Tuesday, May 27, 2008

South Africa. Life after gold.

Does it feel like South Africa is settling for second best? Perhaps South Africa [and Africa, actually] needs to wake up and see the new opportunities in front of us.

After being the world's top gold producer for about 105 years, China supplanted South Africa during 2007 as the world's number one, proving that we can never take anything for granted.

Africa, including South Africa, has always been rich in natural resources such as gold, diamonds and platinum, and it is on the back of this that much of Africa has grown. We've have relied a lot on this, and evidence thereof is the resource companies like Anglo American and BHP Billiton among the SA Giants. In the back of our minds, we know these resources won't last forever. But even if they last for a very long time, is it right for us to continue to rely on these as our key to the world?

And is it possible to really change our focus?

I would say that it's not just a good idea, but an absolute necessity!

For starters, consider the Dubai success story. Dubai could easily have taken its own primary resource - oil - for granted. But they haven't, and they have successfully ensured their own longevity by changing their strategy. If Dubai had continued to pursue its old ways, it's probably fair to say that they would not be in the position they currently are in, and most of their economic success and growth would still be highly reliant on oil.

For South Africa and Africa, where would our greatest opportunities lie? Consider this:

Technology currently presents South Africa [and Africa] with our greatest opportunity to-date to truly compete on a global stage. This is our chance to change the playing field!

How? Globally, the rules have changed and location is not critical in many industries already. The most obvious example of this is the trend towards outsourcing call-centres to India, and also outsourcing IT to China.

So surely then, even if Africa as a whole makes up about 2% of global GDP, less than Brazil's contribution, it doesn't actually matter...

The world is waiting to reward the great innovators and thinkers. Even though "technological innovation was the heart of the industrial revolution", that was led by physical technology and mass-production. Now mass innovation and mass creativity takes preference, and it removes the physical barriers that have always restricted nations such as ours.

At last, intellectual property can be created and sold without borders. Just think, using the internet and technology available today, we can create products and ideas here in South Africa and sell them globally almost instantaneously.

We have many talented individuals with great ideas. We have technology available to us which opens up a global market to us. We just need to understand how to use this to our advantage. We know that this would not be without it's challenges [see Erik's good post on Africa's technology gap], but the risks are larger - see this post by Tycoon's Geoff Candy about SA falling behind in the Internet stakes.

This is too good an opportunity for us to miss! So what do we do?
Let's promote the growth of leaders in this sphere.
Let's promote investment in creative and/or technology businesses.
Let's promote a greater understanding of how creativity and technology can revolutionise all of our industries here at home - and globally.

I believe this country needs to seriously focus on the development of valuable [globe-shaking] intellectual property!

What do you think?

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