By Bukar Usman
Ranking Nigeria and South Africa among the biggest economies in Africa continues to make news as the experts juggle figures. Sometime ago, Nigerian economy was rated higher than South Africa after a technical economic rebasing by experts. The latest news is that South Africa has again overtaken Nigeria.
After two recent visits to South Africa, I have come to the conclusion that one needs to put aside the figures to make a more realistic assessment of the level of development in both countries. The focus should be on what the realities on the ground are in all the relevant areas, in order to make any comparison meaningful to the people of both countries and to other interested parties.
To start with, Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria, is a beautiful city by any standard. It was designed after the planners had visited some countries’ capital cities to draw some ideas. Cities like Pretoria in South Africa, Canberra in Australia, Islamabad in Pakistan and Brasilia in Brazil, among others, were visited. In spite of some signs of deterioration manifesting lately, Abuja remains a fairly modern capital city and the pride of the nation. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, named after the first President of Nigeria and one of the monuments in the city, is currently being expanded. Until the scaffolds are removed upon completion, it would be premature to compare it with Oliver Reginald Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa’s City of Gold. Named also after an illustrious citizen of South Africa, the airport in Johannesburg was established in 1952 but has been renovated and renamed several times. One of the major renovations was in 2009/2010 ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. It has since registered a strong presence as an edifice comparable in prestige to Dubai airport and other impressive international airports across the world.
Travelling by air from Nigeria to South Africa, a 6-hour flight tempts one to make comparisons in aerial impressions. Aerially, both countries present spectacular countryside views but as one glides into Oliver R. Tambo Airport, the aerial delight becomes even more stunning. The aerial view as one lands in Abuja is also quite impressive but no less admirable is the view of Pretoria, South Africa’s administrative capital barely half an hour journey by road from Johannesburg.
The space between the two South African cities is almost built up, making the Johannesburg- Pretoria axis a sprawling urban hub marked by heavy vehicular traffic on the four lanes of each side of the dual carriageway like the Abuja city centre to Zuba.
If the delightful aerial view of South Africa offers its alluring attractions, what obtains on the ground in South Africa has its special, if not unique, attractions. Outside the Johannesburg-Pretoria conurbation, Cape Town (the legislative capital of South Africa), Durban and some other notable places reportedly offer more sublime images of South Africa as a beautiful country. I look forward to visiting those places some day to get a panoramic view of the country. Until then, I concur with the popular Nigerian actor Bobby Michaels’ statement that “The first thing I found interesting when I arrived at Johannesburg was the fact that it (South Africa) is an African country built in European fashion. Until you visit South Africa, most of the things you see on television are not what South Africans represent. I experienced a different thing. The airport is beautiful; a view of the country outside the airport is fantastic. They have smooth roads compared to what we have in Nigeria and the air is clean and fresh. It is more like Europe.” (Sunday Punch, August 21, 2016, p.28).
For someone coming from Nigeria, this is an inevitable impression of South Africa. However, one should hastily add that beyond the glitters are disquieting social realities; what one may call the debit side of the coin. The social shortcomings are largely traceable to that country’s long history of apartheid and its official policy of segregation and separate development. That policy effectively herded the majority Black population into marginal squalid settlements while the minority White population occupied and enjoyed the best of the land and the good life. Apartheid stratified the South African society, with Whites at the topmost layer of the system, Indians, Malays and other coloureds (persons of mixed ethnic origin) beneath them, and Blacks at the lowest stratum.
This is now history. Apartheid was officially abolished when the revered father figure, Madiba Nelson Mandela, became the first democratically elected President of South Africa in 1994. The apartheid policy left huge scars which succeeding governments are making feverish efforts to obliterate. But there are vestiges of the past in fringe settlements such as the townships of Mamelodi and Soshanguve of Pretoria and the better known Soweto of Johannesburg. These places are comparable to Lagos’ Ajegunle and Abuja’s Nyanya in Nigeria. They are areas of deprivation gaping for attention in terms of housing and access to modern amenities.
It is noteworthy, however, that South Africa’s current National Development Plan 2030, christened “Our future – make it work” has laid out elaborate policies and programmes to grow South Africa out of the current situation into an inclusive economy and an inclusive society by the target date. The overall aim, in the words of the South African National Development Plan document, is to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality, towards building a society where opportunity is determined not by birth but by ability, education and hardwork.
Though South Africa’s population is just about a third of Nigeria’s, South Africa has a much larger land mass than Nigeria. About 60% of South Africa’s population is urbanised and largely concentrated in the South East embracing Durban and Natal, the South West area of Cape Town and the upland areas of Johannesburg, Pretoria (Thuasne) and Limpopo. While Nigeria has 36 States and a Federal Capital Territory, South Africa has 9 Provinces.
The South African National Development Plan document acknowledges shortage of water across the country. Indeed, according to the plan document, South Africa is ranked 148 among 180 countries in terms of availability of water per capita. This indicates great need for potable water and water for agriculture. This notwithstanding, South Africa has done and is doing remarkably well in agriculture and the provision of amenities and social services which are nagging issues in Nigeria.
With respect to the supply of energy and electricity to the populace, South Africa has attained some measure of stability. Surprisingly, South Africa relies on coal as the major source of power even though the National Development Plan document emphasises that a serious effort is being made to reduce reliance on that resource in accordance with South Africa’s commitment to the global effort to cut down on pollution. Given the pivotal role coal plays in meeting the energy needs of South Africa, one wonders why Nigeria’s planners did not factor the Okaba and Enugu coal deposits into Nigeria’s power and energy development. The apparent over reliance on gas, which is at the root of Nigeria’s current power predicament, is sufficiently indicative of faulty planning.
Commerce and businesswise, a visitor from Nigeria does not need to look too closely to see that, Nigeria’s economy and that of South Africa are interconnected. The numerous sign boards and neon lights all over the streets and highways of South Africa announce the presence of several notable companies in Nigeria. The companies include those in banking, auditing, telecommunications and transportation sectors, to mention a few. But in terms of the way both countries conduct commercial activities, South Africa is a bit more organised. While Nigeria’s supermarkets are generally located in different places, South Africa boasts of malls that are well built on hectares of land to house several supermarkets. These malls have well-spaced car-park entrances and exits which are electronically controlled to ensure fee collection and hassle-free accountability. Unlike Nigeria, South African cities are largely devoid of petty traders and it is rare to see someone hawking or begging in traffic and on the highways. That helps to keep the cities clean.
Education is given a pride of place in the South African National Development Plan document, earlier mentioned, and the goal is to reinforce the existing enviable educational system and infrastructure. University of South Africa (UNISA) and University of Pretoria, among other educational institutions, are quite solid. They have impressive structures with well-stocked libraries. There are several other libraries spread throughout the country. Ask for any book title; if the book is not available on the shelf, it is a standing policy for the librarian to immediately place an order at no cost to the reader. This contrasts with a situation in Nigeria where a publisher next door to one of the premier universities in a highly cosmopolitan city complains that, despite their proximity the university library has never for once purchased any book from the publishing house.
South Africa is notable for wildlife parks, just as Nigeria has Yankari Games Reserve in Bauchi State, Borgu Games Reserve in Niger State and Gumti Games Reserve in Taraba State. The reserves of South Africa, however, are more accessible, better maintained, and attract far more visitors locally and internationally. South African cities also have captivating tourist spots. Foremost among such places in Pretoria is the Union Buildings, built in 1913 – a solid building situated on a hill and housing the South African Presidency. A more recent monument in front of the building is the statue of Nelson Mandela. Like other famous statues, such as New York’s Statue of Liberty and Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue, Mandela’s statue, placed in a well-manicured terraced garden, is an imposing 6-metre figure standing majestically with open arms and overlooking the city of Pretoria. The garden is usually thronged by tourists.
Down town the city of Pretoria stands a tall glass building. Like the Central Bank of Nigeria in the Central Business District of Abuja, the Pretoria building houses the Central Bank of South Africa. Around the Central Bank of South Africa are other public buildings housing government departments. The tourist must not miss the notorious Sunnyside area in the vicinity; a suburb to the East of Pretoria Central where it is said the town never sleeps. Inhabited mainly by Blacks, it is locally named Lagus (Lagos) because of the heavy presence of Nigerians conducting business in the area.
Vehicular traffic in Pretoria and other major South African cities, though heavy, is quite orderly at every time of the day. Vehicles of all shapes plying the highways in South Africa are neat and look new, as if they are fresh from the factory. Motorists observe road regulations to the letter. Everyone keenly watches out for the ‘robot,’ for that is what South Africans call the traffic light. A breach would attract appropriate sanction. Fourteen- to eighteen-seat buses form the bulk of the mass transit shuttling people within the city and to and from the townships.
In the realm of politics, South Africa, like Nigeria, is struggling to infuse democracy in its political system. It should be borne in mind that while Nigeria attained independence in 1960, real independence in South Africa is as recent as 1994 when Madiba Nelson Mandela came to power after a general election. Before then, South Africa was under the firm grip of the apartheid regime controlled by the Whites. Several elections had since been conducted in South Africa.
Like the 2015 elections in Nigeria, the August 2016 municipal/local government election in South Africa was considered very significant, judging by its outcome. It was to South Africans, and all parties interested in South African politics, a landmark for many reasons. Firstly, the opposition parties, particularly the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) made significant inroads into the seemingly unassailable hold of the African National Congress (ANC), the ruling party. Secondly, the polling results in the South West Cape, among other places, showed that for the first time service was put ahead of racialism in choice of candidates and the party. That was evident by the high Black votes gained by DA, historically a White dominated party. Thirdly and quite significant too was the conduct of the event at the Town Hall meeting where the electoral body released the final results of the election. The event was attended by Jacob Zuma, the South African President, along with the Vice President and the Chief Justice of South Africa, among other dignitaries.
Remarkably, the President sat through the event calmly and also delivered his speech, ignoring 4 placard-carrying young ladies within touching distance who were protesting against him in the hall. It was upon the conclusion of the event that the protesters were shuffled out of the hall by security personnel. The event was a clear demonstration of tolerance unprecedented even in older democracies.
Notably, the three arms of the South African government are not located in the same place, unlike the situation in Nigeria where the three arms of government are in the capital city of Abuja, within walking distance of each other. South Africa has a rather unique set-up. The three arms are located in three different cities far away from each other. The members of the executive (the presidency) are in Pretoria, the legislature is in Cape Town while the judiciary and the Supreme Court work at Bloomfontein. Hence, South Africa is said to have three capitals, a strategy undoubtedly intended to promote inclusiveness.
A word may need to be said about South Africans’ general comportment in going about their daily businesses. It may well be one of the unintended legacies of apartheid. Individually and collectively, there is a high standard of discipline which is evident right from the airport. One goes through the airport with attendants standing by to help pick a trolley. No multiple airport checks. This relaxed atmosphere seems to pervade many areas of the society. Whatever grumblings there may be, and indeed there are many, they are not manifested through undue aggressive behaviour. People frequently relaxed at parks and other public places. This is not to overlook protests for legitimate demands over wages and other employment conditions.
Land use policy and language policy remain high on the agenda. Unlike Nigeria where land is for the larger part government-owned, the reverse is the case in South Africa. The genesis of the South African land use issue can be traced briefly to when the Boers (Dutch) and Britons came to Southern Coast of Africa at different times in the long distant past. The Dutch reached the present Cape Town as early as 1652 while the British came much later to Natal in 1848 and Port Elizabeth in 1920. After years of squabbles between them over territorial expansion and control, they settled their differences to ensure their survival in the Southern part of Africa.
Around 1910, they united and established a self-governing Union of South Africa which promoted Afrikaan culture. Indian and Malay labour was imported as far back as 1860. It is said that it was to avoid unnecessary friction that the policy of apartheid (separate development) was instituted to separately settle the natives, the Indians and the Europeans, each of whom had their settlements, where they developed according to their social, religious and cultural standards. Access to the European settlements was by a pass system. The natives were subdued through superior fire power and their lands were acquired by the Europeans who to date hold title deeds over most lands disproportionate to their number. They own numerous ranches, breeding animals all over the landscape – an uncommon sight in Nigeria. Land ownership linked with wealth and poverty, thus, is a delicate issue requiring careful handling. The South African National Development Plan document recognises this fact and outlines policies designed to “heal the wounds of the past caused by centuries of racial exclusion.”
Both Nigeria and South Africa face similar problems over language policy. While in Nigeria English is the official language and a major hindrance to the development of local languages, South Africa had elevated Afrikaan language (Germanic in origin) over other languages, and this constitutes one of the sore points in the South African polity. However, following prolonged and sometimes violent agitation, the South African Government has now allowed teaching to be done in English in schools.
After the formation of the Union of South Africa, the first anti-White demonstration took place in 1952. It remained a continuous struggle until 1994 when Black majority rule, headed by Madiba Nelson Mandela, was enthroned. Like Nigeria’s Constitution, the South African Constitution of 1996 provides for “unity in diversity.”
The challenge of forging a stable nation out of diverse groups is common to Nigeria and South Africa. It may be apt, then, to ask: which of these two countries is trying harder to unite its people, provide social amenities and develop its economy? Beyond the figures the experts juggle to determine which of the two economies is bigger than the other, this is the relevant question.
Bukar Usman, folklorist and author, is a former Permanent Secretary in the Presidency.