Prioritising infrastructure programmes to recover from looting devastation
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By Dr Anna Mokgokong
“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
After a wave of lawlessness swept across our beloved Rainbow Nation as looters aggressively plundered, ransacked and burnt stores in shopping malls and warehouses, stoking fears of food and medicine shortages and inflicting a devastating blow to the already battered economy, not to mention the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, these comforting words from American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou, are poignant and reassuring.
ECONOMIC GROWTH ENABLERS
On the eve of Women’s Month, I shudder when I ponder about the situation of women in our country in terms of unemployment, small businesses, which were impacted by the recent developments. Many of these utilised their meagre earnings to feed and educate their children.
So what next? As the dust settles, the answer lies in prioritising infrastructure programmes and agricultural programmes as enablers of stimulating economic growth.
Women farmers could represent an important social segment of any society that are critical to the survival of the family and its economic well-being. Let alone food security of the nation and poverty alleviation.
Why do I believe that infrastructure development programmes could be enablers for economic growth? Indeed, why should more attention be given to the role of women in agriculture as important elements of economic growth and development?
The infrastructure sector consists of power, telecommunications, roads, ports, railways, air transport, urban infrastructure, information communication technology and industrial estates.
All these sectors have the ability to absorb all members of the economically active society, such as manual labourers to dig trenches, engineers to ensure operational safety, let alone accountants to crunch the figures.
Researchers have suggested that China, South Korea and Singapore have been good examples of countries where growth can be attributed to capital investment. In other words, new machinery, better technology, and more investment in infrastructure have helped them out of the economic quagmires of unemployment and poverty.
We need investment in physical infrastructure in order to improve the delivery of social services and to enhance its internal and global competitiveness.
Our country’s physical infrastructure is inadequate in comparison with world standards and has been identified as one of the critical reasons for the lethargic economic growth in the country.
PUBLIC PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS
We all know that in the provision of public infrastructure, the government is not always able to find its own funding and latest cutting-edge technology. Thus, it is necessary to engage the private sector to support the government in implementing its public obligations.
Public-private partnerships are playing a bigger role in capital projects across all areas of government, such as transportation, communications, power generation, energy delivery, water and wastewater, waste disposal, healthcare and others.
Therefore, to augment limited public resources for infrastructure, private sector participation in infrastructure development needs to be encouraged by creating the necessary enabling environment to share costs while achieving project-evolving goals.
ICT INFRASTRUCTURE AND JOB CREATION
For example, along with roads, ports, railways, air transport, urban infrastructure and agricultural development, a comprehensive ICT infrastructure should be ranked highly among national development priorities.
As the essential element of the development of a knowledge economy that offers value-added products and services to the world, ICT has the potential to build lucrative businesses and create new jobs as we face the fourth industrial revolution.
As seen even during the Covid-19 lockdowns, as an enabler of other industries, ICT has the capacity to raise productivity and efficiency in all economic sectors, including even agriculture.
Even during the pandemic, ICT has transformed our lives for the better in many ways, including extending accessibility to education, revolutionising community networking during the lockdowns, enhancing healthcare services through telemedicine, extending the distribution of goods through e-commerce and even promoting culture and leisure and other components of the quality of life during difficult times.
WOMEN AS KEY DRIVERS OF ECONOMIC GROWTH
Lastly, it would be remiss of me not to emphasise the role that apart from performing the roles of mothers, wives and executives, most women particularly, in the rural areas, engage in subsistence farming as a means of livelihood. Women are key drivers of economic and social growth.
To quote Charlotte Maxeke: “Let no man or woman be left behind”, as we build our economy. Let this be an inclusive approach.
Commercial agriculture is a key economic driver. It is a pity that this important role of women in agriculture has been looked down upon despite its contribution to the socio-economic growth and development of many African states.
It is said that the new gold globally is a cultivation of avocados, cherries and blueberries. South Africa sits on plenty of arable land that can be utilised for this and participate in the local and global supplies.
Therefore, more attention needs to be given to the role of women in agriculture as it is important to national economic growth, food security and development.
We need more community-based businesses that embrace communities jointly inclusive of all skill bases. This would bring about a sense of ownership and belonging to all.
Let us encourage the involvement of more women in subsistence farming and guarantee food production and consumption for domestic purposes. It is crucial to realise the value and worth of women farmers in our society.
Indeed, history has recorded that in the worst dare-devil looting since the dawn of democracy in 1994, looters have destroyed malls in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal and most affected women entrepreneurs with small stores in these centres and sadly, they have no Sasria insurance, their future gloomy.
As French essayist and playwright Victor Hugo once opined: “What is history? An echo of the past in the future; a reflex from the future on the past.”
Let history record that we emerged from the looting of shopping malls, burning of trucks, ever-increasing poverty, economic inequality and unemployment, by prioritising infrastructure programmes and empowering women farmers and promoting those in business.
* Dr Anna Mokgokong is chairman of AfroCentric Health Group, and Community Investment Holdings.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.