South Africa by the Numbers

May 20, 2013 • Reporting Trips, South Africa 2013, Uncategorized • Views: 814

By Emma Goldberg


The amount of rand I spent on lunch and souvenirs today in a loud,

colorful open market in the Maboneng precinct. Formerly an inner city

area characterized by crime and grime, the neighbourhood has been

revitalized. The streets are now lined with expensive craft shops and

clothing stores. As I walked the Arts On Main complex and sipped a

smoothie I heard two young Joburg residents chatting about their


“I have an exam in maths tomorrow,” one of the boys said. “Should I

try and study at all?”

The other boy laughed. “Don’t worry about it,” he said.

Everywhere we go in South Africa, authorities tell us that the school

system is falling to pieces. Jonathan Liebman, the business mogul and

primary developer behind Maboneng, explained that the South African

government is failing to deliver even basic services to impoverished

communities. Public schools are underfunded, and University of Cape

Town professors told us that many students who attend South African

schools end up wholly unprepared for university. Only 21% of the

country’s graduating students pass their grade 12 matric exam. Why

study for your math test when not a single person from your

neighbourhood is able to go to university? What do you need calculus

for when you can use basic arithmetic to add up the money you need for

food and rent?




The amount of rand that used to constitute monthly rent for an

apartment in the Maboneng precinct. Since Liebman has developed the

area, property values have risen steadily. Rent now costs between

3,000 and 2 million rand. Many of the people who used to inhabit the

area say they can no longer afford to live there. They’re moving out

to make space for our fancy marketplaces that sell macaroons and 100

rand brie prosciutto sandwiches.




The amount it costs to stay for one night in a luxury suite at the 12

Decades Art Hotel in Maboneng. Ironically almost the same amount of

money that Maboneng residents used to spend on one month of rent.

Liebman said one of his goals in building the hotel was to attract

foreigners and tourists to the area.

“South Africa does not have enough intellectual capital,” Liebman told

us. He said he hopes Johannesburg will begin drawing young people from

abroad who will contribute their creative energy to grow the city. He

believes that South Africa could benefit from more foreign influences—

he wants immigrants from the U.S. to contribute their innovation to

make the country stronger. He has recently struck a deal with Columbia

University to recruit students to live and work in Maboneng. “We need

human capital,” he said.


900 – 700 – 171 = 29


29 is the section of the South African Bill of Rights that guarantees

the right to basic education and adult education to every South

African citizen. It’s a right that the government has fundamentally

failed to deliver, according to many South Africans we’ve spoken to.

The problem with a failing education system is that it results in

wasted human capital. It’s hard to believe South Africa should be

importing intellectual capital from abroad when there are so many

untapped resources right here in Johannesburg. There are millions of

students who aren’t receiving the education they need to develop their

creative potential and contribute to the country’s growth. Roughly 12

million students pass through the South African public education

system; many of them ultimately end up in the service sector, or


It’s not hard to do the math and realize that South Africa’s broken

schooling system is costing the country a generation of skilled,

educated youth. Maboneng is an excellent example of an inner city

neighbourhood revitalized by someone with passion, and a determination

to attract tourists and foreign capitol. The South African schooling

system needs that sort of revitalization.  Perhaps it too will find

itssavior in the private sector. Perhaps someone with Liebman’s zeal

needs to trust and invest in the human capital available right here on

the streets of Joburg.  Until that happens, South African youth will

remain in impoverished neighbourhoods.  They won’t be able to get the

sort of employment they need to afford apartments in areas like


This test of numbers, wages, prices and rent isn’t multiple choice—

Joburg needs creative solutions.

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