and enterprise development policies and strategies ignore these predictable realities. In addition, LED plans by municipalities in the main demonstrate a lack of understanding of what drives development.

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Are our enterprise policies shaped by obsessions? Paradigm paralysis (2)

Ramaphosa’s Manifesto – “A New Deal” – envisages the “massifying” of black enterprises to promote growth and job creation. It is shaped – like the National Development Plan – by the paradigm of SMEs as prime agents for growth and jobs. As the belief in the curative effects of bloodletting – it was the general consensus – acted as a barrier that prevented the consideration of alternative treatments, the belief in SMEs obscures evidence that net job creation is largely independent of firm size.

Convictions, one must remember, do not necessarily yield to evidence.

Masaai Mara crossing

For the creation of several hundred thousand successful businesses (or would “massifying” – Ramaphosa’s term – imply businesses by the million?) there needs to be at least a similar number of entrepreneurs with effective business skills and plans for these businesses to have a chance of survival.

But for a business to succeed one needs other ingredients than mere entrepreneurial aptitude and astute management: it requires support from customers and clients. Successful “massifying” of new businesses would therefore depend on a prior (or at least simultaneous) mushrooming of the spending power of existing consumers and/or the “massifying” of consumers.

On that, the New Deal is silent… Could a 2016 warning about economic transformation hold the explanation?

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A LED puzzle

Looking for workBecause of high unemployment and poverty levels, all South African municipalities have been tasked to promote local economic development (LED) as part of their integrated development plans (IDPs). Various central and provincial government departments, organizations such as SALGA as well as consultants provide LED guidance and support to the municipalities. And academics do research on LED and small towns in South Africa and publish their results in scientific journals. Yet, given the above, there is an aspect that really puzzles us.

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Of people and enterprises in South African towns

Western CapeOrderliness in enterprise development in South African towns has been observed as statistically significant correlations between different characteristics of South African towns. One of the first correlations noted was a statistically significant positive relationship between the population of South African towns and the number of their enterprises. This was observed in the Free State, the Northern Cape, the Western Cape (see graph) and the Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve. In fact, towns in the Eastern Cape Karoo exhibited such relationships over a period of a century. One can conclude the relationship is ubiquitous in South Africa. Continue reading “Of people and enterprises in South African towns”