More often than not South Africa seems to get a bad rap. Sensationalist headlines, fear-mongers, conspiracy theorists, and more all paint a negative image of the Rainbow Nation and its legitimacy as a destination for investment, when in fact the reality is quite different. Many people fail to see past these attention-grabbing highlights and focus only on immediate consequences (sometimes they’re only perceived consequences) instead of considering long-term effects and goals. Adrian Gore, founder and CEO of Discovery sees it differently, and his beliefs aren’t just whimsy, they are based in cold, hard science.
At the core of his argument, he is the optimism paradox, which considers “the gap between private hope and public despair.“ Broadly speaking it encompasses two opposing beliefs, firstly “that in our personal lives, our future will be better than our past, known as the optimism bias”, and secondly that “this private optimism is contrasted to a persistent and pervasive public pessimism, known as declinism”. However, a major flaw in both is the lack of evidence-based opinions. People blindly hope and stubbornly doubt and fear. This is particularly true for pessimists – “those that were most pessimistic about the future tended to have the least basic knowledge on how the world has changed for the better.”
Furthermore, there is a “failure to distinguish between absolute and relative changes: relative decline is interpreted as absolute decline.” The result is that in the face of almost overwhelming evidence some people simply choose to be pessimistic. So how does SA fit into all of this?
“The critical point is that as South Africans, we suffer this acutely. Not only are South Africans gloomy about how the world has changed and what the future holds; on a broad range of issues, South African survey respondents gave the least accurate guesses of where the figures on global and national development stood – out of all 28 countries. And while South Africans are not just impervious to the facts on progress, the study revealed they are confident in their erroneous perceptions.”
He continues, “we don’t see our country’s progress. The fact is, South Africa, like the world, is a fundamentally better place as time progresses…Our country is also larger and more relevant than we think. Our provinces square up against other countries regarding GDP… Our economy is substantial: in terms of stocks traded in 2017 (USD bn), South Africa trumps the Middle East and North Africa region, Singapore and Norway; and holds 82% of the pension fund assets in Africa. This is important structurally, these long-term savings are invested into government and corporate debt and company equity, driving growth.”
Furthermore, “we see problems as insoluble anomalies, and our decline as inevitable. What blinds us from recognising our progress is our myopic obsession with the problem of the day.” And the ultimate result is that we ourselves start seeing SA and its economy as risky and avoid investing when we should be doing the exact opposite.
And this is why Gore pleads for investors, both local and foreign, to “give our country a chance”. He adds, “South Africa has a relatively stable economy, as seen by its GDP growth which is the lowest in volatility when compared against BRIC peers over 1994-2017,” and urges us not to “misconstrue the low rate of growth with riskiness.”
Facts don’t lie, but the unrelenting onslaught of contemporary media can quickly sway public opinion and affect international perception, but we have the power to change it. As Gore puts it, “Let’s change our [negative] narrative and celebrate our progress. We must realise we can do better. Our problems are real but soluble. Our economy has potential.”