By Edward Chisanga
The Lusaka Times of 27 April 2021 published an article entitled, “The recent comments from South Africa’s Finance Minister Tito Mboweni that the Zambian economy will not register any meaningful growth this year due to poor economic policies has upset the Zambian government.” While the intention of this commentary is not to dwell on the growth or not of the Zambian economy and to prove or not whether Mr. Mboweni’s statement is correct or not, I simply share with readers the performance of the South African economy, in particular its trend of growth, using GDP and GDP per capita growths, since independence from Apartheid.
I’m no economist and I don’t claim to be. I’m simply an international and regional trade expert who has worked with the United Nations for fifteen years helping African countries, among other developing countries to improve their integration in the global economy. In my career, I use economic and trade statistics almost each day to help countries that we support understand how their countries are performing. South Africa is not an exception.
When I read the article about South Africa’s Minister of Finance’s remarks about Zambia’s economic growth, and the Zambian news of 7pm the same day, I was struck by one of Jesus’ parables, when He said, “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to notice the beam in your own eye?” I think it is a similar saying to, ‘Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.’
The South African economy may be more humongous in size than Zambia’s and indeed, any other African countries. But its growth over the years presents a mixed picture that basically follows similar patterns of squeaks and groans as other African economies’. Mr. Mboweni should have broached the sensitive topic he is now bringing to light about our country during the period 1999-2007 when South Africa’s economy was exhibiting spectacular growth, from for example 2.4% to 5.6% shown in Figure 1 below for GDP.
Problem is that he punctures Zambian’s mood of optimism when his own country’s economy, for which he is the driver is facing acute growth challenges perhaps worse than ours, given South Africa’s GDP size is about fifteen-fold that of Zambia and a population equally larger. As can be seen in the image, GDP growth for the period 2010-2019 shrank appallingly from 3.0 to 0.2%.
On the other hand, GDP per capita at $6,000 is about sixfold larger than Zambia’s. While experiencing the highest growth peak that reached 4.3% in 2006 shown in Figure 2 below, and a road to external bliss, when the ‘speck in the brother’s eye’ would have been Zambia’s to take care of, the period from then to 2019 saw extreme growth oscillation of the economic pendulum between one extreme and another.
The worst came in 2019 when GDP per capita growth surrendered to the level of minus 1.2%. And, the presence of Covid19 only makes the situation worse and ignites a sense of hopelessness that the economy will not get back to its 2007 growth level soon.
Clearly, the statistics shown in the foregoing do not exempt the South African Finance Minister from the blame that he is pilling on his Zambian counterpart and government. He has, as much a job to do as his counterpart to make the economy serve its people, in particular the majority poor Africans in South Africa. “For with the same judgment you pronounce, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”