Noah Smith draws parallels between the growth and development of traditionally poor countries in Southeast Asia and the laggards in Africa (“Why Africa needs a Southeast Asia-type of renewal”, December 5).

He states: “Southeast Asia was once almost completely colonised by European powers and much of it was devastated by wars and internal strife in the mid 20th century. The 1997 Asian financial crisis was a particularly long-lasting setback. But in the 2010s growth accelerated all across the region, the standout being Vietnam, whose living standards have quintupled since 1990.”

Smith adds that Vietnam has liberalised its economy, privatised state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and promoted manufacturing and exports. Indonesia and the Philippines are entering a phase of explosive growth, with incomes that have doubled since the turn of the century. He continues: “an entire region growing like gangbusters is an incredible accomplishment and demonstrates the success of decolonisation and globalisation”.

Smith claims this success was based on “making stuff” with the added benefit of the geographical proximity of wealthy countries such as China, Taiwan and Japan, but adds, politely, that these factors “should not prevent individual African countries from trying hard to industrialise on their own”.

However, a glaring omission from Smith’s analysis is any reference to work ethic, productivity, integrity, initiative, skills, hard work, commitment and dedication. The sad fact is that in SA we don’t “make stuff” and we don’t “try hard”. Twenty-six years after the advent of democracy we are still unable to perform because of the debilitating effects of colonisation.

We need policies such as broad-based BEE to protect us from the influence of a dwindling number of “evil” whites. We don’t work hard, we work less for more pay. We don’t “make stuff” — that’s too complex and far too onerous. We cannot run SOEs, but will never consider privatising them as did Vietnam. We cannot manage a post office, a rail network, an airline, a bank (without stealing all the money), hospitals, schools, public toilets, even potholes.

We have a speaker of the House who cannot manage a pig farm, a top-six governing party official who is the subject of an entire book entitled Gangster State; a public protector who is, in effect, an enemy of the state but cannot be dispensed with; and a legal commission of inquiry into state capture that needs two to three years to complete its work.

The only way we in SA will ever aspire to the achievements of Southeast Asia is if we import Southeast Asians.

John Perry

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