We need to be defined before it’s too late

2012-09-29 12:50

The idea of ordinary citizens donating personal gold jewellery to help their country repay its foreign debt might sound like a fairytale, but that is exactly what South Koreans did in 1997 following the collapse of Asian economies.

Rings, necklaces, bangles and other jewellery obtained from numerous collection points throughout the country amounted to 225 tons of gold that was melted and refined.

This contributed $1.8 billion (R15 billion) towards meeting foreign debt obligations.

According to an International Monetary Fund report last year, South Korea’s income per capita is now $12 811, more than five times greater than South Africa’s ($2 471).

There is something remarkable about millions of citizens giving up personal possessions to contribute towards their country’s long-term economic stability. One wonders if South Africans could ever match them.

South Koreans gave up what was dear to them, but they trusted their government.

Do we have the kind of government and governance that we would be happy to contribute our possessions to?

I doubt it.

The increasing mistrust of our government by South Africans is certainly not a new phenomenon. In the past, the majority were understandably deeply suspicious of the state.

With the advent of democracy, we had a perfect opportunity to define what would lead us to success and work together to achieve it.

The starting point to even dream of what the South Koreans achieved means no longer tolerating politicians who neglect the people who voted them into power.

Owing to our flawed proportional representation system at national level, their loyalty is only to their parties, party bosses and whatever interests hold sway in those parties.

Service-delivery protests are the result of the impatience of ordinary people and a growing exasperation with unfulfilled promises.

Secondly, we need all South Africans to have a shared vision for the country. We are still divided along racial and economic lines.

While we occasionally preach national unity, we generally define ourselves according to interest, racial or income groups.

It is hard to believe we can have a common vision of a better South Africa when how we define ourselves is primarily as black, white, poor or wealthy before touching on being South African.

We need a clear, credible description of what it means to be South African and what our national interests are.

To do this, we need better leadership not only in politics but in other key spheres of society such as
organised labour, civic organisations and other actors in society.

We all want a better country but we are yet to define how to get it.

Thirdly, the ruling party has changed its ethos to obsession with leadership posts and their spoils.

This takes the form of crooked tenders, lucrative positions from government and its agencies, and the opportunity to take part in BEE.

The people are a mere afterthought to be fed promises at election time. How else would one explain that most post-1994 millionaires are somehow linked to the ANC?

On the other hand, the main opposition DA is battling to convince people that it has an authentic, non-racial agenda.

As demonstrated by protests in Cape Town during the past few weeks, there is a lingering suspicion that it does not see the upliftment of black South Africans as a priority.

The rest of the opposition parties appear more concerned with political survival than the needs of the people.

Despite the early years of South Korean dictatorship, they have a political leadership whose focus is on building a great nation.

Instead of being a South Korea, unless we change our political and social culture, we will ­become a
dying nation that had the opportunities but squandered them.

» Mbulawa writes from the Cape Circle, a social think-tank

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