Part of growing up is accepting that you can’t magically turn into your idol. You have to build on your own strengths and find your own path. Democratic SA is now well past the age of maturity, and it’s time to accept that we are not going to turn into an East Asian tiger, with double-digit growth kick-started by huge exports of clothing and then appliances. That reality emerges unavoidably from analysis of SA’s manufactured exports. The share of clothing and appliances in our exports comes to just 4%, compared to 12% for other upper-middle-income economies excluding China, and 42% for China. The rapid growth in clothing and appliance exports at the start of Asian industrialisation generated jobs on a large scale. As a result, industrial policy benefited the majority of the population, making it possible to mobilise broad support. In SA, by contrast, clothing and appliances are relatively small, precarious and slow-growing. While SA lags in the normal gateway industries for industri...

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