Graça Machel

Founder | Graça Machel Trust

Would you agree that there needs to be a paradigm shift in the region to create greater awareness and appreciation of the opportunities and partnerships available in the SADC region?

Graça Machel: Absolutely. South Africa needs to not only focus on dealing with its internal challenges; it needs to be able to be a catalyst for development across the region. However, millions of Mozambicans, Zimbabweans, Malawians and other Africans come to South Africa every month in the hope of finding better opportunities than in their own countries.

Unfortunately, this creates a situation where, instead of fixing what needs to be fixed, the system only caters to more people. South Africa, in its current state, cannot ensure that the millions of people crossing the borders, as well as its own people, are educated, fed, live in decent conditions, receive adequate healthcare, and have jobs.

We need to develop the SADC region to spread the opportunities across the continent and the SADC region for all Africans. The burden cannot only be in one country.

The South African government pays grants to around 16 million unemployed South Africans every month, the majority of whom are young people. When you add the number of unemployed foreigners in need of support, it becomes a mammoth challenge where the country has to revisit its development model to transform over 16 million people. You cannot simply give people money – you have to transform them into productive citizens who positively contribute to the economy.

Many of South Africa’s youth received the education to become entrepreneurs and contributing members of society; however, they do not have the opportunities to start and develop their own businesses. South Africa needs to transform itself socially in order to not only remain the strongest economy on the continent but to grow in that regard. The government needs to be firm and push its neighbours and fellow African countries to take care of their people by adopting a policy of industrialisation. Then only will there be fewer foreigners coming into South Africa, which frees the country to focus on its internal issues, but Africa as a whole will grow because the countries themselves are growing.

There is no doubt Africa is regarded as a high-risk environment.  How can we begin to challenge this perception?

Graça Machel: There is undoubtedly a problem in Africa regarding nations not paying each other or paying international suppliers. We are experiencing it currently here in Mozambique; we provide electricity to Zambia and Zimbabwe, but they are not paying us for it.

With Zambia, it appears that they are having difficulty in paying us, but in Zimbabwe, it is a chronic problem. It has been a recurring problem that they do not pay our government.

To optimise investment and intra-African trade we need to discuss where the bottlenecks are and how to remove them. We have to analyse why the countries or companies within certain countries are not paying or why they cannot pay. For instance, it may be due to an importer not receiving their much-needed subsidy from their government.

It is crucial to understand the challenges that have to be overcome within each of the countries, as well as about what they have to offer and what they can receive from other SADC states. Many of our states still think of themselves as a closed unit. Instead, they need to change their mindsets to say that the SADC region is their theatre of operations, not their country alone. They need to change this paradigm because none of them is going to be self-sufficient.

What would be your message to business leaders to place a greater emphasis on the holistic development of all stakeholders in society?

Graça Machel: Business people, in my opinion, generally worry more about their business growing and making more money, when they should be focusing on changing the educational systems and influencing the government to improve the educational systems.

The current educational systems do not serve us anymore. Young people coming out of the system today are not even qualified enough concerning basic maths and science. They are not thinking scientifically, and they do not have the needed skills to thrive in the 21st century. We are all living in a knowledge-based society, and most of the African countries need to catch up to that idea.

Rwanda is the only African country that stands out in this regard; they are actively chasing that agenda, and they are investing seriously in the right educational system for our changing world. I accepted the role of the Chancellor of the African Leadership University (ALU) precisely because of this issue.

What is your message to those considering investing in Mozambique?

Graça Machel: The young people we have here are a great inspiration and can show anyone outside of Mozambique how positive our future is. They are doing incredible things at a very young age in both the public and private sectors.