I was blown away by the boldness of Singapore's vision, that a small country with no natural resources had in a single generation moved from extreme poverty to the cutting edge of modernity.
Preparing for a recent working visit to Singapore, I was grateful to receive a gift from its High Commission in South Africa. It was a copy of Lee Kuan Yew's international best-seller, detailing Singapore's progress, From Third World to First - The Singapore Story, which it did in the space of 35 years (1965 to 2000).
I had read parts of it before, in the early 2000s, just after my election to provincial government, but had lacked the experience to grasp its implications. Anyway, I thought loftily: "What can we learn from Singapore? It's an authoritarian country. We are the South African Miracle, the rainbow nation, that moved from being the skunk of the world to democracy's poster child in less than a decade. Our transition was even faster than Singapore's! They can learn something about democracy from us."
I had drunk the Kool-Aid of South African exceptionalism.
Today, having been in government for more than 13 years, I found myself bound for Singapore for the first...