Book review: Better Choices

Better Choices: Ensuring South Africa’s Future

Edited by Greg Mills, Mcebisi Jonas, Haroon Bhorat and Ray Hartley

Picador Africa

Review: Karen Watkins

There is hope among the rainbow coloured covers of this must-read, accessible book.

Load shedding, increasing inflation, unemployment, rising fuel and food costs and insecurity are daily concerns.

Enter a team of 24 local experts who tackle these topics and others and dive into details and history to offer constructive solutions.

In 1994 there was hopeful optimism as the new South African government claimed to embrace a better life for all.

So why has the South African economy, along with that of other African countries, plummeted while the rest of the world has comparatively prospered? This key question lies behind this book compiled by the Brenthurst Foundation, a think-tank established by the Oppenheimer family in 2004.

In the foreword, Jonathan Oppenheimer says South Africa is poised on the edge of a low-growth, high-unemployment abyss, from which it needs a miracle to emerge. Instead of being yet another book pointing out the problems which are already well documented, the Brenthurst Foundation decided to focus on solutions.

Among the chapters are fixing SARS by Dennis Davis; competition policy by Liberty Mncube; social insurance by Andrew Donaldson; the role of SOEs by Alan Hirsch; Transnet by Derek Thomas and tourism by Kate Rivett-Carnac.

It was Eskom and the Great Power Puzzle by Greg Hartley that I turned to. With sections on panic stations and hyenas at the door, Hartley unearthed memories of 13 CEOs having a stab at fixing the parastatal.

In his summary, the three choices make it all seem so simple. It all boils down to the state not having the skills or resources to tackle our major infrastructure problems in electricity and rail, for example, but politicians are afraid to allow the private sector into these areas because they fear they will be yielding control and lose out on rentals.

The picture that emerges is that unless better policy choices are made, we will continue on this downhill trajectory.

We need to face this challenge and find the political will to make tough choices and see their implementation through.

South Africans also have an amazing ability to step back from the abyss and grab victory from the jaws of defeat.

Doing so, and delivering on the promise of 1994, demands displaying direction and leadership.

This book is for anyone who is interested in making a positive contribution towards changing how this country works by seeking solutions, talking about them and motivating them.

● To win a copy of Better Choices, email your name, phone number and the area where you live to before midnight on Sunday October 2. Put “Better Choices” in the subject line.

● We received 34 entries in last week’s competition for the book One Italian Summer. The lucky winner was Leonie Scheepers of Somerset West.