I am writing this while sitting in front of a fireplace in a “backpacker’s” in Kestle, a little town located in the Drakensberg´s mountains located between Johannesburg and Durban. It is snowing outside and we are all very pleased to be indoor and not in our tents…
Snow in Africa
South Africa is a country with a very particular colonial history – a country where the indigenous population always remained in large majority. It is a country blessed with significant natural resources (diamonds and gold are just a few), but long cursed by colonial rule and the perversity of apartheid. A policy so absurd that is simply difficult to comprehend before seeing the black townships and homelands… and visiting the Appartheid Museum. Some 20 years after the transition to democracy, inequality remains alarmingly high and according to Mbeki (2011), unemployment and sufficient educational standards are some of South Africa’s´ most serious challenges over the coming decades. Today I had the pleasure to meet professor H. Russel Botman, Rector and Vice-Chancellor at Stellenbosch University. Professor Botman, who is black, is leading an Afrikaans university and he very eloquently explained the challenges he was facing related to racial integration and reconciliation at his institution. While making it very clear that apartheid is of the past, something he himself is a proof of, he nevertheless told the story of how one his lecturers recently was physically threatened after writing an article claiming the end of apartheid.
Entrepreneurship is frequently mentioned as one way of creating new jobs (Turok 2011), while a lack of entrepreneurial spirit is hampering innovation and job creation. Referring to GEM (Global Entrepreneurship Monitor), several explanatory variables are emphasized in explaining the lack of an entrepreneurial spirit in South Africa, among them structural imbalances in the domestic economy inherited from the apartheid era, a poor educational system and a lack of interest in creating new business in society at large partly as a consequence of many years suffering the aberrations of apartheid.
Returning to the relationship between happiness and welfare for a moment, it may be argued that there is no linearity between welfare and happiness beyond covering Maslow’s most basic needs. It though seems quite obvious based on recent days´ observations, that remnants of apartheid, reflected in social inequality and poverty in a great part of the population, may have influenced South Africans’ self esteem and belief that they can realize themselves through their own actions – amongst other through innovation and a starting their own businesses. What does this have to do with happiness? I would claim that the freedom and opportunity to make your dreams come true through the creation of your own business (never mind risks and long working hours…) and thus becoming independent may be an important factor in the logarithm of overall happiness. Naturally, if this freedom is hampered, one may speculate that this also may impact the social development driven by the entrepreneurial process and thus implied happiness. In my personal and maybe Western perspective – entrepreneurship and independence form part of the freedom to create your own job and by that your happiness!
It is often reasoned that business orientation in general and entrepreneurial spirit in particular somehow are dependent on access to resources (here including, of course, micro-finance or any other type of start-up support); knowledge provided by a satisfactory school system and social support, partly driven by a history and culture inspiring innovation and creativity. If one or several of these factors are weak or somehow distorted, as the case might be in some African societies, where should one start to influence change and encourage entrepreneurship and job creation? In South Africa, during the years of apartheid, blacks and coloreds (today representing the great majority of the population) where by law not only moved to townships and homelands, but also literally prevented from owning or starting businesses. As a result the ownership-structure in the economy is still in the hands of either big governmental companies or in many cases controlled by white minorities. While there are many answers to the question raised, and many of those interrelated, it is no doubt that one main sector in which one might make a difference is in the educational sector – literally on all levels ranging from primary education, professional training (including educators) to the university.
Southern Africa may represent an opportunity for experienced professionals looking for opportunities, as well as, for educators in many fields – a great chance to make a difference for the better by inspiring youths of all colors! Changes take place through the mind and only through education and knowledge may we build a better future.
Moeletsi Mbeki (ed.) “Advocates for Change – How to Overcome Africa’s Challenges”, Picador Africa (Pan Macmillan South Africa), 2011
Ben Turok (ed.) “The Controversy about Economic Growth”, Jakana Media (Pty) Ltd., 2011