Harnessing the sun at Scatec’s Kalkbult plant in the Karoo, the first solar energy plant to feed into the South African national grid. Picture: LONI PRINSLOO
Harnessing the sun at Scatec’s Kalkbult plant in the Karoo, the first solar energy plant to feed into the South African national grid. Picture: LONI PRINSLOO

SA is not asking the right questions about what’s required to positively influence its economic and social trajectory. For too long now, the debate has centred on what steps the government should be taking to bed down pronounced levels of policy certainty — and while this clearly matters — it isn’t what will singularly unlock a path to growth.

Growth is a collective responsibility and a collective result of new decisions and actions that challenge, improve and, where appropriate, disregard the status quo. What we’re not doing is asking questions about where and when we disregard the status quo.

If we are to park the policy question, it demands a discussion about what other solutions we should be putting on the table. Taking back the locus of control is about how policy enables decisions rather than limiting the thinking behind them. The emphasis must shift towards a collective effort to understand our environment, to a point where we use science to solve our challenges and, as a result, to a point where we embrace what amounts to a new "rebel path" that enables our future.

Without a doubt, this means we need to start making decisions that challenge accepted norms and which drive behaviours that deliver real results. But the question remains: a rebel path in what areas? There are three immediate opportunities to deliver growth in SA, but it requires acknowledgement that rebel thinking is constructive and that rebel actions may just provide the solutions we are looking for.

1. The rebel path to unlocking access to low-cost and ubiquitous energy by investing in solar power.

It remains a real tragedy that we are not one of the world’s top producers of solar power given our very favourable climatic conditions. A rebel decision is to no longer invest massive amounts of capital in building traditional, fossil fuel-powered plants and, instead, scientifically plan how the same capital can be invested to effectively empower households to put up rooftop solar power that feeds the grid — which has not been given the focus it deserves.

The rebels in all South Africans would need to bravely disregard how municipalities earn revenue from electricity and to rather focus our efforts on calculating the offset value of investment in solar against the value of free capital this creates, as well as what this means measurably in terms of municipal and public gain as a result.

It is an undoubtedly rebel decision, but in acknowledging this, should we not embrace the alternatives it can provide? Can it not create a new roadmap to innovation that generates jobs, leapfrogs our energy security risks, and creates sustainable investment opportunities? The numbers would likely stack up both in capital savings, as well as the secondary economic and social growth it generates, and what this means for the fiscus in the longer term — not to mention the positive environmental impact.

 

Surely there is a measurable and defined solution on how we use these high levels of mobile penetration to leapfrog how we embrace technology in our economy and society, and promote ease of doing business?

2. The rebel path to leapfrogging technical readiness and competitiveness.

According to a recent report produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit, SA is ranked 42nd in global technical readiness. Not exactly a great argument for investment and, if we’re honest, it indicates no rebel thinking or attendant results. Contrary to this, SA is also ranked in the top 10 markets globally in terms of mobile penetration. Surely there is a measurable and defined solution on how we use these high levels of mobile penetration to leapfrog how we embrace technology in our economy and society, and promote ease of doing business?

So, while we can acknowledge that, to a large degree, our current telecoms landscape positions us for growth, it does raise some rebel questions about how we move faster to deliver 5G access; how we finally sort out spectrum access; and, importantly, how we innovate to create a landscape that promotes investment and low latency internet coverage at scale.

What is important here is that it ultimately benefits small-business growth and development through access to data, but at the same time does not disintermediate local companies that currently provide these products and services.

The rebels in us should seek to be doing both. In a future where we are accessing cheaper satellite networks that reduce data costs, we should be looking to invest the savings in more innovative end-use products and services that beneficiate data and promote our competitiveness as an investment destination. The planning for this starts now. Brave, perhaps, but entirely necessary if we are to gear ourselves for a business and skills landscape that doesn’t exist yet.

3. The rebel path to technology-led learning models that deliver the skills we will need well into the future.

The implication of both the previous rebel paths is the dire need to move the needle on education, and accepting that we are not moving fast enough. This creates the need for a rebel path in education itself.

There are only so many physical schools we can build, but none of these will deliver the effective speed we need to meet the future demands of competitive skills from our society. We must embrace the rebel path that places technology-led learning methods and content at the centre, along with the appreciation that it is key to the exponential growth we need. There are many fragmented corporate social responsibility efforts to drive this in SA, but there is very little alignment that focuses it at the sharp end of the blade and delivers the aligned impact and scale it actually needs. Added to this is the time and learning at a management level required to deliver a new generation of senior management that is more comfortable with technology and its role in business.

If SA is to emerge from its current growth slump, it needs to start to embrace what the rebel path to success looks likes. South Africans are inherently can-do rebels by nature. Indeed, our inherent non-conformist nature and culture makes our society more amenable to pursuing the rebel path in making these things happen. Key to this is the political will to change our approach and to spark an engaged evolution towards real progress and competitiveness.

Cambitsis is CEO of Business Science Corporation.