South Africa, Politics

Op-Ed: Our country needs a compelling dream that pulls all of us forward and inspires us to work together

By Marius Oosthuizen 25 June 2017

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 Plan (NDP), it consists of three promises we make to ourselves and one another. By MARIUS OOSTHUIZEN.

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 tip-toe 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 NDP, it consists of three promises we make to ourselves and one another:

  • First promise: Every child receives a quality education.
  • Second promise: Every young person has a job opportunity.
  • Third promise: 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 if every business leader said: “I want to do my part in fulfilling the promise of a better South Africa.” Imagine if every community leaders said: “Enough is enough, I am 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 the 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. This apathy and lack of agency has to stop.

What will it take for every child to receive an education? Seriously, what would it take? 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 days-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, roads, rail, ports and decent public transportation. What would it take to give every person access to basic health care 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 quite 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 the 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.

This is not a call for government to get its act together. For the medium term our government will most likely be indistinguishable from the unfortunate party-political sparring that is typical of a weak populist democracy. This is a call for South Africans to do what we do best – get on with it. Make a plan. Decide that we will succeed as a country in spite of our politicians, not because of them.

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. DM

Marius Oosthuizen is a member of faculty at GIBS. He teaches leadership, strategy and ethics.

Photo: School children from Kgotlelelang wait to greet Argentina soccer coach Diego Maradona in Soshanguve, north of Pretoria January 19, 2010. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

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