“For any organisation, it is essential to have the best possible skills to exploit value from opportunities. In South Africa, unfortunately, skills are not always valued and this may, in part, explain its struggle with achieving sustainable long-term economic growth. It is, however, proven that human capital is essential for economic growth. This makes institutions such as UP invaluable,” stresses Dr Xolani Sibande, who obtained his PhD in Economics from UP in 2020.
Firmly believing that learning is a privilege and an opportunity to change oneself and your life, Dr Sibande has done just that to reach the pinnacle of academic and professional success. As an economist, he had made, and continues to make, a contribution to macroeconomic analysis and public policymaking in South Africa. Read more below about his career, his advice to current students and his future goals.
Q: Briefly summarise your studies and your professional career, with special mention of specific highlights/milestones.
A: I am an economist with almost a decade of experience in different areas. In particular, my professional experience has been in academia, the financial sector and government. In academia, I completed a Master’s degree in Econometrics in 2010, a Master’s in Public Administration in 2016, and a PhD in Economics with an emphasis on financial markets and econometrics in 2020.
As a banking sector analyst, my role involved strategy development and macroeconomic analyses for banks and other financial institutions across Africa. This role involved the execution of projects for major banks in Zambia, Uganda, Botswana and South Africa, among others, as part of a team.
My current role involves conducting macroeconomic analyses of the global, domestic and provincial economies, which serve as input into provincial policy and budgeting decisions. This role includes forecasting the Gauteng economy and the management of a small team of economists. I also report on the key socio-economic indicators to assess progress in terms of current government priorities.
Q: To what extent did your studies at UP benefit you in your career and contribute to your success?
A: The studies have been invaluable. I do not believe that I would have had any significant career progression without the knowledge I gained.
Combined with some experience, a UP qualification sets one apart from the average.
Q: Given your academic experience at UP, what advice can you pass on to current students?
A: One has to be humble enough to listen and realise that the process of learning was created with your best interest at heart. It is not a punishment. Therefore, with that realisation, one must take personal responsibility to get the best for yourself out of the time invested in education. The UP study path is essentially a guided personal journey. I firmly believe learning is a privilege and an opportunity to change oneself and life. This advice may seem obvious, but I have found it invaluable.
Q: What, in your opinion, is the foundation of a successful business/company/consultancy/organisation?
A: People, People and People! For an organisation, it is essential to have the best possible skills to extract value from opportunities. In South Africa, unfortunately, human capital is not always appropriately valued and exploited. This may, in part, explain its struggle with achieving sustainable long-term economic growth. It is, however, proven that human capital is essential for economic growth. This makes institutions such as UP invaluable.
Q: Which business/trade-related publications (magazines/newspapers/blogs, etc) do you enjoy reading?
A: Unfortunately, the PhD process requires a singular focus. So, over the past few years, I have not had the opportunity to read outside academic economics. I used to enjoy reading The Economist, Financial Times, and Business Day. I also enjoyed reading books on the financial crisis and the political economy in general.
Q: Going forward, what are your professional/business/personal goals?
A: The PhD comes with a responsibility to use the gained knowledge to contribute solutions to economic challenges. It also comes with a responsibility to the economics discipline itself, that is, to ensure it grows, and it is appropriately practised. This means sharing knowledge and helping younger economists succeed. My mission is to fulfil that responsibility whether in business or public service.
Q: Lastly, COVID-19 has turned, and continues to turn, the world upside down. In your opinion, how can South Africa best overcome its current economic woes and increasing joblessness?
A: In the South African case, it is essential that we realise the difference between structural and transient economic constraints and not confuse the two. That is to say that it will not help to characterise our economic challenges in terms of the COVID crisis when it is the long-term constraints that are limiting our growth potential.
In the same vein, it is not helpful to deepen the impact of the COVID crisis by implementing ill-timed reforms meant to address long-term constraints. In short, we need to be careful to administer the right medicine to the right problem at the right time. A failure to do this will prolong the economic downturn and cause unemployment. The COVID crisis in the proper context also provides new opportunities for economic growth to explore along with the appropriate long-term investments. I have every confidence that our policymakers will successfully mitigate these challenges and that the South African economy will return to a sustained growth path.