Historians tell us that even at its height, South Africa's manufacturing was manufacturing only by the strictest definition. Looked at this way, the country's reputation for past prowess in this area is due for reconsideration.
Since the foundation of the country, every successive South African government has, at least in its rhetoric, sought to make the country a leading industrialised nation. Each has achieved modest results - if any. Simply put, industrialisation refers to an economy's diversification from agricultural output towards sophisticated manufacturing of products. The primary attraction of industrial activity is that it acts as a major job creator and can help a country carve out its niche in the global value chain.
Industrialisation may be measured by the number of a country's workforce involved in advanced production; the share of manufactured goods in its total exports; or by the share of the same products in gross domestic product (GDP). At its peak, South Africa's manufacturing contribution to GDP stood at nearly a quarter. That was in 1982. It has since steadily declined to 11.7% today.
If past trends are an indicator of future trends, this number is set to continue to diminish. While this is true of the...