Three prom­ises could put us on the high road to suc­cess


OUR COUN­TRY needs a vi­sion – a com­pelling dream that pulls all of us for­ward and in­spires us to work to­gether for a bet­ter future. Right now, South Africa is in a tech­ni­cal re­ces­sion, when we should be boom­ing at 5% growth and lift­ing our peo­ple out of poverty.

While our politi­cians fig­ure out how to con­vince us to vote for them in 2019, the coun­try waits for lead­er­ship. Let’s face it – Pres­i­dent Zuma is go­ing to clown around un­til the end of his term and his op­po­nents are go­ing to tip­toe around the is­sues, try­ing not to up­set any of the fac­tions that they de­pend on for a ticket to the Union Build­ings. The op­po­si­tion is go­ing to ob­sess over pos­si­ble op­tions for a coali­tion gov­ern­ment, while they miss the mo­ment – that South Africans are yearn­ing for lead­er­ship.

So in the ab­sence of any po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship to speak of, here is a stab at a com­pelling vi­sion for South Africa. In­stead of a 400-page plan such as the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme, it’s a three-sen­tence prom­ise we make to our­selves and one another:

Prom­ise One: Ev­ery Child Re­ceives a Qual­ity Education.

Prom­ise Two: Ev­ery Young Per­son has a Job Op­por­tu­nity.

Prom­ise Three: Ev­ery Par­ent can Feed their Fam­ily.

Lead­er­ship is a rare com­mod­ity. Unlike coal or plat­inum that de­stroys the en­vi­ron­ment and pol­lutes the wa­ter when you mine it, true lead­er­ship turns ev­ery­thing around it into a re­source for the com­mon good. Just imag­ine if the lead­ers in our so­ci­ety woke up to­mor­row and de­cided to act the part? Imag­ine what would hap­pen in ev­ery busi­ness leader said “I want to do my part in ful­fill­ing the prom­ise of a bet­ter South Africa.”

Imag­ine if ev­ery com­mu­nity leader said “Enough is enough, I’m go­ing to in­sist that this com­mu­nity is wor­thy of the peo­ple who live in it.” Imag­ine if ev­ery faith-com­mu­nity leader said “Not in my name and not un­der my watch – I will not al­low the pil­lag­ing of the peo­ple’s purse and vi­o­la­tion of their hard-won free­dom.”

South Africa does not lack lead­ers. It lacks lead­er­ship, be­cause lead­ers some­times lack courage. South Africans are wait­ing around for Zuma to change or Cyril to come and save them or for Je­sus to come.

What will it take for ev­ery child to re­ceive an education? Po­lit­i­cal will? A few build­ings and toi­lets? Text­books be­ing de­liv­ered and peo­ple do­ing the job they are paid for? Some­one sug­gested ban­ning all pri­vate schools as a way of fix­ing education. While I think the idea is ab­surd, the point is well taken, that if the af­flu­ent and the pow­er­ful had to see their chil­dren come home from school with­out hav­ing re­ceived a mean­ing­ful day’s worth of learn­ing, the sys­tem would get fixed al­most im­me­di­ately. Why? Be­cause the peo­ple sim­ply wouldn’t take it and would get in­volved and fix the prob­lem.

What will it take for ev­ery young per­son in South Africa to have a job op­por­tu­nity? A few hun­dred more farms? A few thou­sand fac­to­ries? A few billion dol­lars or eu­ros in­vested in in­fras­truc­ture, road, rail, ports and de­cent pub­lic trans­porta­tion? What would it take to give ev­ery per­son ac­cess to ba­sic health­care and the means to feed their fam­ily? These are things within our reach.

I be­lieve in South Africa and in the in­ge­nu­ity of South Africans. It would take less than two decades to trans­form this coun­try. Five years to fix education and get chil­dren learn­ing in peace and quiet with some food in their stom­achs. Five years to ex­pand our in­dus­trial in­fras­truc­ture and another five to de­cen­tralise and mas­sively ex­pand our value chains in en­ergy, ve­hi­cle com­po­nent man­u­fac­tur­ing and a few other high-end man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tors, while we be­come a call-cen­tre ex­pert on the con­ti­nent.

A fi­nal five years to fun­da­men­tally trans­form our food se­cu­rity sys­tem from a small pool of highly con­sol­i­dated play­ers to a tapestry of lo­calised sup­ply chains to ad­dress both the need for jobs and the strate­gic food se­cu­rity risk we now face.

Just imag­ine if the mean­ing of be­ing South African in­cluded a com­mit­ment to three car­di­nal things: education for the young, pro­duc­tive employment for the able and a de­cent meal for ev­ery de­pen­dant. Surely that’s the right place to start? We would not be reach­ing for the stars, but we would be lay­ing a foun­da­tion on which to build, and we have to start some­where.

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