The dilemma is not unique, but for a country that teeters maddeningly between advanced economy and developing world, South Africa’s is particularly poignant. Under apartheid, an isolated and threatened white regime poured resources into training engineers and developing its own military technologies.
The first democratic government inherited in the 1990s a strong, innovative aerospace and defence sector. That industry is still influential globally, but over two decades administrations have had other spending priorities, not least education, health and social care to redress the imbalances of white minority rule.
Investment in aerospace and defence has withered and a generation of bright engineers from the previous era is ageing. Companies such as privately owned Paramount have pushed back, training new talent to develop programmes such as the AHRLAC light surveillance aircraft. State-run Denel is hopeful of generating funds for a 24-seat commuter aircraft, and perhaps even a new version of the Rooivalk attack helicopter.
Paramount founder Ivor Ichikowitz is fond of saying that no economy has transitioned from developing to developed without a strong aerospace and defence sector. He is right. South Africa’s politicians, and bold private investors, must be prepared to take their home-grown industry seriously and build on strengths that are still there. The country’s future depends on it.
Source: Flight International