Keeping South Africa United

21 April 2012

The row over the cut in the top rate of income tax in the UK from 50% to 45% in the recent budget shows the fine line a government walks. On the one hand, George Osborne Britains Chancellor of the Exchequer argues that the reduction was necessary to maintain the countrys competitiveness by retaining its high income earners. On the other hand, the Labour Party says that it has a sop for the rich, at a time when ordinary citizens are feeling the pinch of hard times. Adding fuel to the fire is the Chancellors plan to phase out age-related allowances for pensioners.

Here in South Africa, we have a much higher level of inequality of income and wealth; and yet we face the same challenge of having to play effectively in the global economic game. This is the reason why Chantell Ilbury and I have for the past few years used a soccer analogy in defining the possible paths that South Africa could take into the future.

We call our positive scenario Premier League where the country is indeed at the moment, given our membership of G20 and BRICS. However, we warn South Africans that if we lose our talent and our attractiveness as an investment destination, we could slide down into the Second Division. Companies will still make money in the Second Division, but for the government it will be a disaster as they will not get the tax revenue that they got in the Premier League. Neither will they have the same access to international capital, just as Eskom requires several hundred billion rand for the next generation of power stations.

So it is a tightrope. We need to keep our star players and attract new ones to grow our economy at the rate that many other African countries are achieving: seven percent per annum. This means they have to be adequately remunerated. Yet we also need inclusive leadership which binds us together as a coherent team.

As a Chelsea supporter, it is hard for me to say this, but Sir Alex Ferguson is the best manager in the Barclays Premier League because he keeps Manchester United, united. When players like Wayne Rooney think of straying to another club, he manages to make them stay. However, the entire team works as an integrated unit, because all the footballers under his wing feel wanted. He has been responsible for their development and they owe him.

In South Africa, we had one magic month of being a united nation. It was during the hosting of the Soccer World Cup in the middle of 2010. Other than one or two minor glitches, the event was managed magnificently and even crime fell to an all-time low. We were on show and we stepped up to the plate.

Now we must do it again but not for one month. National pride must be restored to a level where we are continuously united. It can be done because Africas star is rising and we are still the star of Africa. No other nation on the continent has as advanced an economy; but to convert that into long-term success requires a quality education system above everything else. Lets roll up our sleeves and do it.