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South Africa’s top 7 challenges in the next 20 years

Published on 23/04/2014

During two decades of democracy South Africa has made massive strides to improve the lives of millions of citizens, but huge challenges remain.

Here experts give their views about seven key challenges South Africa must tackle in the next 20 years:

– Create jobs –

Officially around 25 percent of South Africa’s work force is unemployed, though the real figure is likely closer to 40 percent. Fixing employment remains a herculean task, one successive democratic governments have been unable to crack.

“Massive capital investment is needed to finance a doubling of the rate of economic growth. If that is not achieved there is no way that you can meet expectations,” says Frans Cronje of the South African Institute of Race Relations think tank.

“A job-creating engine in the economy is not there,” says Investment Solutions economist Chris Hart, referring to a dearth of small businesses. “It’s not that we don’t have small to medium enterprises. It’s just that we have too few.”

– Fix the education system –

University enrolment has skyrocketed since racially segregated schooling ended. But the quality of basic education is patchy and often atrocious, leaving many learners without basic literacy and other skills.

“There has been changes in terms of education policy, but implementation remains an issue,” says independent analyst Ralph Mathekga. “Failure to deal with the education challenges means that the education system will continue to remain a weaker link in the chain.”

– Tackle inequality –

Though technically a middle-income country, South Africa remains one of the most unequal nations on earth. The average black family’s income is a third below the national yearly average of $11,900.

“The biggest source of inequality is unemployment. If someone doesn’t have a job there’s an inequality even with someone with the lowest-level job,” says Hart.

Better salaries for lower-level jobs and tax structures that are more lenient on individuals could also help, he adds.

– Get crime under control –

South Africa has notoriously high rates of violent crime. And while the annual number of murders has already halved to 16,000 a year since 1994, crime remains endemic, as does distrust of the police force.

“Very long-term solutions lie in two areas: one is more effective policing, which is perfectly possible, the other is socioeconomic conditions,” says Cronje.

“Crime is high because many young people are unemployed,” according to Shannon Ebrahim, political analyst and former presidential advisor.

– Stop corruption –

Graft has siphoned away money from government projects and the delivery of municipal services, denting faith in South Africa’s public institutions.

According to Mathekga corruption has undermined the “capacity and integrity of the government bureaucracy”. Dissatisfaction over poor municipal services has boiled over into hundreds of violent anti-government protests every year.

“It’s politically suicidal for the African National Congress to continue to publicly defend grotesque examples of corruption such as Nkandla,” says Cronje, referring to $23-million state-paid upgrades to President Jacob Zuma’s private home — which the government corruption watchdog ruled inappropriate and ordered him to partly repay.

– Keep up the good health work –

A decade ago policies helped bring down HIV infection rates by a third. But South Africa still has more than six million people living with the virus — the largest number in the world — and data show the infection rate is ticking up again.

More financing is needed, but that “can only be done via much higher levels of growth and much higher government revenue,” says Cronje.

– Fix the roads and rails –

Ageing infrastructure needs urgent upgrades to cope with an expanding population and bigger economy. State utilities are already struggling to keep the lights on at current population levels.

Challenges remain in infrastructure that improves quality of life, like water and electricity provision, says Hart. But work is also needed on roads, rails and other structures that provide the backbone to the economy.

“That’s the infrastructure onto which business will hang their investment and in that create jobs,” says Hart.