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