Every now and then, as a journalist, one experiences a story that is encouraging. I recently experienced this during a visit to SANEDI – the South African National Energy Development Institute.
Before, I didn’t even know about the existence of this state enterprise. You will hardly find an institution elsewhere where you will find such a collection of nimble brain power. They are all well-qualified scientists who focus full-time on research into solutions for the country’s pressing energy problems.
It is because of this that one can say that this group was appointed to their positions on merit. (Of course, you don’t know how many other deserving candidates there were.) Merit as a condition to be able to qualify for a position is a term that is often thrown around by white people in particular. This is of course because the policy of black empowerment considers race over merit. At SANEDI, it appears that the expert staff were appointed to the think tank in their own right. It’s as it should be and hopefully it will naturally develop more and more like that. Because merit is fundamentally essential to economic success.
It reminded me of Singapore.
One should probably not praise the country too much and point out that the colonial power, Britain, with the establishment of infrastructure, contributed to a certain extent to the country’s remarkable economic development. (Former leader of the DA, Helen Zille, soon noticed this when she dared to make this statement in a tweet).
But the truth is that this island state, with its five million people, after gaining independence in 1965, advanced by leaps and bounds under its strong leader, Lee Kuan Yew. He believed that success would be determined by the development of the country’s only natural resource – its people. I had the privilege of visiting the country. At a kindergarten, we saw how young children of four years old, sitting in pairs at a computer and learning basic skills.
After children have gone through their quality education, the best are selected to study at the best universities in the world with scholarships. They concentrate on the fields of study science, technology, engineering and mathematics. For every year a student is sponsored, he/she must work for the state for two years. This ensures that only the best become civil servants. The other pillars of success are: merit, pragmatic leadership, tackling corruption and learning from other countries.
It’s all very simple principles that can make a big difference.
At SANEDI there is a merit base that can gain momentum. But it is necessary that greater cohesion be achieved. For example: at the moment there are four ministries that make decisions about the development of energy availability. SANEDI, a state enterprise, is the political boss of the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Gwede Mantashe, and not the Minister of Public Enterprises, Pravin Gordhan. This while Mantashe is cool with the idea of rapidly phasing out coal-fired power stations. In contrast, SANEDI has the specific mandate to develop alternative sources of energy to comply with international agreements for the reduction of greenhouse gases.
Then there is the minister of science and innovation, dr. Blade Nzimande, and the newly appointed Minister for Electricity, “Sputla” Ramokgopa. In addition, there are several other institutions that are busy with energy research, such as the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the CSIR.
It’s just a confused picture and does not testify to pragmatic leadership. Although there “pockets of excellence” is, much more will need to be done to coordinate all the good work. The whip will have to be cracked to eradicate corruption and sabotage. It was precisely in the energy sector where these evils were rampant.
The last lesson from Singapore is the maintenance of a stable political order. If the voters next year give a clear mandate to the political parties, a stable political order can result from that. In the meantime, our valued scientists can uncover the realities and help develop solutions to the challenges we grapple with.