We take it for granted because we have it, but our Constitution is remarkable – MPUMELELO MKHABELA

Why we need to recharge our batteries of patriotism

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni has created a reputation on Twitter as an unofficial de facto ambassador of Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda.

His social media followers regularly tease him about his admiration of Kigali. It has gotten to a point where a lot of what he says on Twitter lately is linked to Kigali, however unrelated.

It is reminiscent of Western Cape Premier Helen Zille’s infamous admiration of Singapore, the country that inspired her controversial colonial tweets. There was a time she could hardly say something without her followers sarcastically responding by referring to Singapore.

There’s a difference though: Mboweni’s followers are amused; Zille’s were outraged.

It appears Mboweni and Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda, have become best friends. In 2016, Kagame appointed Mboweni as one of the top experts to advise on African Union reforms to make the continental organisation more effective. The AU had appointed Kagame to lead the reform process.

The AU work meant Mboweni, the former governor of the South African Reserve Bank, would visit Kigali regularly for meetings. He was, as are many others who have visited Rwanda, very impressed with Kigali’s cleanliness.

Thus began Mboweni’s public endorsement of Kigali as the best place to visit and emulate. Since then, the picturesque Magoebaskloof, where Mboweni lives in Limpopo, has a competitor among the places he promotes to his social media followers.

Herman Mashaba, the mayor of Johannesburg, was also so impressed with Kigali’s cleanliness that he adopted a similar cleaning campaign. Like Mboweni, he leaves no doubt that he admires Rwanda and its leader.

Interestingly, Mboweni recently contrasted Johannesburg’s filthiness with Kigali’s cleanliness. 

Mboweni and Mashaba are entitled to speak good of Kigali and Rwanda, particularly if the intention is to learn. So is Zille on Singapore, albeit on a different note, I must add. 

We can only be a great nation if we have the necessary humility to learn from others. The global cross-pollination of good ideas and innovation can only make the world a better place.

But public endorsement of the competitive advantages of other nations must not come at the expense of promoting our own country and its own unique features. 

Rwanda’s efficiency and cleanliness are its competitive branding story internationally. Kagame’s government went to the extent of controversially buying expensive branding on the sleeve of Arsenal’s football shirts.

What is South Africa’s story? Of course, South Africa has multiple competitive advantages. It would be so unfair to Rwanda to even begin drawing up contrasts. On cleanliness alone, we have a country that is regularly acknowledged internationally. Let’s leave it to Mboweni to tweet about it and for Mashaba to learn from it.

Notwithstanding many of our problems, South Africa is a great country. We take it for granted because we have it, but our Constitution is remarkable. Flowing from it are wonderful institutions and a noisy but flourishing democratic culture. 

We have a huge natural resource endowment. With a positive attitude among the business community and a sound working relationship with government, the endowment can be converted to an economic success story. We also have good homegrown, globally competitive companies that are regularly enticed by other countries as investors, like we do others when our government goes around the world looking for good investors.

We host many companies who believe in South Africa because of its strong financial system, sound regulatory environment, a competent and independent judiciary, and no arbitrary deprivation of property or assets. Take it for granted if you want, but these form part of the South Africa’s story.

I need not mention tourist destinations. There are so many, I might inadvertently underestimate some of them.

Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom is best placed.

The challenge for South Africa is to make sure that we don’t use our constitutionally enshrined political freedoms to tear ourselves apart. Yes, we need political competition, but not a political race to the bottom where political parties seek and get votes by promising to tear apart the very foundation that makes it possible for them to be active in politics. That foundation is constitutionalism.

It would be great to see our leaders in all sectors regularly boast about our powerful constitutional system, our institutions, our tourism destinations, our political culture as outspoken citizens (no adverse consequences for doing so), our human rights and our attractiveness as a place where people from all over the world come and do business.

In other words, we need to recharge our batteries of patriotism.

– Mkhabela is a political analyst and regular columnist for News24.

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