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We can still turn South Africa into the great country o...

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Opinionista

We can still turn South Africa into the great country of our dreams

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Mamphela Ramphele is co-founder of ReimagineSA and Co-President of the Club of Rome.

Democracies are challenged all over the world because of the growing inequalities between citizens. Political freedom without socioeconomic justice that enables every citizen to feel respected and heard, is unsustainable. Our country is reaping the bitter fruits of neglecting socioeconomic transformation to make freedom a lived reality for all citizens.

South Africa remains a divided nation despite living under a Constitution that enjoins us to heal the divisions of our ugly past and embrace a shared value system that affirms human dignity and equality for all. 

We have failed to create an ecosystem where everyone’s talents are nurtured and expressed in contributions that would have made us a great society.  

We need a complete overhaul of our socioeconomic system, which is a legacy of apartheid. It is a system that should have been overhauled in 1994, along with its apartheid political foundations, but was retained as a compromise — at great cost to our country. 

Inequality, crime and insecurity, dysfunctional public services and unaccountable public servants and representatives are the bitter fruits of this iniquitous system.

Ubuntu

State Capture represents the bankruptcy of a political leadership that has betrayed the value system of Ubuntu, which requires each of us to treat others as we would want to be treated and to understand that to be human is to be interconnected.  

I am because you are.  

I cannot steal from the public purse because that is stealing from myself and my fellow humans.  

We have to reimagine and rebuild our society into one embedded in the dreams of millions of citizens who continue to draw sustenance from Ubuntu as the lodestar of a better tomorrow. 

We have to recapture the essence of what matters in life — our relationships embodied in the ancient wisdom of Ubuntu.  

Reimagining our socioeconomic system within an Ubuntu-values framework would open up boundless possibilities of a vibrant sustainable system that offers wellbeing for all. 

Let us reimagine our energy system, education and training system, our public healthcare system, human settlements in both urban and rural areas, our towns and cities, all coming alive to signal a society that is interconnected and interdependent, working together to create a vibrant country!  

All this would take is for “we, the people” to come together as we did in our struggle against apartheid, to demand and mobilise for a governance system that serves us — not just a select few. 

Good governance is not possible without citizens demanding and sustaining it. 

The shifts in the 2021 local government elections towards independent candidates are indicators of voters’ desire for change. This desire should be nurtured and turned into a tide that turns around the ship of state in 2024. 

The relentless electricity load shedding we are experiencing is the culmination of disabling mismanagement and massive looting of Eskom by successive ANC governments. 

This has to be stopped by “we, the people”.

Poverty in a resource-rich country

We have huge endowments of resources for the production of renewable energy: abundant sunny days, wind and biomass to become self-sufficient and export energy.  

But we have a government that cares more about staying in power by appeasing short-term interests in the coal industry, than ensuring adequate secure energy for all citizens.  

Imagine the impact of multiple rural solar plants that would electrify villages, farms, and small towns! Imagine the improvements in the quality of life of all citizens of our country!  

We have the skills base to pull ourselves out of the current unsustainable energy system and into a winning, low-carbon one. What is missing is leadership.  

Civil society must hold the line to prevent our country being pushed further into indebtedness by Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe’s Karpowership preference — despite identified environmental risks — over local renewable and low-carbon solutions.

Young people are ready to provide the appropriate leadership for the 21st century, at all levels. 

Mining regions of our country, such as in North West and Mpumalanga, offer another avenue for integrated bottom-up development to transform the many ghost towns into productive nodes.   

Innovative transitions of land use, from extractive mining to regenerative agribusinesses, would enhance our sustainable food systems.  

There are also opportunities to grow non-edible produce such as flowers on contaminated land unfit for food production.

Mine waste, properly treated to neutralise toxic elements and rehabilitate the land, could be a significant resource for road-building and other infrastructure needs.

Mining companies have an opportunity to make good their rehabilitation commitments and become leaders in transformative practices to restore the land that has given them so much wealth.

Healing the land would also heal the people who were dispossessed.

Education turnaround

Our education system — that is only graduating 22% of each age cohort — is ripe for a major turnaround.

Parents and civil society groups have the power to insist on the adoption of known models of successful education, even in resource-scarce settings. For example, LEAP Science and Maths Schools operate in the poorest areas, yet produce superior results with an 85% graduation rate, of whom 97% qualify for higher education.

What stops us from adapting this model nationally to give every child a chance to become the best they were created to become?

The distinguishing factor in the performance of successful education institutions is the attention paid to enabling self-liberating learning and teaching process of the life orientation curriculum every day of the learning week.

Every LEAP graduate is also a leader with personal mastery and unlimited dreams. Teenage pregnancies and drug and alcohol abuse are extremely rare in these schools.

Many other successful models are there for the taking, to replace the apartheid education that does not bolster the self-image of our children. Models that promote mother tongue education and teach history, enabling our children to embrace the rich heritage of Africa as the cradle of humanity and the first human civilisation. 

Civil society-driven programmes

We, the citizens, can and must demand that the private sector working with local and willing provincial levels of government, utilise the wasted or under-utilised billions in the Sectoral Training Authorities and in the Presidential Jobs Programme, by redirecting them to successful civil society-driven programmes.  

For example, the eXolobeni community in the Wild Coast region of the Eastern Cape is training young people in leadership of self (who am I in an Ubuntu culture?), of their communities, as well as in organic farming, drawing on ancient wisdom and in harmony with nature. 

There are many examples of agribusinesses at the small and medium levels in other rural areas that are becoming successful commercial enterprises, working together to create sustainable food supply chains.

Healthcare reboot

Our public healthcare system is on life support.

The good news is that we have many skilled and dedicated professionals who remain determined — despite failures of public service leadership — to make the system work for all citizens.

It would take no more than committed courageous leadership at the provincial level — working with dedicated health professionals — to reimagine and transform our healthcare system to become an enabler of wellbeing for all.

The Western Cape has consistently supported health professionals within both the academic and general sectors, to ensure good quality health for all, as well as training of some of the best professionals in the country. We can and must restore our public health system to promote wellbeing for all.

Infrastructure opportunities

Finally, the dysfunctional state of our national infrastructure system is an opportunity to reimagine and design a more inclusive system.  

Our roads, rail, water and sanitation systems are in a terrible state due to neglect of investment and maintenance over the last 28 years of ANC governments. 

Imagine the number of jobs we could create by tackling the backlogs in infrastructure investment and maintenance! 

Healthy ecosystems to reduce and tackle the impacts of climate change are a huge opportunity for investments in innovative solutions that create sustainable jobs and livelihoods. 

Cities that have invested in public transport infrastructure — such as Basel, in Switzerland — are reaping the benefits of fewer private cars, speed and safety of travel, and cleaner environments. We have an opportunity to reimagine our public transport systems to provide dignified safe travel for all citizens. 

Rural areas have been completely neglected with respect to provision of public services and sustainable livelihoods. 

Innovative public transport is essential to restore the dignity and self-confidence of people to build on their many innovative initiatives in human settlements and sustainable livelihoods to become thriving communities.  

What is needed is a caring government with professional public servants who are self-liberated from the trappings of being defined by having material goods, rather than being proud of who they are as people.

Our country deserves better. 

We can still turn it around and make this the great country of our dreams. This turnaround requires all hands on deck! We have done it before. We can do it again. DM/MC

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All Comments 12

  • A big pity that you did not continue your association with the DA way back when. That would have been way more constructive for SA than to reimagine SA.

  • Great vision for South Africa. Where is the leadership? How will we galvanize to create this change that is so badly needed? Why are we still mired in the stories of corruption, tax evasion and dark money when there is so much opportunity and possibility in South Africa? The will of the youth to advance out of poverty is real and possible with just a little assistance and resources. We owe it to them to give them a future worth fighting for. Time to remove dinosaur politicians with only their self interest in mind. South Africa could be a shining example of leadership in climate change mitigation, protection of our soils and our health from harmful chemical inputs, investment in regenerative agribusinesses, renewable energy, waste management and infrastructure. Instead we are becoming a trash pit of broken and stagnant systems that need to be eradicated and replaced. How do we become a society with shared vision, an action plan and the will and drive to change?

  • With all due respect, this article seems to be blinded by its own optimism.

    There is a huge elephant in the room and Mamphela Ramphele, just like all politicians and journalists over the last 28 years, have ignored the issue of explosive population growth as it relates directly to poverty and inequality. Apparently it is far easier to simply blame all your people’s ills on apartheid than it is to actually address an uncomfortable reality. It is simple arithmetic that anyone can understand: too many mouths to feed; not enough food. The population numbers over the past century should be easily available from StatsSA for all to see.

    Poverty of the black majority is not only a legacy of apartheid. It is also a legacy of our leaders, including Dr Ramphele, sticking their heads in the sand and ignoring the immediate reality while they dream endlessly of a better future, pretending that good intentions alone will make everything better for everyone. Eventually. Somehow.

    I must thus conclude that this article is simply yet another instance of a public figure that wants to sound good and knowledgeable but actually has no real interest in meaningfully solving the tough underlying problems this country has.

    • I did not see any place where dr. Ramphele blamed apartheid for how SA looks now, Stephen; she is actually focusing on condemning the ANC for what they have done. Maybe YOU are the one who is obsessed with apartheid. Besides, apartheid did cause a lot of the inequalities and dr. Ramphele is right; the ANC is going on with much of the nonsense of the old NP government while pretending that they are doing the opposite.. And dr. Ramphele has many, many years of doing exactly what she is proposing, and successfully so; she is coming forward with a lot of very innovative ideas that are also very practical. For instance, her comments about the infrastructure is true; the municipalities keep forcing construction companies to employ local people (from same community) identified wrongly by politicians who does not have the foggiest clue of whether those are competent or not, and neither do the politicians care. All that needs to be done is to allow the companies to source their personnel from anywhere in SA, and bring them into contact with universities so they can source the best qualified persons. AND then the politicians should keep completely out of the process, including these “consultants” that are always employed dubiously where there is no need for them. If companies are allowed to do their job in the right way, a lot of more sensible employment and quality infrastructure can be created. But first the ANC politics must get out of the way & the public interest be put first.

      • 3rd paragraph, 1st line: “We need a complete overhaul of our socioeconomic system, which is a legacy of apartheid.”

        Dr Ramphele then goes on to broadly describe all that is wrong with our socioeconomic system, including widespread poverty and inequality, that the ANC must rightly be blamed for but only because they kept the apartheid socioeconomic system as “a compromise” (which she does not explain).

        I never said apartheid didn’t cause poverty; I merely wish to add that it is not the only cause of poverty. Since no journalist has the courage to touch the subject of a population explosion within only one racial demographic in South Africa, we have to make reasonable assumptions based on available evidence, i.e. from StatsSA. Apartheid is long gone, but the population explosion is still very much with us, along with grinding poverty. The only reasonable conclusion here is that apartheid is therefore not the sole cause of poverty as implied by so many politicians and journalists over the years. It’s probably not even a major cause of poverty because if it were, we would have seen an improvement or at least a stabilisation shortly after 1994. We did not. In fact the exact opposite is true: poverty and inequality are steadily getting worse.

        I thus do not agree with Dr Ramphele where she arbitrarily attaches the negative sentiment towards apartheid onto the ANC in order to justify the claim of “we need a complete overhaul of [X]”.

        As always I am wary of such radicalism.

  • This had potential, but I lost interest after the usual blame game against apartheid started. As unjust as it was, it left us with a fully functional economy (including a power utility that was world-class) which has been squandered by the latent criminality of the ANC. All the motherhood statements about Ubuntu and re-imagining the socio-economic model are hogwash. The socio-economic model (rich, middle-class and poor having to work together) works in most societies in the world. It’s the continued sense of entitlement and sense of victimhood burned into our society’s consciousness by throwback statements to blame apartheid that has destroyed our country. Stop blaming apartheid and look to the mass culture for the root of the problem.

    • I did not see any place where dr. Ramphele blamed apartheid for how SA looks now, Stephen; she is actually focusing on condemning the ANC for what they have done. Maybe YOU are the one who is obsessed with apartheid. Besides, apartheid did cause a lot of the inequalities and dr. Ramphele is right; the ANC is going on with much of the nonsense of the old NP government while pretending that they are doing the opposite.. And dr. Ramphele has many, many years of doing exactly what she is proposing, and successfully so; she is coming forward with a lot of very innovative ideas that are also very practical. For instance, her comments about the infrastructure is true; the municipalities keep forcing construction companies to employ local people (from same community) identified wrongly by politicians who does not have the foggiest clue of whether those are competent or not, and neither do the politicians care. All that needs to be done is to allow the companies to source their personnel from anywhere in SA, and bring them into contact with universities so they can source the best qualified persons. AND then the politicians should keep completely out of the process, including these “consultants” that are always employed dubiously where there is no need for them. If companies are allowed to do their job in the right way, a lot of more sensible employment and quality infrastructure can be created. But first the ANC politics must get out of the way & the public interest be put first.

  • Once BBBEE is dropped and using apartheid as the scapegoat for our current ills ceases, We have a starting point.
    Embrace the vast talent of all South Africans and drop the failed communist/socialist inspired ideologies.
    Then watch South Africa inc flourish, jobs get created and over a few generations real reduction in equality is possible.

  • As usual, dr. Ramphele is making extremely valuable inputs. I would really like her inputs to be closer to government, such as in an advisory capacity, because she has had exposure to the technical aspects of so many parts of life that I can’t think of a better person to be a government advisor.

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