I’m finally at the end of the African book project. It took a lot longer than I thought it would. The last country on the list is also the wealthiest in Africa, the Republic of South Africa. I read Ivory From Paradise, by David Schmahmann. It’s the story of a white family that scatters from the country during the apartheid era, then returns for a celebration and meets up with its former servants. The book is well written, well plotted, but it has a perspective that feels dated. It’s all from the perspective of what happened to the descendants of colonists who no longer feel welcome, in part because they left. J.M. Coetzee and Alan Paton told better versions of the story, I think, but I had read them before I started this – so it felt like cheating.
Investors, of course, care about the future, not the past. The past informs the future but does not predict it.
This book is a travel narrative of sorts, as is the first book I did in this project, as are so many stories about different places in Africa that reach the United States. We’re all moving away from something and toward something else, literally or figuratively, so it’s no surprise that many of our stories involve travel.
The Republic of South Africa has had phenomenal changes since apartheid, some good, some bad. It has the largest economy in Africa – and, in fact, its GDP is ranked 31 in the world. It has the largest stock market in Africa, too. It has a young population with a high literacy rate, but it also has the world’s highest rate of people living with HIV/AIDS, few common languages among the eleven official languages, and a high crime rate (no surprise, given a high number of unemployed young people in an otherwise wealthy country). Its government is more stable than many in post-colonial Africa, but it has a lot of work to do.
From an investment perspective, all of this upheaval creates risk but also opportunity. Can this nation get it together?
If it can, the human and economic benefits will be phenomenal.