Observations of a Nouveau Traveller.

Am currently in the visa no man’s land (application given and awaiting result) for debconf 2016 which means it is the perfect opportunity to share whatever I have been learning about South Africa and drawing parallels with India.

I had a look at the Economy of South Africa viz-a-vis the one of India. I had suspected that South Africa would have mining as one of its assets as had seen Blood Diamond , the Leonardo DiCaprio conflict diamond story of Sierra Leone and had wrongly or rightly unconsciously juxtaposed it to whole of Africa, in this case partly right that mining is a big part of the export basket in South Africa. I had also assumed (wrongly this time) that there would be Oil or/and Natural Gas as that is also part of some African Nations export earnings.

Comparing between the two Economies there seems to be a large difference between people facing unemployment in South Africa versus India. While South Africa can boast of 35 percent of unemployment at the most, India is down at 70 percent unemployment but goes gain by a somewhat slower crime-rate than that of South Africa. I don’t know the reasons, perhaps a social scientist or a behavioral scientist could tell the reasons for the same. It isn’t as if we do not have crime, most crime is centered around the BIMARU states which basically is in a vicious circle of low education leading to low or no job skills at all to crime and so on and so forth. While efforts have been made to take them out of that circle, they swing back and forth due to social and political situations in those states.

The only place where India seems to be ahead (arguably Information Technology and apart from that) is public transport. India inherited a huge sprawling 66,000 odd kms. from the British when they left India which over the years has expanded to something close to 115,000 odd kms since then. As I am somewhat of a railway nut, I am looking forward to seeing and hearing on TV the trials of Spanish TALGO Train whose trials are expected to start today or any day now for India. For sometime now we have been using and experimenting with LHB Rakes with good results. If TALGO also gives us good results than we would be spoilt for choices and IR (Indian Railways) would have better days ahead. A good read on the subject would be an article which goes into the pros and cons of the Talgo trial and what it would mean for Indian Railways.

Even public transport in my own city seems better than the one in Cape Town. With over 1000 odd buses catering to around a million passengers daily with quite a few buses now having GPS tracker, it is possible that in few years, I would be able to stand at the Bus Depot and know accurately when a bus is supposed to come instead of speculating as of date. This would move significant number of people who have moved to private transport as they are unable to have deterministic predictable time of buses. It should also help us in cases buses break-down or something like that.

Another thing that came to my attention was the immense Feesmustfall initiative which happened in South Africa. Most educational institutes are owned by Politicians and even the Govt. ones are being slowly privatized which is going the American way. As I have already shared about pitfalls of privatization of education in the past not going to do that now. For those who came in late, see the latest Michael Moore’s documentary ‘Where to invade next’ it does partly talk about education and what he says also makes lot of sense to a developing economy like India.

If my visa gets the go-ahead, I do plan to talk and observe as much as I can the local economy in Cape Town apart from being part of DebConf.

If you are somewhat of a railway and documentary/travel nut like me, some nice documentaries about Indian Railways.


and for those who would suggest me South African Railway (already seen) and Slow Train Through Africa: With Griff Rhys Jones, part 5 (seeing)


Another interesting bit of news was/is the amount of tourists that South Africa has been able to attract. This is where you have been way ahead of us, India has huge upside potential for all sorts of tourism but we end up doing end-goals and not respecting tourism (either tourists from different parts of the country or/and backpackers from other parts of the world or even the well-heeled sometimes.) I have also heard horrendous visa tales from people who have not been from developed countries and who are NOT from neighboring countries. I also hope to see some part of Cape Town to see how you excel in tourism and if there is anything we could do to replicate some of the success you have in tourism in our own country.

Lastly, another interesting data point was that South Africa shed almost half their intrinsic value against the US dollar (’10-’15) whereas India, slipped but at around 1/3rd of its value. At first glance, it seems lack of exports and lack of self-consumption market (like India has) may have contributed to the slide. I would also be looking into both the Political as well as Cultural aspects to have a slightly broader understanding of South Africa dynamics.

All in all, am excited to see what happens. Comments, suggestions are welcome 🙂

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