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22 November 2015


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Chris Overland

Reading this piece, I reflected once again on one of history's great truths, which is that when a society is subjected to serious and disruptive socio-economic pressures, there is a great tendency for its inhabitants to blame "the others" for causing it.

Just who the others are is dictated by circumstances. People of the Jewish faith have frequently and unjustly found themselves cast in this role, as have the Chinese.

In post colonial Africa, it is sometimes convenient to blame the former colonial power. Thus Robert Mugabe continues to insist that Zimbabwe's woes are the product of a sinister British plot rather than his and his cronies egregious failings.

Now, unless good management and a degree of luck intervene, South Africa may head down the same path.

If it does so, it will squander the legacy of the late Nelson Mandela, undoubtedly one of the wisest, most perceptive and humane national leaders of the 20th century.

One of Mandela's great insights was to understand that the over 5 million white Afrikaners living in his country had to be encouraged to remain in the post Apartheid era.

Without their knowledge and expertise, the country's economy was destined to collapse, just as Zimbabwe's had under Mugabe's less insightful guidance.

There was and is no "white tribe" like the Afrikaners in PNG. For good or for ill, most of the expatriate Australian population simply went home in the years immediately following independence.

Now, "the others" who replaced them, are becoming a focus of discontent, as the recent riots in Lae have demonstrated.

Simply expelling these people will, of course, not help PNG or its people.

As in the case of South Africa, what it required is better governance and management of the economy to ensure more equitable socio-economic outcomes.

As Keith's article suggests, whether South Africa or PNG can produce the political leadership required to achieve this is very much an open question.

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