SA must meet demand for infrastructure

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Pretoria - With Africa seen as one of the world’s fastest growing economic hubs, meeting the demand for key infrastructure should be a priority, says Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba.  

He said the country’s lack of infrastructure was a serious obstacle to growth and development and resulted in a low level of intra-African trade.

Delivering the inaugural lecture on Africa’s Future, under the theme South Africa and Africa’s Infrastructural Futures in the 21st century, Gigaba saw infrastructure as the main enabler of trade and economic integration and the key stepping stone to the development of the continent.

But for it to work, he said there was a need for a new economic order which must be based on a “fresh, robust and relevant perspective”.

“We are called upon by this moment to seek new models of growth and development that will ensure that we succeed to make Africa’s human and natural resources work for us and through them, change our client and beggar relationship with the world by converting ourselves from being mere producers and exporters of primary commodities to that of producers and exporters of manufactured and value-added products.”

He told academia attending the lecture that the on-going global economic turbulence presented a “glorious opportunity for Africa” and much of the developing world to restructure its economy and pursue industrialisation on a scale Asia has achieved in the last decades, even though it posed enormous challenges.

Calling  for international collaboration in tackling Africa’s infrastructure deficit and partnerships with established economies and the developing economies, Gigaba said Africa’s failure to integrate with other African countries was limiting economic grow.

He said the road to developing Africa’s infrastructure must be led by the Africans for themselves for their own benefit - collectively.  

This, he said, would be done by investment in its human capital. A highly skilled labour force and the creation of infrastructure for high-technology industries is what Africa was desperate for.

“We must turn our attention decisively towards pursuing socio-economic freedom,” he said, explaining that this would help in tackling the persistence of extreme income inequalities, deep poverty and high levels of unemployment, particularly affecting the youth on the continent.

According to Gigaba, African countries should stop being a global supplier of raw commodities and move towards supplying value added products.

This would help increase intra-African trade to at least the level of intra-Asian trade of 40 percent to 50 percent or, at best, intra-European Union trade of 80 percent, he said.

“We must proceed from the premise that Africa is not a poor continent, her human, intellectual and natural resources make her probably the richest continent in the world.

“Until now, Africa’s natural resources have served more as a curse than a blessing, having been the primary reason for the scramble for Africa and her colonisation for such a prolonged period of time,” said Gigaba.

The minister’s comments come as government undertakes a massive infrastructure development plan.

The infrastructure plan is intended to transform the economic landscape of South Africa, create a significant number of new jobs, strengthen the delivery of basic services and support the integration of African economies.

On Wednesday, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan announced in his 2013 National Budget that the fiscus and State-Owned Companies intend spending R827 billion over the next three years to build infrastructure. –