For SA to move forward, no one must be marginalised nor excluded because of class, race, creed, age, sex
THIS WEEK saw the release of a seminal report on the deliberations by a cross-section of South African leaders in the Drakensberg last June. Youth Day weekend was an auspicious moment in our country, ahead of the start of Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo’s eponymous commission. As a nation, we have been transfixed by the revelations emanating from the commission into state capture sitting in Parktown, Johannesburg, as the true story of our lost decade has begun to emerge in its granular details. The conversations at the inaugural Kgalema Motlanthe Drakensberg Inclusive Growth Forum (IGF) were eerily prescient. As the report cautions us, state capture “has left in its wake shattered institutions, a broken economy and the people of South Africa disillusioned and hopeless”. The forum was not a time to despair, even though the presentations on the state of our nation were as bleak as they were honest. Instead, as President Cyril Ramaphosa exhorted during his keynote address, this was a time to move on, to have the courage to dream, “to imagine a new country, one that is free, equal, prosperous and joyful, if we are to liberate ourselves from the shackles of the past and the troubles of the present”.
The delegates did just that, concentrating on three key issues besetting our nation: poverty, unemployment and the equitable distribution of wealth; land reform, restitution and security of tenure; and, social cohesion and nation building. As the speakers reminded us, these are not uniquely South African problems, but part and parcel of global phenomena that have directly contributed to the worrying upsurge in nationalism and populism. Professor Ivor Chipkin noted, “indigenisation has been used to extend and consolidate abusive patronage networks and undermine constitutionally provided checks and balances”. Former statistician-general Pali Lehohla provided a devastating statistical synopsis of our country and of the true evidentiary challenges facing South Africa. Ramaphosa, said Bonang Mohale, inherited a system that was worse than the legacy bequeathed to Nelson Mandela in 1994 at the dawn of our democracy 25 years ago. Drawing some of the best minds in the country together for a three-day retreat to focus, reflect and commit, the forum emerged with a vision of what had to be done and a road map of how to get there. Chief among these is the need for inclusivity; not just ethnically, but generationally and in terms of gender.
The road ahead will not be easy; we will have to face up to some harsh truths; like putting an end to using the public service as an employment agency for party cadres, and instead refocusing it as a meritocracy, where our public servants are properly trained and see themselves facilitating community engagement with government rather than behaving like overlords. The government must be rationalised, the number of ministries cut and made responsive and accountable. When it comes to education and the vaunted Fourth Industrial Revolution, we need to understand as University of Johannesburg vice-chairperson Tshilidzi Marwala pointed out, our participation will not be optional. Stakes are high: technology will exacerbate or alleviate inequality and exclusion. The World Economic Forum predicts the three most important skills for an employee by 2020 will be complex problem-solving, critical thinking and creativity. Without adequate training, potentially only a diminished minority of South Africans will possess these skills, while others will see their value diminished by automation. But without sufficient investment in our skills and physical infrastructure, advanced robotics also has the capacity to disadvantage many for the advantage of a few. If South Africa is to collectively benefit, we must not let unequal access to today’s technologies limit our future potential.
We need to be brutal about our educational system, recognising that the ever-changing nature of our syllabus has been an abuse of our children. We need to rethink what is being taught, creating fit-for-purpose programmes so that our youth find jobs. We need to stop just focusing on the matric rate and those who don’t make it and look instead to how we can stimulate pre-schoolers and ensure they go to bed on a full stomach – and have enough to eat during the day. We need to find ways of re-industrializing South Africa, creating jobs in the process, perhaps even through a public-private jobs fund. We have to plan for the economy that we want through constructive interventions. We need to overhaul our state-owned enterprises, and look to Telkom as best practice when it comes to getting in private investment. We need to create wealth, land restitution is a fantastic mechanism to do this, with title deeds as collateral to access funds, but we have to protect new homeowners from unscrupulous predators, we need to look at land in its urban and its rural contexts – and not mix up the two. We need to free up idle land, we can start with Trans-net and Eskom, we need to develop our rural economies.
We can do all of this through the Constitution as it is, without tampering with it. These are just some of the thoughts that emerged from those three days. Underpinning all of this is the belief that whatever we do must be done together; we dare not exclude on race or class or creed. The youth must be incorporated, placing them front and centre of whatever policies are drafted; be it educational or economic. They have to be given charge of their own destiny, not talked down and further marginalised. Likewise, women. We have to restore South Africa to the country we dreamed it would be. Last year’s forum was the first of what I hope will be an annual event, sparking further conversations, drafting plans to flesh out the framework of what has been created. The miracle of 1994 wasn’t plucked from thin air, it was founded on South Africans coming together to speak, to listen and to act. Dialogue has always been at the heart of African culture and society, and the Kgalema Motlanthe Foundation has harnessed this tradition. The onus now is on us to create our own destinies using our own hands – and make sure that we can never ever again have our birthright endangered by state capture. The Inclusive Growth Initiative is a call to action. A call to each one of us to help build a continent where we are encouraged to dream big, to challenge the inconceivable and achieve the impossible.
Ichikowitz is an industrialist and philanthropist. His Ichikowitz Family Foundation is one of the partners
of Kgalema Motlanthe’s inaugural Drakensberg Inclusive Growth Forum.
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