Business leader optimistic about South Africa’s future

Colin Coleman, a former anti-apartheid activist, dis- cussed China’s increasing interest in investing in Africa.
Colin Coleman, a former anti-apartheid activist, dis- cussed China’s increasing interest in investing in Africa. Photo by Jacob Geiger.

South Africa is a nation with a history of which to be proud and the potential for more progress, said former anti-apartheid activist Colin Coleman in a Monday afternoon talk.

Coleman, who is now head of the sub-Saharan Africa division of Goldman Sachs, addressed South Africa’s political and economic transformations in the post-apartheid era since 1994 to an audience of roughly 50 students and community members. Having served as the executive director of the Consultative Business Movement — an organization that incorporated businesses in helping to end apartheid — Coleman said the successful democratization of South Africa resulted from the collaborative effort of members of civil society and strong political leaders.

“Today we have an unfinished story — a story that on the one hand, we can be proud [of], and yet today we still face difficulties, just of a different type,” Coleman said.

Coleman said the end of apartheid, which he described as a brutal period with thousands of lives in detention and torture, was possible through churches, businesses, communities and other organizations working together at the right time. Strong leaders like Nelson Mandela also took critical roles in giving the nation victory, he said.

Since the historical change in its politics in 1994, South Africa has achieved significant progress in its economy, Coleman said, citing a nearly doubled GDP growth rate between 1993 and 2007 and the 1 million South Africans added each year to the higher income group in the Living Standards Measure. He added that he expects South Africa to be one of the leading economies in the African continent in the coming years.

“South African companies are becoming the champions of growth of the African continent,” he said. “[They are] building infrastructure for Africa’s and South Africa’s consumer revolution.”

Coleman also noted the new challenges South Africa faces, including problems with unemployment, political corruption, the education system and the health sector.

Recently, China has shown significant interest in Africa as a new opportunity for investment, Coleman said, adding that his visit to China in 2006 helped facilitate future business transactions between Africa and China.

Audience members interviewed said they appreciated that Coleman’s analysis of the political and economic situation in South Africa came from his personal experience.

Luyi Xu ’13 said she enjoyed the talk and was surprised by the speaker’s optimistic viewpoint on China’s influence on South Africa.

Ayenat Mersie, who currently works for a startup in Nairobi, said she thinks Coleman’s experience as a business leader adds a new perspective to “the question of who is representing Africa.”

Coleman was nominated as one of the World Economic Forum’s Global Leaders of Tomorrow in 1996.

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