A call to action for all of us

2008-09-03 00:00

When Roelf Meyer, Graça Machel, Cheryl Carolus and Cyril Ramaphosa share a platform together, something is going on. When 40 of South Africa’s top business leaders give up an afternoon to attend a leadership forum, something important is going down. When about 300 people representing the business community, civil society and the government gather from all over the country for a four-day conference, something of a social movement is being born.

“I stand here not as a guest speaker — but to be counted as one of you in building a safe South Africa,” said Machel as she spoke at the conclusion of the Action for a Safe South Africa convention in Midrand last week. “This is the first movement I know that is focusing on safety and not crime. And there is a huge difference. If we are focused on crime, we can only be reactive to elements that are perpetrating crime. But if we are focused on safety, we are proactive and we develop profound, holistic, comprehensive, and more importantly, constructive ways of addressing our problems.

“This movement brings to the core that issues of safety are not only for the police, or the government and the courts, but mostly for us and how we relate to each other, in our families, in our schools, in our communities and in our society,” said Machel.

The convention did this and much more. Under the facilitation of Professor Tandeka

Nkiwane from Unisa, Barbara Holtmann of the Council for

Scientific and Industrial Research introduced the four days by taking the delegates through an inspiring and informative model connecting the challenge of prevention with the challenge of enforcement, making the central point that a safer society is one that works primarily on prevention, and the issues that give rise to aberrant behaviour of all types. While enforcement is important, it deals with the consequences of aberrant behaviour, not the cause.

Holtmann suggests that there are key areas where civil society can intervene to prevent the ad-vent of criminal behaviour among individuals in our communities. However, when individuals move from being vulnerable victims to offenders, it becomes harder for society to intervene and so “we call in the police”.

Out of this model, eight working groups were established to focus on the issues (problem statement), what is possible (vision statement), and what could be done (the big idea).

Working groups:

• healthy mothers; resilient children;

• peace in the home;

• seven to 24: opportunity of youth;

• recovery and resilience;

• multiply the power of one;

• a sober South Africa;

• unsafe in anyone’s hands; and

• second chance (ex-offenders).

I was part of the working group that focused on youth. There were 40 of us with three facilitators. In attendance were a range of diverse people ranging from students to 58-year-olds like me, from government representatives to NGO activists, from Cape Town southerners to Polokwane northerners.

For two days we grappled with the issues at hand. We focused on what we were for, not against; what we could do, not what others weren’t doing; what was possible and not what the problems were.

As Carolus said: “The biggest thing that holds us to ransom is our own head space. The time is right to take back our country ... we are entirely right to expect our government to be accountable to us and we must continue to hold its feet to the fire.”

“But, what is disturbing is that we have handed the most basic things, the joy of being able to walk in safety in the street and in our homes — we have abdicated that entirely to the state. We cannot be passive recipients of democracy. We must put up our hands for peace and for safety. Because when we reclaim our streets we will reclaim our country.”

Meyer then read out the Action for a Safe South Africa Charter.

“We recognise the need for a practical and an achievable vision of a safe South Africa — a vision that encapsulates an ideal safe society. We know that realising this ideal will be a lengthy process and we commit to working innovatively, cleverly and with resilience to realise the capacity, funding and structures to achieve this.

“We aim to enable every South African to contribute to making South Africa safe through sustained science-based, inclusive partnerships and actions. We will strengthen each other through co-operation and the development of a critical mass of those who respect the rule of law and work constructively to build a safe society.”

Ramaphosa then closed the proceedings. “There is no problem without a solution was what underpinned the negotiations around our Constitution during the early nineties. Today, 14 years later, we are called upon again to demonstrate that determination to overcome obstacles that are in our way.

“We have it within ourselves to defend the gains we have made, we have the capacity as South Africans to succeed, and we need to recapture this spirit to build a safe South Africa. Crime, violence and abuse strike at the core of our nation, we have become frightened by one another, [and] we all feel like ‘victims’.

“We succeeded in 1994 because we had discovered the best in one another, because we were able to overcome evil. We can do that again, to respond to the call to make South Africa safer, to struggle once again, to rediscover our leadership strengths [and] to stand up and be counted. We will not allow anyone to rob us of our democratic gains; we hold the aspirations of safety and freedom so close to our heart that we will not allow anyone to take them from us. It requires all of us to become involved, to consolidate our democracy and reclaim our dreams for our wonderful country.

“This is a call to action; we must all respond.”

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