AZAPO – Azanian People's Organisation : INNOVATION TAKES A MASSIVE KNOCK
07/22/2012| 02:46am US/Eastern
INNOVATION TAKES A MASSIVE KNOCK
Generously endowed with a variety of minerals and varied
climatic conditions in its different geographic areas, the
South African economy is,understandably,anchored on natural
resources and agriculture. And we are good in mining, animal
husbandry and the cultivation of crops.
However, we have recognized that we must be much better than
just digging holes in the ground, taking out minerals and
looking after plants and animals. So we should, because the
price we pay for buying all the technologically advanced goods
from other nations is very high indeed.
And that is not too hard to fathom. Just think of all the
ubiquitous computers, iPods, televisions, music systems,
microwaves, cars, watches, cameras, cell phones and washing
machines which we import or are manufactured here under
licence. Can't we have South African brands of these things?
Besides, what will happen in the future when our mineral wealth
depletes and we are no longer able to exchange them for these
modern products we need so much?
Correctly, we decided to gradually migrate towards a knowledge
economy. That decision means we would invest in knowledge
generation by giving support to our scientists, researchers and
engineers, protecting the intellectual property they generate
and then exploiting the said Intellectual Property (IP) to
produce new goods and services, building new industries,
enhancing our industrial capacity and trading with other
We did all the right things alright, including elaborating
policies related to this future vision of our country, passing
legislation to protect our IP and creating vehicles, such as
the Technology Innovation Agency, to help in the
commercialization of our innovations.
But alas, we failed spectacularly at the first test of our
resolve to move towards the knowledge economy. The decision to
abandon the commercialization of the South African developed
electric car is a blow that our move towards the knowledge
economy might take a long time to recover from, if ever.
After the decision by the state not to mass produce the Joule,
will our scientists and engineers believe anything we say about
moving towards a knowledge economy? Do we really mean what we
say or we just say some nice sounding things that we don't
Consider this: South Africa has been assembling automobiles for
decades now, but we do not have a South African vehicle. We are
paying billions of rand a year to subsidize all the foreign
owned automobile manufacturers to stay in the country. We do
this by giving them input and import duty credits for local
content and fixed investments in local production facilities
through the Motor Industry Development Programme (MIDP). In
2013, the MIDP will be replaced by the Automotive Production
Development Programme which is to run until 2020, and that will
probably be extended. They threaten to leave if we do not
Of course we can't let an industry that is worth 7, 5% of our
GDP and employs more than 35 000 people to leave our shores.
But why are we happy to subsidize foreign companies to assemble
vehicles here but we can't invest in the development of our own
It would be extremely difficult for South Africa to enter the
big motor manufacturing industry through the internal
combustion engine. But with the introduction of new
technologies, such as electric cars and those using fuel cell
technologies, we have a perfect opportunity to enter. These are
automobiles of the future.
Obviously driven by concerns around the diminishing oil
reserves, its escalating cost and climate change issues, the
European Union (EU) gave billions of Euros to the European
motor companies to do research aimed at the production of
electric cars. A few years down the line, we would be
subsidizing their companies to produce electric cars here.
The decision to move towards a knowledge economy pre-supposes
that the state is prepared to play in economic spaces where
there is market failure. It is thus inexplicable and
incomprehensible why the state, after investing more than R300
million to develop the Joule from scratch and launching it at
the Paris international motor show - a feat South Africans
should be proud of - suddenly cites market concerns as a
reason for not commercializing the product of our
Does it mean the project was not properly thought through from
the beginning, or are we a nation without ambition? Are we a
nation that does not believe it can develop its own advanced
products that can hold their own with those produced by other
nations? Are we satisfied with just building beautiful highways
and quarrelling about e-tolls, but would not dream of one of
the vehicle brands being our own?
The vehicles on our roads are a result of painstaking
development by their countries of origin over a long time. We
may also remember that many decades ago, the South African
state built SASOL, which is today a highly respected private
We can build many more, if we have the will.
Posted by Administrator
22 Jul 2012
Azapo E Reng