Saturday 20 January 2018

David McWilliams: His pragmatism was the key to building a new South Africa

The ANC leader reached out to white fellow citizens, writes David McWilliams

In 2001, I was lucky enough to work briefly in Johannesburg for a large South African advertising agency. The project was a government-sponsored initiative on how to re-brand the new South Africa and how to position the economy. For the first few years post-apartheid, South Africa had been seen as simply a mineral-based, commodity-driven, extractive economy. The state was keen to portray the economy as having a burgeoning entrepreneurial class of small businesses.

In order to facilitate the new image, the ANC government had to build a bridge from the old commodity-based economy to something that felt more like a knowledge economy. Such a bridge is paved with education and education costs a lot.

Therefore, the state was constantly trying to balance the needs of the people and the appetite of investors for risk. As a result, much of the work focused on how to present the changing South African economy to foreign investors.

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