What can reduce inequality in wealth and income in South Africa, the richest country in the world’s poorest continent? Try any number of remedies and each will yield some benefits; that’s how pervasive and protean the wealth divide is. In a new essay, I examine the role of advanced scientific and technical skills in the South African workforce — and the influence of both markets and government in promoting the growth in a more highly-skilled workforce where South Africans already stand on top of the region’s table. I don’t conclude that the government’s efforts are working splendidly, but at least South Africans are trying to address a challenging problem that bedevils other African countries.
Because of “brain drain,” simply educating more talented people — and producing more scientists and engineers especially — isn’t enough. These trained people must find homes in their own societies, a task often complicated by a legacy of undervaluing the highly skilled. Moreover, “techno-science” must become central to both the educational systems and the commercial cultures of African societies. Too often, the best and the brightest Africans content themselves with careers in law, finance and medicine. These are fine fields, but they should not be pursued to the neglect of science and technology. “Techno-science” carries a big bang for those who wish to more rapidly improve life in African countries, by whatever metric. Too often, “techno-science” is ignored, not only by policymakers but national elites themselves. South Africans should applaud themselves for avoiding this common failure — and for putting money into techno-scientific ventures that may yet further distinguish the country from its regional peers.