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23 May 2024 | Story Dr Nitha Ramnath

South Africa is at a turning point – what does the upcoming general elections mean for South Africa’s democracy? A recent discussion hosted by the University of the Free State (UFS) and the South African Chamber of Commerce United Kingdom (SACC UK) brought together Clem Sunter, a renowned futurologist, UFS Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Prof Francis Petersen, and SACC UK Chairperson, Sharon Constançon, to explore this critical question.

The conversation centred around strategies for inclusive economic growth in South Africa, and speakers emphasised the importance of creating an enabling environment that empowers entrepreneurs, tackles crime and corruption, and fosters public-private partnerships. The dire need for leadership and positive collaboration to overcome the country's challenges was also emphasised. Additionally, the urgency of addressing climate change and the role of education in fostering creativity and adaptability was highlighted.

Collaboration, not control, is key

Sunter argued that South Africa is at an economic crossroads and that the country needs to move away from dependence on big business and government projects to grow. His proposed ‘weaver's nest’ scenario envisions a future where collaboration is key. Different sectors of society, including young entrepreneurs, would work together to create a thriving economy. Sunter even suggested that a coalition government between the ANC and smaller parties could be best positioned to achieve this collaborative approach.

Fostering young problem solvers

Education emerged as another critical pillar. Sunter advocated for an education system that cultivates an entrepreneurial mindset in young people. "Equipping them to solve problems" is paramount, he stressed. He believes the South African education system can benefit by integrating entrepreneurial elements to empower future generations. Small communities, Sunter added, can even self-educate and bypass red tape to foster innovation. Prof Petersen highlighted the importance of attracting foreign investment. He concurred with Sunter that a strong domestic economy fuelled by entrepreneurship and collaboration is the key to attracting investors.

The power of the vote

Constançon acknowledged that the public's voting preferences remain unclear. This uncertainty underscores the importance of voter participation and the power of the vote to shape the future. She urged citizens to actively engage: "Stand for what you believe in and vote for your communities."

The upcoming elections present an opportunity for a new chapter and the path forward requires collective action. Collaboration, fostering entrepreneurship, and investing in education are key ingredients for a more prosperous and sustainable future. 

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