By Adrian Gore, founder and CEO of Discovery

In order for there to be collaboration on issues central to South Africa’s progress, we need a vision of the future that is worth buying into – a future worth losing. This requires seeking out positive cues regarding our country’s progress and strengths, and is vital to creating urgency to act. Worryingly, we are seeing the opposite: problem-centered leadership, and a negative public narrative that impedes progress. This pessimism is known as declinism – the belief that our world (or country) is on an irreversible downhill trajectory, driven by our biological coding to seek out negative cues – a fundamental conditioning for survival.

As South Africans, we suffer from this declinist view acutely. Not only are we gloomy about how the world has changed and what the future holds; on a broad range of issues, South African respondents in the Ipsos MORI survey gave the least accurate guesses of the figures on global and national development – out of all 28 countries. We are needlessly and ignorantly pessimistic.

Firstly, 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 GDP is 2.5 times the size it was in 1994 on a dollar basis; formal housing increased by 131% from 1996 to 2016; new HIV infections were down 60% between 1999 and 2016; and the murder rate per 100 000 came down 50% from 1994 to 2017. Secondly, 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. Our country is also larger and more relevant than we think. Our provinces square up against other countries in terms of GDP: Gauteng is bigger than Kenya and Ethiopia, and the Western Cape is almost the size of Ghana. 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, 18 times that of its second ranked peer, Nigeria. This is in spite of Nigeria’s GDP being larger than our own and their population being 3.4 times larger.

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.

I hope these arguments have made it clear that our country has made remarkable progress, and that more than ever, we need private and public spheres to display the kind of leadership that ignites progress. The latter involves acknowledging our country’s progress and creating hope; seeing our problems as real, but soluble, and seeking out positive cues alongside negative ones when reading our environment; and recognising the potential of our economy and investing in it.

This is an excerpt from an article written by Adrian Gore. To read the full article and to order your copy, send an email to

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