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Robert Andrew
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Moral Cement for a Changing South Africa

13 December 2013, 15:19

Emile Durkheim, the French sociologist who is often referred to as the founding father of sociology, introduced the concept of anomie in his book The Division of Labor in Society, published in 1893. Anomie refers to a disconcerting condition in society where norms and values no longer control the behaviour of people. Anomie is caused by the need to adjust to changing conditions and the difficulty that people have without clear rules to help guide them. Rules on how people ought to behave with each other break down and people do not know what to expect from one another.

 Durkheim felt that a sudden change from a regulated to a deregulated society brought about the highest levels of anomie. People lose their sense of being subject to accepted and binding social norms and codes. Anomie is a genuine ‘feel-bad’ factor.

Most of us will surely acknowledge the present high levels of anomie in this country. People from all sectors of our society are finding difficulty in adapting to new conditions. Many previously entrenched and accepted rules have dramatically changed and many have completely dissolved. Organisations that have retrenched people by virtue of downsizing, restructuring, re-engineering, unbundling and from needlessly destructive take-overs have also been responsible for generating large doses of anomie.

 To counter the destructiveness of anomie, the corporate world needs to revisit the qualities of capitalism to make it tolerable to all communities. The British writer John Plender (A Stake In The Future) believes that ‘stakeholding’ is the answer.

In stakeholding, a business is viewed more as an integral part of society rather than a separate institution based purely on economic objectives. Businesses are seen as communities in which the directors and management act as trustees to balance the interests of the various stakeholders that include financiers, employees, customers, suppliers and the public at large. All stakeholders work together to create something of value that none of them alone can. Capital is used to sustain and develop the process of value creation. The more that all stakeholders can participate in the decisions that affect them, such as the business strategy, the goods being manufactured, the way the company is organised and managed and employment criteria, the greater the likelihood that they will be committed to the present and future success of the enterprise.

 A stakeholder economy is based on four main principles: the commitment, trust and motivation of stakeholders to co-operate; the diversity of stakeholders; the ability to continuously create value and competition to provide stakeholders with alternative options. The driving force of stakeholding is the creative power of humans; its measure is the creation of value.

 The ethical basis of stakeholding consists of three main viewpoints: human beings are seen to be at the centre of value creation; common decency and fairness must prevail and the public should demand the best behaviour of business. A business must be a fully human institution and help to develop a society based on trust.

In a stakeholder company, the executives know that their company is not built solely on shareholder value. Their vision will be based on a shared sense of purpose among their stakeholder community. This sense of purpose must be clear and important enough for individuals to expend their own human capital to create, deliver and service quality products that customers are willing to pay for.

 In the British context, Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister, noted that the creation of an economy needs the involvement of the whole country. “It must become a matter of national purpose and national pride”. Nelson Mandela put forward similar sentiments in his vision of government/community/business alliances. As a country, however, we need to heed the comments made by President Kennedy in Berlin in 1963: “Lofty words cannot construct an alliance or maintain it; only concrete deeds can do that”.

Our challenge is to actively document and implement a policy in this country which acknowledges a collective obligation to ensure that each citizen gets a fair stake in it. To do this we need to change the modern workplace from one that delivers a diminishing sense of community participation to one of community and nation building. All of us must hope that the National Development Plan will be able to achieve this vision. This may be the only way we have of ensuring a future society free of anomie.

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