South Africa – eyes on the future but mired in the present

Under President Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa is struggling to overcome a legacy of societal division, economic underperformance and widespread inequality. After a decade of political and economic decay under predecessor Jacob Zuma, the election of Ramaphosa in 2017 promised a forward-looking South Africa: a revitalised powerhouse focused on reform, economic renewal and scientific and industrial progress.

But as Ramaphosa passes three years in office, the country is struggling to escape the toxic legacy of political division and is ravaged by a coronavirus pandemic which has infected millions and killed off the imminent chance of economic progress. In this special report, Tom Collins takes an in-depth look at a country which is grasping towards an ambitious future, but too often constrained by the problems of the present.

A hub for the new sciences

As the location of the world’s first human-to-human heart transplant by Christiaan Barnard and a modern-day hub for advanced research universities, South Africa continues a proud legacy of scientific advancement, and the country is relying on the sector to drive its economy into a new era. 

The announcement by global pharmaceutical giant Johnson and Johnson that it would partner with Durban-based drug maker Aspen to produce Covid-19 vaccines in November is testament to South Africa’s growing technological capabilities, even while South Africa struggles to source its own vaccines. It remains the largest pharmaceutical investment in South Africa and the “single largest manufacturing hub for anaesthetics” in the world.

In this article, we look at other sectors where South African entrepreneurs and scientists are pushing the boundaries.

South African companies make waves in technology

South African companies make waves in technology

Political divisions hamper progress

While President Ramaphosa, himself a multi-millionaire investor, would prefer to focus on dragging the country’s economy into the future and fighting the coronavirus pandemic, his party’s toxic political divisions mean that he is too often constrained in his decision-making.

ANC factions tied to ousted former President Jacob Zuma continue to push for control over the levers of policymaking in order to pursue a more radical economic agenda focused on the nationalisation of land and industry. Meanwhile, the president makes only piecemeal progress towards a reckoning with political corruption, a market-friendly economy and the reform of state-owned enterprises.

While the ANC remains sundered, the country’s loftiest ambitions risk being unmet, as Tom Collins discovers.

A renewable energy future emerges

The renewables sector shows the vast potential if political stasis can be overcome.

The government has taken several important steps to wean South Africa off coal, though critics say that they have not gone far enough from an environmental perspective. The 2019 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) hopes to gradually raise renewables to 24.7% of the energy mix by 2030, reducing coal’s contribution to the energy mix to 43%.

With banks hesitant to finance fossil fuel projects, and renewables becoming more efficient and cheaper, there is great opportunity for local and foreign investment in South Africa’s green energy mix. In real terms, the government’s plan sets the stage for energy companies to build an extra 20,400 MW of solar and wind energy in the next 10 years. Coal plants will gradually be retired, decommissioning 10,500 MW by 2030.

Take an in-depth look at how renewables, a crucial pillar of South Africa’s energy future, are developing.