Business Maverick

BUSINESS MAVERICK: ANALYSIS

Getting the SA horses to pull together

Getting the SA horses to pull together
South African fans watch the Springboks playing the 2019 Rugby World Cup final against England in Japan, on a big-screen broadcast in Tygervalley Mall, Cape Town, on 2 November. (Photo: EPA-EFE / STR)

At this moment, South Africans are like an undisciplined team of horses, with everyone pulling in opposite directions, the cart in danger of toppling over and the country going nowhere. To get the horses to pull together requires a little more progress on the reconciliation front.

South Africans are a fractious lot, slow to listen and quick to lambast government, the national team and one another when the going gets hot. We are separated by race, class, lived experience and political ideology.

But win a world cup against the odds, dump 120mm of rain on Centurion over four days, washing away shacks and cars, or murder one of our daughters and South Africans become one… for a few glorious moments.

Truth is, while the vast majority of the population identifies as South African and is proud to be so, the sins of the past run deep, society remains exclusive and reconciliation elusive.

The year 2019 marked a quarter of a century since South Africa’s transition to democracy. In the same year that the country marked this achievement, it also conducted its sixth general election.

Despite our many gains, the major election themes, such as land redistribution, reminded the country of the many historical legacies that remain unresolved.

We need to ask ourselves, how far have we come? What are the issues holding this country back from real reconciliation? And does a lack of progress in this regard limit economic and social development?

The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation has been probing these questions since 2003. Its latest report, the 2019 South African Reconciliation Barometer, has been released after an extensive survey conducted from July to August 2019.

The results present a mixed picture.

They show that a vast majority of South Africans agree that reconciliation is necessary, desirable, and more importantly, possible — and 2019 shows the greatest optimism in this regard since the inception of the barometer, says report author Elnari Potgieter.

But less than half of South Africans say that they have experienced reconciliation and believe that we have made progress with reconciliation.

Genuine reconciliation cannot be achieved with unemployment at 29%, almost 58% of youth structurally shut out of the economy and flat economic growth. This ensures that those who were affected by apartheid continue to be poor and the divide between rich and poor is becoming greater.

Compounding the problem is that at present, the government has limited fiscal space to advance social infrastructure such as education and housing.

The vast majority of people believe that reconciliation is impossible as long as corruption continues in our country, while 74% agree that reconciliation is impossible as long as political parties exploit social divisions for political gains — thus highlighting the need for transparent, responsible and accountable political leadership.

Interestingly, 73.3% of South Africans agree that reconciliation is impossible as long as those who were disadvantaged under apartheid remain poor, while 72.8% agree that reconciliation is impossible while race categories continue to be used to measure transformation — thus indicating the need for social justice, although the use of historical race categories to measure transformation gathers less support.

Finally, 72% of South Africans agree that reconciliation is impossible as long as gender-based violence continues in our society, with 66.4% agreeing that reconciliation is impossible as long as racism remains unaddressed in our society.

On a more positive note, South Africans across all walks of life are finding common ground.

Most South Africans support the Constitution as the supreme law of the land, with 76.9% agreeing that the Constitution must be upheld and respected in all circumstances.

Most South Africans also agree with the rule of law with regard to the authority of the police, as well as such institutions as SARS and the courts fulfilling certain functions in society.

And across the board, South Africans are losing faith in politicians and the political elite, with just 54.1% of people agreeing with democratically elected representatives’ decision-making powers.

People are recognising that waiting for government, local municipalities or business to step in to solve their problems is like waiting for Godot.

Thus, what is notable and positive is a rise in social activism. South Africans are linking hands in response to the many challenges and lived realities they face.

If anything, it is this can-do, problem-solving, take-no-shit attitude that will build bridges, forge new relationships and remind us that we can actually be one people. BM

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