’Hamba Nawe: Our future depends on us

2014-06-24 12:00

Before I begin, perhaps it would be apt for me to quote the great George Orwell, who penned this in one of his London Letters during the winter of 1944 towards the bitter end of World War 2: ‘All political thinking for years past has been vitiated in the same way. People can foresee the future only when it coincides with their own wishes, and the most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome’

Compatriots, truth be told, ours is a tough country to govern. It’s diverse, opinionated and tjatjarag. We are beautiful but troubled. Our economy is stagnant and possibly about to enter a recession, which is defined as two successive quarters of negative growth.

This economic jargon means very little to me and you, but from what I’ve heard, it means money is too tight to even mention. Transport costs are on a steady rise, fuel prices are at historic highs and food prices are increasing much faster than the rate of inflation.

You are aware of this because your shopping basket or trolley at Shoprite is now much lighter but much more expensive than before.

Money is tight because our economy finds itself in a trying phase. It has been brought to its knees by the longest strike in our mining history. The platinum fields that were once held up as a beacon of our future, when Rustenburg was booming, are now shattered.

I am happy the strike is almost over, but its effect will be felt for years. It has certainly rippled from North West to Limpopo, Lesotho and the Eastern Cape – the areas from which the mines draw their labour.

If our mines fail to modernise practices such as migrant labour and low wages, in my opinion this bedrock of our economy will go to the wall. It is my honest belief that the industry is poorly led, both by business and labour.

We are also in the second phase of mining’s metamorphosis. In such an atmosphere, where one generation of workers is imperilled or without a determinable future, the focus is placed squarely on the next generation.

Young people and their prospects are what count. And here, prospects are not great. The youth unemployment story is known across the world – from Joburg, Lagos and Dakar to Madrid, Baltimore and Athens.

Too many of our young people have become mere observers of the economy – their noses pressed against the glass of developed South Africa.

But from what I’ve read in City Press, there are wonderful examples of youth employment initiatives that work to fuel the new services-based economy as well as nodes where growth prospects are still good – like retail and some parts of manufacturing.

And sometimes, all it takes is something as simple as a peanut butter sandwich.

According to Harambee, the programme that polishes young graduates for the workplace, sometimes giving a young person something to eat before an interview improves their performance markedly.

At the IT firm EOH, more than 6 000 young people have been put through a rigorous programme to be employed in the company’s various subsidiaries. The motive is to ensure jobs (and our future market) are not outsourced to places like India and China.

Compatriots, we need to be non-dogmatic. There is a lot to learn from the private sector. We need to work together. If we do, we’ll see a return to the era of social compacts, when policies were forged in the mould of our mutual interests. That is, after all, how our great Constitution was designed.

Our state needs innovators and technocrats from across society’s spectrum. An entire section of the National Development Plan (NDP) is geared towards creating a capable state. Why? The national planning commissioners, in their exhaustive work over the years, found that most of our intractable issues in education, health, infrastructure and across local government were about state failure.

Their diagnosis was multifaceted: there are too many civil servants in business; cadre deployment puts the wrong people in positions; and in education, the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union holds appointments and innovation in a grip of self-interest.

We have to depoliticise the civil service and stop civil servants from doing business with the state.

Too often, my government is in do-it-alone mode. I believe that in the main, South African business in the 21st century has not made its mark as a corporate citizen (and stratospheric executive pay doesn’t help). We need to harness talents across civil society and the private sector. We are in this together and that’s why the NDP’s philosophy is one I support.

Last week, an image in The Star newspaper caught my attention. It was of Nomathemba Hlongwane, the citizen who exposed herself to the winter elements and passing commuters to express her anger at how bucket toilets at Diepkloof Hostel had not been cleaned for three months.

I don’t blame her. So, we will improve local government and we will finally get rid of bucket toilets.

But let me say this, compatriots: I believe our Gini coefficient is catching up with us. Our wealth gap is the highest in the world and we have become somewhat desensitised to this abnormality. But we can’t go on like this any longer, as the daily protests show us.

No longer can Alexandra coexist with Sandton as it does, or Diepsloot alongside Dainfern, or the pain of Lwandle so close to the beauty of Llandudno.

We have work to do, compatriots. But let us stop to celebrate a moment.

We are a developing country with many challenges, but we have a lot that is wonderful. I look at our opinionated spirit with wonderment. I love that everyone will have their own views of this very speech.

We can talk ourselves into a sinkhole, but we shouldn’t, because we are a world-class country and a world in one country, as our growing popularity with tourists and international celebrities shows (who would have thought a girl from Benoni would go on to win an Academy Award, and become one of the most famous and glamourous stars in Hollywood?)

I enjoy reading about our companies doing well. Could it really be true, as I read the other day, that Shoprite sells more Moët in its six stores in Nigeria than it does in all of South Africa?

I know it’s true that Discovery Health’s Vitality programme is now exported across the world.

This makes me proud. When apartheid ended, South Africa’s economy was small and isolated – our airport was serviced by a handful of airlines. Now there are more than 100 airlines operating out of Joburg’s OR Tambo International Airport. It goes to show that geography is our biggest friend as we find ourselves at the southern tip of the world’s fastest-growing continent.

SAA’s Lagos office is rapidly becoming its busiest.

I’m thinking of changing my theme song from Awuleth’ Umshini Wami to Ndihamba Nawe, the anthem of the group officially crowned as Africa’s finest, Mafikizolo.

As usual in South Africa, there is as much to celebrate as there is to lament. But we sing songs of sorrow more, perhaps, than we need to. Perhaps it’s in our DNA (the writer John Carlin reckons South Africans have turned complaining into a national sport).

Perhaps we are like this because we know what our founding father, Nelson Mandela, said: “I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me?…?to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”

Our long walk is far from ended, but sometimes we should take a moment to notice how far we’ve come before we fight about how far we have to go.

I remain your faithful servant, Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma.

This is City Press editor in chief Ferial Haffajee’s version of what the president’s state of the nation address on Tuesday should have sounded like. This particular speech has not been presented?…?yet

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