We are all concerned about the South African economy, and nobody seems to have a solution as to what our economy should look like. How about we try the “Elon Musk test” and then see if our economy passes?

If you don’t know who Elon Musk is, you must have been living under a rock because he is currently the poster-boy for the modern entrepreneur. To make it more interesting he is a born and bred South African. So before I get to the actual “Elon Musk test”, let us first consider his business achievements so far:

  • It starts in the early 1990s with a website, Zip2, that provided driving directions, a precursor to the Garmin, which made him a millionaire
  • He then developed and sold the online payment system PayPal which made him a billionaire
  • Musk then started Tesla Motors, which is America’s first new car company in nearly a century and produces really efficient and sexy electric cars, which at the moment cannot keep up with demand in the US alone.
  • Then, Musk developed Space-X, only the fourth entity ever to successfully send and return a spacecraft to space; the first three being the USA, The USSR and China. Space-X transports satellites to space and other “stuff” to the international space station and makes a profit doing this.
  • Musk has now started SolarCity providing solar power to homes on the US West Cost. It is already the second largest provider of solar power in the USA.
  • And finally Hyperloop which is a subsonic air travel machine which will allow commuters to travel the 560km between Los Angeles and San Francisco in 30 minutes.

So what is the “Elon Musk test”?

The solution is simply to imagine that he never left South Africa. The test is to see whether he could have created his business empire employing tens of thousands of people and making billions of dollars in this country?

  1. Well the first business Zip2 is redundant thanks to Google, however, it is worth remembering that while the rest of the world was getting onto the world wide web, South Africa was trying to save Telkom by maintaining its monopoly and not allowing private ISPs.
  2. In a country that cannot abolish exchange controls, if PayPal was developed in South Africa, between our banks and their protectors the Financial Services Board, would be closed within a matter of days.
  3. Tesla Motors requires massive numbers of engineers and highly skilled artisans which our education system is not producing. One conversation with BMW and Mercedes Benz about how much they enjoy running motor vehicle plants in SA and that could kill off Tesla Motors right there.
  4. I don’t fancy the chances of Space-X. South Africans in space, maybe as space tourists, but in a country where we have just banned drones and where a provincial MEC that nobody has heard drives in a convoy of policemen, I doubt if our security cluster would be keen on having privately owned spacecraft. The day after Musk builds his first rocket in Kempton Park, I think that the knock on his door will be from men in dark suits, wearing sunglasses with curly wires behind their ears talking into their suit cuffs.
  5. You would think that SolarCity would work in SA, but first consider how keen Eskom has been to work with private power producers. If there is one thing that our government is not fond of, it is losing its monopoly on electricity. Besides they are spending billions of our tax rands on the overdue Medupi and Kusile coal-fired power stations which promises to eclipse the “arms deal” scandal.
  6. If you believe that we need Hyperloop to connect Johannesburg and Cape Town, speak to all of the CEOs of low-cost airlines who have challenged SAA.

The point that I am making is that our economy will only flourish when we could consider an entrepreneur like Elon Musk setting up shop in South Africa, and I believe that at the moment, we fail the “Elon Musk Test” quite miserably.


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