Archive for Economic Development from South Africa

Cape Town: The Silicon Valley of Africa?

by on October 2, 2009 at 11:42 pm

Silicon cape logo Silicon Cape is a new event in South Africa started by investors and entrepreneurs who have spent time in Silicon Valley.

More than an event, it’s a brand, an idea that everyone could ‘rally around’ in the Cape. My blogger pal Matthew Buckland, who has been asked to MC the kick-off event, writes about the launch on his blog.

The goal is to attract the best entrepreneurs, technical brains and foreign investment to South Africa. (more…)

June Arunga on Western Attitudes Towards Business in Africa

by on March 21, 2009 at 7:25 pm

June Arunga on Western Attitudes Towards Business in Africa from DRI on Vimeo

The internet in South Africa: A tale of woe and hope

by on March 5, 2009 at 1:38 am

The tale of doom and gloom about the uncompetitive South African telecoms market is all too familiar. It’s kept a stranglehold on internet growth in this country, meaning the country has performed way below its potential in this sphere in comparison to the rest of the world.
Arguably we are now moving in the right direction, […]

Click on headline link to visit for full article

“SA companies beat internet giant to the pinch”

by on February 10, 2009 at 12:49 am

Um, received this rather surreal press release yesterday. Not sure I would have sent this out as a piece of public relations, myself. It’s likely that Google will respond, either with a polite phonecall or a legal letter. Or in all likelihood, they just won’t care. Be interesting to see how it plays out.
After chatting […]

Click on headline link to visit for full article

Web predictions for the new year

by on January 5, 2009 at 7:05 am

We may be in the throes of a global financial crisis, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see innovation on the web. In fact, leading trend analysis blog Read Write Web reminds us of the old cliché that “tech innovation thrives in times of recession”. Tight economic conditions incubate intense creative and lateral thought, because […]

Click on headline link to visit for full article

Soweto’s Mall Offers High-End Designers

by on December 12, 2008 at 10:00 am

Another recent Sowetan triumph is the Maponya Mall. With more than 180 tenants and 1.5 million monthly visitors, it’s Soweto’s first major upmarket retail space.   It was built by Richard Maponya, an entrepreneur who bought the land in the 1980s and waited patiently for the political and economic landscape to change so that it could be built and that it could be supported by the locals.

It opened in 2007, a gorgeous space that looks along its middle like a sleek international airport terminal, with a selection of food purveyors, department stores and some upscale shops featuring goods that place design at a premium.

The parking lot was full of cars, as the video shows.  Shopping, it turns out, is the international language.

For governments, no easy energy choices ahead

by on December 6, 2008 at 1:51 pm

A developing situation in South Africa may hint at what lies ahead for the world’s nations, a future holding no easy choices when it comes to making and using electricity.

State-owned utility Eskom has abandoned a plan for an $11.5 billion nuclear generator that would have boosted the country’s electrical capacity by about 10 percent. Eskom says the price was too high, in part because the global recession has made financing more difficult.

Unfortunately, the cancellation leaves a hole that must be filled. In general, the country is open to building new coal plants, and several are already slated, but the local energy mix is already heavily dependent on fossil fuels.

South Africa is also strained to the max when it comes to its energy supply, with several shortfalls already projected for the coming year. That makes building more cheap and easy coal or gas plants a tempting fix, especially with prices temporarily low.

But the choice to stick with fossil fuels could be deadly for the ruling parties in the future, in part because global warming’s effects on Africa are becoming more apparent. While economic and social issues remain the top worries for now, an arid desert climate is advancing eastward across the country, meaning the water supply for the country’s most populous region could soon be overwhelmed by demand.

Building more fossil fuel plants will only make the government — which in fact just fired a top scientist who warned of water shortfalls — look complicit in the problems, which could easily result in social unrest.

The best solution appears to lie both in nuclear power -– smaller, cheaper plants have already been suggested –- and sources like wind, solar and wave power. There’s a project taking place on the southeastern coast, in fact, that could be world-changing if it goes through, providing about 770 megawatts of wave power -– alongside smaller amounts of wind and solar energy.

But the total output for the project, being headed by a company called the Darling Wind Farm (pictured above), will total less than a third of the 3,300 megawatts the canceled nuclear project would have provided.

The wind farm’s CEO, Herman Oelsner, said he’s confident the ruling government will pass a feed-in tariff in March that will offer a high enough price for him to develop his projects. Yet with Eskom in control of the country’s energy supply, even Oelsner is forced to operate in partnership with a local province, rather than working independently.

And like many state-owned utilities, it’s unlikely that Eskom will take it upon itself to develop renewables, because that cuts into the company’s bottom line. For now, the state appears unwilling to grapple with the cost of alternatives.

That will work for the moment, because there may be no immediate danger: South Africa’s government says that the decision to cut out the nukes was reasonable, as it believes the recession will limit demand.

But with supplies already limited, and a growing economy and population, that excuse won’t stand for long. The status of energy, as a social and economic issue, is rapidly changing, perhaps too quickly for the government to react. And South Africa is far from the only country in this position.

Change in South African Housing

by on December 5, 2008 at 5:30 pm

Here is a choppy and quick video that compares the current state of “shantytown” housing in Soweto with the homes that are being built to replace them. Eric, a local, narrates.

The shantytown section is particularly short, so go through the video a couple of times to see the difference. Also keep in mind that this settlement looked much better than most of the others that we’ve seen. Shacks are spaced farther apart and seem to be in better condition than the norm.

The improvements in infrastructure – water, sewage, electricity – will be even more important than what is considered the increase in dignity in moving out of the shacks. The government can’t build them fast enough, however, and there have been reports that many if not most of the new homes are sub-standard.

South Africa’s Joule Electric Car

by on December 5, 2008 at 6:04 am


Optimal Energy CEO Kobus Meiring Presenting the Joule Electric Car

Who Killed the Electric Car? is a 2006 documentary which shows the roles of American automobile manufacturers, the oil industry, and the US government in stopping production of electric cars in the US, specifically the General Motors EV1 of the 1990s. That turned out to be bad news, both for General Motors and American consumers, but it also opened up opportunities for electric car manufacturers abroad.

Optimal Energy, a Cape Town-based company, is trying to position itself as a leader in the field with its Joule all-electric vehicle, which was first unveiled two months ago at the 2008 Paris Motor Shop.

We visited Optimal Energy’s offices – scattered throughout an upscale shopping plaza – earlier this week to see a business presentation by CEO Kobus Meiring. He made a convincing case for the Joule, which was summed up nicely by fellow blogger Chris Morrison.

The car itself didn’t really do it for me – I am a much bigger fan of public transportation projects, like South Africa’s 2010 public transport plan, than any mere personal automobile. But what did fascinate me is how Meiring’s career evolution – from developing military helicopters to telescopes to electric cars – is representative of the evolution of South Africa’s engineering field. Now that South Africa is no longer ruled by a White nationalist government focused on strengthening its military, the country’s engineers are able to work on projects and start companies that make a positive social impact.

Going back to my question of trade versus aid, what is the social benefit of investing in a company like Optimal Energy? On the surface such an investment seems promising. Nearly 100 engineers are given jobs to design the cars. South African construction companies are employed to build manufacturing plants. And hundreds of semi-skilled workers are given decent paying jobs to manufacture the vehicles. This largely explains why Optimal Energy’s largest investor is the Department of Science and Technology of the South African government.

But a question by Graeme Addison, a veteran science journalist and one of the organizers of our tour, revealed an obstacle to South Africa’s multicultural integration of engineers and other professionals. In not so many words Addison essentially asked Meiring how many of his engineers are Black South Africans. We didn’t get a figure, but I would assume only a handful. The Black Economic Empowerment program of February 2007 set a quota system which ensures that a certain percentage of managerial and directorial positions are given to non-White South Africans. Addison later told me that this often means that young Black South Africans straight out of university are given managerial positions without ever going through the apprenticeship and training programs which lead to real skills development.

Meiring, however, said there has been a recent increase in the number of Black engineers graduating from universities and thinks that integration in the field of engineering is progressing. Still, I think that so-called philanthro-capitalist foundations could do a great thing by investing in Optimal Energy, but with the clause that they must hire and train more Black and female engineers. Such an investment could derive both a large social and economic return.

And Optimal Energy sure wouldn’t mind the extra capital. A post written last month by Domenick Yoney says the recent financial collapse has stalled the Joule’s launch and that Meiring and company will need to raise another $130 million before they are able to build an assembly plant and get their product on the road.

You can listen to an MP3 of Meiring’s entire presentation on the Brand South Africa Blog.

America Gives South Africa Tourism Love

by on December 4, 2008 at 7:00 am

The United States has overtaken Germany as the second-biggest market for South African tourism, according to Wendy Tiou, Global Manager of Communications for South Africa Tourism.  (The U.K. is number one, of course).

We spoke over lunch at Moyo, an open-air Johannesburg restaurant set in a park near the zoo.  Moyo serves dishes from all parts of the country, including delicious curries, wild game and desserts that I’d never seen before and wish to meet again.


Even more interesting than the food is the setting, with singers and dancers and drummers, and lamps that look like happy white jellyfish.

During the middle of the interview I had my face painted in a kind of sunshine warrior design.  How often does that happen to you during lunch?

South Africa is hosting the next World Cup, in 2010.  The World Cup, as most Americans don’t know, is the world’s biggest sporting event.  We hosted in 1994. Brazil won, remember?  Perhaps we can build on Obama’s victory and cement our improved relations with the rest of the world by finally appreciating “soccer.”

There are already signs counting down the days, even the seconds, until the first match.  As every host country has learned, preparations are overwhelming, but Ms. Tiou sounded confident that stadiums will be ready and there will be plenty of beds for the 450,000 visitors that are expected.  The country is eager to play host.

Tourism has grown substantially overall, not just from America.  And why not?  It’s a gorgeous country, the weather is great, the people are interesting, it has a fascinating human narrative, dynamic, cross-cultural, full of challenges and opportunities, and is defining itself anew.

If you want adventure travel, vineyard outings, ancient human history, city culture – it’s all here, and with the infrastructure, exchange rate and English language to make the journey an easy one for Americans and other first-world dwellers.  It’s a long haul, but if you have a couple of weeks it’s well worth the jet lag.

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!