From board­room brawls to ed­u­ca­tion to poverty ‘Cry the Beloved Coun­try’ rings true

The Star Early Edition - - BUSINESS REPORT - El­lis Mnyandu El­lis Mnyandu is the ed­i­tor of Business Re­port. Follow him Twit­ter: @El­lis_Mnyandu

WHEN Alan Paton penned the words – “Cry, the Beloved Coun­try” – he prob­a­bly did not imag­ine that in 2014 South Africa would still be a coun­try wrestling with it­self.

In that short, poetic and prophetic ti­tle, Paton aptly summed up the peren­nial con­di­tion of South Africa.

The year was 1948 when his sem­i­nal novel with this haunt­ing ti­tle was pub­lished. Fast for­ward to 2014, and Paton’s words seem to have been quite pre­scient as South Africa keeps tak­ing one step for­ward and two steps back.

By all ac­counts, South Africa re­mains achingly in need of a truly uni­fy­ing vi­sion to be­come a great na­tion.

The now ever-present chaotic scenes of Par­lia­ment, laced with ut­ter dis­re­gard for pub­lic de­cency, do not de­pict a coun­try that is at peace with it­self. In­sti­tu­tional tur­moil, both in the pub­lic do­main and in the pri­vate sec­tor, rep­re­sents a sorry state of af­fairs. From the Post Of­fice to SAA to the SABC to Eskom, it seems as if fail­ure has be­come a pre-con­di­tion in South Africa – “Cry, the Beloved Coun­try”.

What to say of the board­room brawls that are fu­elling value de­struc­tion run­ning into bil­lions of rand in company shares? PPC, a ma­jor ce­ment company listed on the JSE, is a case in point.

Cur­rently, PPC is em­broiled in an on­go­ing fi­asco with its for­mer chief ex­ec­u­tive, who un­til Septem­ber was es­teemed among South Africa’s highly re­spected black cor­po­rate ex­ec­u­tives.

As a re­sult, share­hold­ers have had to en­dure more than R2 bil­lion of PPC’s mar­ket value be­ing wiped off its shares as the business of business turned into the business of set­tling per­sonal scores.

Mar­cel Gold­ing, a for­mer trade union­ist and also among South Africa’s well-known black en­trepreneurs, re­signed late last month as ex­ec­u­tive chair­man of Hosken

In a coun­try be­set with high un­em­ploy­ment, poor ed­u­ca­tion out­comes, grow­ing in­equal­ity and poverty, there is just no way to gloss over the pre­vail­ing paral­y­sis.

Con­sol­i­dated In­vest­ments (HCI), a company with stakes in a range of in­dus­tries, in­clud­ing me­dia and gaming.

His exit was fol­lowed by the de­par­ture of at least two HCI direc­tors as the board­room brawl in­ten­si­fied.

Some might say, this is all sup­posed to be business as usual. Well, in a coun­try be­set with high un­em­ploy­ment, poor ed­u­ca­tion out­comes, grow­ing in­equal­ity and poverty, there is just no way to gloss over the pre­vail­ing paral­y­sis. It is man­i­fest­ing it­self on a daily ba­sis, es­pe­cially as those that are sup­posed to lead in fact shirk their re­spon­si­bil­ity.

South Africans are yearn­ing for those who hold pub­lic or pri­vate of­fice to be grown-up – in word and in deed.

They are also yearn­ing for business to have a heart. South Africa’s youth is yearn­ing for real role mod­els. South Africans are also yearn­ing for the op­por­tu­nity to bet­ter them­selves and their com­mu­ni­ties.

South Africans also yearn to see an end to cor­rup­tion, crime and vi­o­lence. This gen­er­a­tion of South Africans is no dif­fer­ent to that of Alan Paton, whose “Cry, the Beloved Coun­try” was ul­ti­mately a call for South Africa to put its past be­hind it, and look to a new and a brighter fu­ture.

That fu­ture, how­ever, will prove elu­sive, should the cur­rent state of af­fairs – char­ac­terised by de­spon­dency, ap­a­thy, com­pla­cency and in­dif­fer­ence – per­sist.

As a de­vel­op­ing coun­try, South Africa has a lot to learn from its peers, es­pe­cially China, whose de­vel­op­ment has seen the largest num­ber of peo­ple on the planet ex­tri­cated out of poverty, and with more to follow.

Although China has its crit­ics, what is of­ten not ap­pre­ci­ated about its strides is that as a de­vel­op­ing econ­omy, it presents a de­vel­op­men­tal can­vas that should be adapted to give coun­tries like South Africa struc­tural im­pe­tus to drive real change, es­pe­cially at the level of or­di­nary peo­ple.

Survey after survey shows that South Africa must be­come more dy­namic and com­pet­i­tive in or­der to build a more re­silient econ­omy, yet all the signs so far point to the fact that medi­ocrity is some­thing that South Africa is not yet pre­pared to do away with.

What other rea­son ex­plains why Cell C will go so far as to take on a cus­tomer who merely wanted the cell­phone company to raise its cus­tomer ser­vice game?

What other rea­son ex­plains why the level of open de­bate has fallen so low that mem­bers of Par­lia­ment should almost come to blows in or­der to be heard? “Cry, the Beloved Coun­try”. What other rea­son ex­plains why sud­denly there is a raft of top ex­ec­u­tives, es­pe­cially in the pub­lic sec­tor, with bo­gus or un­ex­plained miss­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tions? All this and more points to an ur­gent need for some form of in­ter­ven­tion, now.

Lest we for­get – what took South Africa from 1994 to 2014 will not take South Africa to 2034.

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