The post-apartheid South African government’s macroeconomic and growth policies were created at a time when globalization, as we know it today, had just taken hold. The collapse of the Berlin Wall and Russia’s move away from communism marked the beginning of this era. Today, in the decade following one of the worst economic downturns since the 1930s, the extent to which nations are interconnected and driven by a global knowledge-based economy is quite apparent. No longer is any country isolated or insulated from what happens in another part of the world.

Globalization—the removal of barriers to free trade and the pursuit of greater integration of nations’ economies—changed the way the world communicated, engaged, and operated. The most powerful and developed countries, along with international organizations such as the World Bank (WB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF), encouraged, persuaded, and pressured other nations to play in the global arena.

Yet even before the global economic downturn, developing countries and their allies in nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were questioning the merits of globalization. For many developing countries, especially those in Africa, the benefits have been questionable. In fact, some observers would argue that such countries have been marginalized and are now even poorer than they were several decades ago.

What are some of the key characteristics of developed countries that allow them to benefit from today’s global economy? One is they take a neo-liberal28 approach to economic growth and development, resulting in minimal state involvement or intervention in the economy since the market—unfettered by any national political objectives or domestic con- cerns—is expected to perform better than the state. Second, they have a well-developed educational system that is also well matched to the country’s economic needs. And third, a significant percentage of the country’s population has a high standard of living.

South Africa has tried to cultivate those characteristics in its attempt to transform itself. Crucial elements in that transformation include, in particular, the restructuring of the higher education system and the pursuit of gender equality and women’s empowerment. South Africa has pursued initiatives in such key areas with an eye on the potential benefits they could bring to the country. What follows is a brief introduction to each of those elements and the prevailing thoughts and opinions about their role and value in today’s South Africa.

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