Masters of our own destiny

2018-07-08 00:00

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South Africa was privileged to have been blessed with a leader of the brilliance of Nelson Mandela. He mobilised millions of us behind a vision that we could become the masters of our own destiny.

He left us a legacy of political reconciliation that included, in his Cabinet, members of the party that had oppressed black South Africans for almost a century. He gave such people power, and created opportunities for them to help shape our country into a better place. He taught us that, if we look for the best in people, they themselves will reach into their hearts and find greatness.

As the leader of the ANC-led government, he elevated South Africa on to the global stage with such force that it allowed us to become a major player on forums where we had previously been shunned.

He did not place himself above the law, in fact he appeared in court as president and, in doing that, offered the wisdom that never again should any leader or any group place themselves above the law. He understood that prison was not his only sacrifice, that leaders need to suffer indignities to make their followers realise that leaders are also servants of a bigger struggle and liberation.

Under his leadership, our economy emerged from isolation and stunted growth. He made us all work harder towards a common goal: a prosperous South Africa.

At the height of his fame and power, he turned to devoting his life to civil society, using his global status to find funding and expertise for the betterment of people’s lives. He made space for younger leaders and left them with the task of carrying on his life’s work. He understood that political office has an expiry date.

The post-Mandela period has not been kind to us. Parliament has become a battle ground for political positioning, often with disruptions that make people wonder about the purpose of such an important institution. Leaders blast one another in a fashion that fractures the sense of common purpose that Madiba embodied.

The rainbow nation is under severe pressure and political leaders shamefully use race as an attack baton to score short-term points in their constituencies. On the global stage we are no longer the darling of the investment world and have to fight for our place in the queue. Our economy is shrinking and we revert to the blame game on why it is so, rather than finding creative ways of unleashing the growth potential of our rich resources.

In this complex and conflicted environment we recalled two presidents before their terms ended, and, in doing so, created a new culture of personal contestation, of divided camps, and, in the short and medium term, a weaker ANC and, by implication, a weaker government.

Governments, and leaders, come and go, but often they leave behind functional institutions that survive mediocre leadership. In our case we have a dysfunctional state that struggles under the burden of corruption and political mismanagement. Key government institutions have heaped shame on Madiba’s legacy. Some of our state-owned enterprises (SOEs) have become fat calves that stuff themselves and their dubious friends at the trough of taxpayers’ money. We have, 24 years later, not created a better life for all.

I laud President Cyril Ramaphosa for the steps he has taken to restore faith in government. Through a carefully constructed process he is working towards restoring functional institutions in government, as well as faith in its intentions.

What should his and our agendas be? We should all join hands in restoring reconciliation in business, politics and everyday life. Lest we forget: South Africa belongs to all the people who live in it.

All levels of government should prioritise the turnaround of our economy. We should support the president in any effort he makes to reshape the administrative judicial system and, in particular, the National Prosecuting Authority. We cannot have an institution that takes decisions based on finding favour with the political leadership and particular individuals.

We should, as leaders, take responsibility for the mistakes we have made since 1994. Blaming apartheid, whites and the economy, rather than ourselves, serves no purpose. We are the architects of our destiny and we should repeat our mantra that adversity is the breakfast of champions.

The good thing that has come from this period of darkness is that civil society has woken up and citizens have found their voices again. They must never, ever, be silenced again.

Some SOEs should be merged and others scrapped. We should develop models that allow for private investment so that these companies become competitive.

We should, as per the presidents’ initiative, reconfigure the SA Revenue Service into the brilliant agency it once was, so that we have a bigger basket of revenue for ethical, transparent and well-governed expenditure in the public service.

In the heated environment of the proposed expropriation of land without compensation, we need cool heads across the political and economic spectrum. In addition to a land audit, we need to communicate clearly and define publicly whose land it is that will be expropriated, where, under which circumstances and by whom. Also by whom it will be governed and how we will improve on the current process that has left many disillusioned. Vagueness in this critical process could light a fire to an already overheated debate and harm us severely in the global investment environment.

We are all South Africans, irrespective of race, culture and political affiliation. Current circumstances call on us to emulate Mandela and put our country first. It needs us and in times like this we need to find that higher purpose that is bigger than our own needs and agendas.

If we find that within ourselves, South Africa will fulfil its potential and we will be on the journey that Mandela envisaged: A better life for all.

Read more on:    nelson mandela  |  democracy

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