Spending time in Berlin, Germany, as part of the South African Parliament’s multi-party exchange programme has given me the opportunity to reflect on some valuable lessons we South Africans can learn from the German people.
Here are some key observations:
German patriotism: Despite having diverse political, religious, and economic views, Germans exhibit a strong sense of patriotism. They possess a deep love and pride for their country which transcends their individual differences. This unwavering patriotism allows them to work together towards common goals, putting the interests of the German people above all else. We, as South African politicians, found each abroad, why can’t we do it at home?
Coalition management: Germany’s governance structure incorporates coalition management at various levels, from federal to local. South African Ambassador Stone Sizani explained that the German political system is driven by a shared commitment to serve the interests of the German people. Instead of letting political differences hinder progress, they find ways to collaborate and form alliances that promote effective governance. This approach ensures that diverse perspectives are considered, leading to balanced decision-making and representation. We together must serve our people, not narrow sectarian selfish interests. Our politics, including coalitions, must move away from being focused on individuals, personalities, and being ego-based, to focus on issues and a solutions-based approach.
Action-oriented accountability: Germans emphasise action and accountability over excessive talk. While public consultations, commissions, and dialogue are deemed essential, they prioritise translating discussion into tangible action. They focus on achieving measurable results and holding individuals accountable for their responsibilities. This approach promotes a culture of efficiency and effectiveness, where actions have consequences, leading to improved outcomes for society. Let’s stop being shocked, surprised, and commissioned to check and investigate. Let’s be proactive, take responsibility, and make examples of incompetence and serial offenders. Build trust and restore credibility by solving and serving.
Forward-looking mentality: Germans have embraced a forward-looking mindset, shifting their focus from a troubled past. They have moved beyond the divisions between East and West and fostered a united Germany. Instead of dwelling on historical grievances, they concentrate on building a prosperous future for all Germans. This perspective serves as a powerful reminder that as a nation, we must not be consumed by our colonial and Apartheid past. Instead of just blaming and complaining, let’s rather focus our energy on constructive efforts and nation-building. Stop the ‘them and us’, ‘black and white’ narrative, the victim or entitlement mentality, and replace it with a CAN DO attitude that means that as South Africans we will contribute and be part of the positive change needed.
Cooperative and mixed economy: Germany’s success can be attributed, in part, to its cooperative and mixed economy model. Economic ownership and participation are encouraged, allowing citizens to have a stake in various sectors. This inclusive approach has resulted in low unemployment rates, with only 3% unemployment in Germany. By prioritising economic empowerment and shared prosperity, they have created an environment that is conducive to sustainable development and social cohesion. The German Cooperative and Raiffeisen Confederation (DGRV) model (of which one out of every four Germans are members) provides a blueprint for success in cooperative movements. They’ve mastered a philosophy we need to incorporate — we need each other, and by working together, we can achieve more. Their emphasis on self-help, self-responsibility, and self-administration is a template we can adapt to our unique South African context.
In addition to their cooperative enterprise model, we are already embracing Germany’s vocational education and apprenticeship programmes, which provide practical skills and training to the youth, aligning education with industry needs. This approach has contributed significantly to their low youth unemployment rates and skilled workforce. We need to understand what we must do differently to achieve similar desired results.
Moreover, Germany’s investment in renewable energy sources and sustainable practices has led to a thriving green economy, reducing dependence on fossil fuels and promoting environmental sustainability. This commitment to clean energy aligns with our own goals of transitioning towards a greener future.
In addition to the issues raised by these reflections, we should also explore areas such as technological innovation, efficient public transportation systems, and inclusive social policies as potential avenues for learning and collaboration.
By embracing these lessons, we can learn from Germany and take the opportunity to enhance our own governance, economic models, and social cohesion. Let us foster a culture of unity, forward-thinking, and accountability, with a firm focus on creating a better future for all South Africans. Whilst abroad and missing home, I remain hopeful for our beloved motherland South Africa. DM