Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Impressions on visiting South Africa - June 2018

South Africa today, almost three decades after the abolition of apartheid is a very confusing place. I suppose it could be somewhat simplistically described as a dual economy, a society caught in-between the first and the third worlds (as those terms are colloquially understood) with elements of both.

On the one hand there is a modern, industrialized technologically sophisticated economy, with beautiful highways, and vibrant businesses, large and small. The food is fantastic and cheap. And investment and expansion is all around, construction of residences and businesses everywhere. The urban populations are growing dramatically.

On the other hand there is the third world misery within this. Unemployment is rampant. Crime is very high. A large portion of the population is miserably poor. The wealthy live behind walls and barbed wire fences. There are chronic water shortages and electricity blackouts.

The government is typically third world - but with aspects of the rule of law remaining - for example in the judiciary and the electoral system. But people here tell me it is being eroded bit by bit. Corruption is rife, the police are useless, mobs and gangs are powerful and dangerous, especially in the townships and depressed areas. It is doubtful, that no matter how bad things get, the ruling ANC party will ever relinquish power. And the situation is ripe for the flowering of populist politics and economics.

The expenditure tax rate is high (15% VAT) and only 6% of the population of 50 million pay income tax. So the tax base is very small and is falling as the young among the wealthy and the educated leave in large numbers.  The country's human capital is being diminished by this. There is immigration that somewhat offsets this, from all over the world - people leaving bad situations coming to benefits from the manifest business and employment opportunities that do exist, but I don't know the resulting balance between these two trends.

So it is a really mixed bag, one whose future is really difficult to predict.

Monday, June 11, 2018

While visiting South Africa

Back in Joburg after a long six hour drive, some of it with traffic. A day of rest before tomorrow's early flight to Cape Town - till Sunday.
Our trip to the game park was indescribably wonderful. Non-locals might not appreciate the value of it. We saw an amazing variety of game up close in the African bush. Our guide was an elephant expert. We got close enough to a large male to touch his face - not that we did. Heart pounding. I am sure the kids have no idea how lucky they were. A female leopard with a kill in the tree. Lots of lion. All kinds of buck, some of them quite rare. Warthogs, zebras, wildebeest, wonderful birds, rhinos, giraffes, exotic squirrels, ... no cheetah (very rare) or wild dog (even more rare -only two packs in that area and they migrate out and in and were not there).
The park, Tintswalo (part of the greater Mayaleti reserve) is a concession dating from the end of Apartheid. During the Apartheid era it was an inferior blacks only game park. After Apartheid it was privatized (the ultimate fate is still in dispute) and is now a wonderful, luxurious, but not unreasonably priced, game resort. Great food (more than great), great accommodation (with a view of the waterhole to watch animals come down and drink). Dreamworld.