Look back at 2012 before starting 2013

January 8, 2013
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This is the time of the year when forward-looking organisations are finalising the last details of their 2013 plans.  More insightful organisations are also taking time to reflect on 2012 – on the highs and lows; on lessons learnt.  A look back at 2012, globally and locally, provides some startling insights and enables us to meet 2013 in confidence.

There were, of course, a number of significant international low points in 2012.  No-one needs reminding of the ongoing uncertainty of the European economic situation, or the looming ‘fiscal cliff’ in the USA.  The continuing violence in the Middle East has also remained in the headlines this year.  Economic, political and – crucially – social uncertainty are widespread globally, and the pressure on international leaders to find solutions remains immense.  The re-election of Barack Obama to the US Presidency offers some consistency, but the extent to which he will effectively focus on issues abroad while handling his pressing domestic crises is still unclear.

A continent on the move

Africa may well be, in economic terms, the global high point of 2012.  With an average GDP growth of 5% over the past decade, and similar future growth projected, it is the place to be for the foreseeable future.  Investors are looking to the continent to shore up poor performance in Europe and the US, to open new markets and to meet growing demand for resources of energy and minerals.  Being able to connect to global and African supply chains from Cape Town can enable local business to reach new markets for South African goods and services, whilst simultaneously leveraging the diversity of Africa to bring unique solutions to the world.

The rapid urbanisation of Africa presents more opportunity for the Cape Town City Region.  Addressing energy security is a global challenge.  Cape Town is best positioned to service the West African oil and gas industry, being the closest region with the required expertise.  The region’s four universities represent significant intellectual property which can be further targeted at finding solutions in renewable energy, mass transport and food security.  Learning lessons from countries such as Singapore – which focuses part of its research and development into finding innovative solutions to address water scarcity, resulting in a multi-billion dollar new industry – is something Cape Town can exploit as we look to the growing needs of Africa.

Not without challenges

However, aggregation does not give the full picture.  Conflict in South Sudan, Nigeria, Libya and Somalia, in particular, continue to unsettle the region.  And, crucially, South Africa’s GDP growth rate lags so far behind the rest of the continent that Nigeria is now slated to overtake South Africa as the continent’s biggest economy in the not-too-distant future.

When considering 2012 in a South African context, it would be easy to focus on a long list of ‘lows’.  International benchmarking has yielded bleak results.  South Africa is ranked 140th in the world for the quality of its education – and 143rd in terms of math and science!  South Africa is now ranked 52nd of 144 countries in terms of competitiveness, down from 50 in 2011.  South Africa’s labour market efficiency ranking of 113th is another complicating factor, bedeviling attempts to find broad-based solutions for these issues

No review of the past year in South Africa would be complete without recognition of the tragic events at Marikana in August.  They have changed the world’s view of South Africa and our view of ourselves.  South Africa’s leaders face one of their largest crises, and the implications of these events, and the leadership response, remain far from clear.

We should never forget, however, that there are always high points in any look back at a year in South Africa.  The completion and handover on 15 August of the National Development Plan is a beacon of hope in the South African landscape.  The Plan not only sets out a broad vision for South Africa to 2030, but also has a number of ‘smart’ goals by which to achieve the vision.  In 2013 and beyond it will be up to business and other stakeholders to ensure the Plan is executed.

Hope for the year ahead

2012 has been a challenging year, with the lows of Marikana and De Doorns locally, and political and economic conflict overshadowing much of the world.  However, there were also several significant reasons to celebrate this year.  If there are lessons to be learned from 2012, they would include the need to take the long view.  The City Region, and the country, have amply demonstrated over time that we can overcome seemingly-intractable problems.  The highs and lows of 2012 should form the backdrop of our plans, and should ensure that we remain focused on building Cape Town into a global African city of inspiration and innovation.

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