A recent foray into writing economic “briefs” for an American investor website has given me a whole new take on the picture that we paint for the world.
They started out as summaries of economic trends and events of interest to investors, summing up any risks and pointing to expected outcomes for different sectors – both positive and negative, I thought. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It came down to the good old economic adage of supply and demand and positive stories highlighting possible investment opportunities simply did not cut it.
So, now, anonymous American readers are dining out on negativity – corruption, xenophobia, high unemployment, rocketing inflation, controversial legislation and general mayhem. They make for good headlines. They leave me feeling like a frustrated traitor.
The tragedy is that, as a South African, I know that this country is not about Eskom and Marikana, a weak rand, strike threats and mine closures. It’s useless going into the age old debate about the fickleness of a global media that feeds of drama and tragedy and does little to motivate positive change or just simple courageous survival.
I, too, grind my teeth when Eskom shuts down all my home comforts and rail when the internet is unreliable and slow. I grump about fuel price hikes and bitch about potholes in our roads. But I also know that if Nersa does decide to give in to Eskom’s seemingly unreasonable demands, South Africa will not, quite literally, crash and burn as our first world readers might be led to believe. Even though we might not have quite nailed down solar power as an alternative cheap energy source, the sun still comes up every morning.
What my American writing adventure and the creation of 031business has done, however, is open my eyes to South Africa’s “other economy.”
By that, I don’t mean a sugar coated reality that is more Oprah than eThekwini, but the day to day grind of dreaming a small business into life and then nurturing even the smallest flame. At close of business each day, economists calling down doom and gloom are not as important as that unexpected sale, that new client. It’s the little victories that get an entrepreneur closer to her goal, the road blocks that send a business owner on a detour, the curve balls that send small companies dashing for cover.
The day to day reality of doing business in Durban will not make for headlines in America – or even in our own newspapers for that matter. But it reinforces the need for us to get the positive stories of business successes out there. If they can do it, so I can I.
Creating 031business has been a lesson in just how vulnerable you can be when you walk your talk. It is still the bean in the saucer of cotton wool that hasn’t quite lifted its curved head and owned up to what it could be.
But what it has taught me is to be in awe of the entrepreneurs that have and are making things work in this city’s other economy – the real one that the Americans will never really see.
They aren’t the ones who will truly appreciate a cup of coffee at a beachfront bike stop or a quality garment bought from one of Durban’s newly opened boutiques. There’s as much satisfaction to be had from discovering a successful little deli in Glenwood as there is in hearing about a R500 million new minibus production line at Toyota.
Now, it’s just up to us to begin reading labels and supporting locally produced goods and companies, knowing that what’s made in Durban will make Durban.