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Springbok captain Siya Kolisi received a welcome like no other when he and the Boks returned to his hometown Zwide on Sunday afternoon. (Chanté Schatz)
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Redefining what that prosperity would look like needs to be done by leveraging the energies of millions of citizens dispersed in thousands of communities in both rural and urban areas, writes Mamphela Ramphele.
Hlumelo Biko in his 2013 book, A Great Society, made the case for us to look inside ourselves and to the wisdom of African culture to create a Great African Society from the ruins of apartheid.
Borrowing from Francis Fukuyama's analysis of the origins of political order, he wrote: "Social order occurred spontaneously through the interactions of hundreds or thousands of dispersed individuals who experienced rules, kept the ones that worked, and rejected those that didn't. The process by which social order was generated was incremental, evolutionary, and decentralised; only making use of local knowledge of myriads of individuals could a working 'Great Society' ever appear."
We stand at a critical moment in our history as a 25-year-old democracy. We have at one level the chaos of crime, corruption and social injustice, yet we are also glowing from the thrill of the Springboks' win of the 2019 Rugby World Cup. The energy level as crowds watch the victory parades is boiling over. We have restored the belief in our capacity to win. The young men wearing our national symbols swept us from despair to hope. That win was secured by the dogged efforts of our rugby coach, Rassie Erasmus, who refused to listen to naysayers. He chose to leverage strength from the diversity of the team to create a winning combination.
We have also had a good run with two highly successful investment conferences over the last few months hosted by President Cyril Ramaphosa that raised over R500bn. This is significant given the negative views by both internal and external investors about prospects of our socio-economic development. There remains a deeply rooted sentiment that we have what it takes to become a prosperous democracy.
Redefining what that prosperity would look like needs to be done by leveraging the energies of millions of citizens dispersed in thousands of communities in both rural and urban areas, as Fukuyama suggested. Only when they see that the rules of the game accord with their sense of who they are, recognition of their dignity, the value they bring and a sense of fairness, will they put in the effort as Erasmus's men, to ensure that we have a winning combination that reverberates from the bottom up.
We also have heard a very clear message published in BioScience last week from 1 100 scientists, 200 of whom have affiliations to South Africa, that: "Planet Earth is facing a climate emergency. To secure a sustainable future, we must change how we live. This entails major transformations in the ways our global society functions as it interacts with natural systems. The climate crisis is closely linked to excessive consumption of the wealthy lifestyles."
President Ramaphosa is alive to this existential threat posed by climate change to our very survival as a human race. His statement to the UN Climate Summit in September committed us to, "Building resilience to strengthen development. In shifting to low-carbon, inclusive climate change resilient development path and embracing the global energy transition, we must make sure we leave no-one behind. At the same time, we must create new opportunities for all in our economy."
The tragic reality is that there are still too many people who do not share President Ramaphosa's view that the science is clear that a climate change emergency is upon us. The disappearance of his statement to the UN from the Presidency website is ominous. It is evidence of the power of naysayers in the ANC and within the government.
Tackling our triple burden of poverty, unemployment and inequality requires a radical shift in how we live, especially for the wealthy with the very high unsustainable consumption levels. President Ramaphosa needs citizen support for his statement which is on the right side of history. We cannot overcome poverty and inequality by continuing to destroy our biosphere and essential natural resources such as clean air, water and other living matter.
The impunity of private sector entities like Sasol that refuses to even provide information to its shareholders about how it is to stop the extremely high levels of emissions in its Secunda plant in Mpumalanga makes a mockery of the president's commitments to the UN. How can Sasol, founded by public money, now privatised and much of its value externalised to a loss-making investment in the USA be allowed to generate huge profits whilst emitting pollutants higher than those of the whole of Portugal?
These emissions are a direct contributor to no less than 2 000 deaths per year in that area of Mpumalanga. Why is the government allowing this impunity to continue? Jobs created by Sasol at this level of human cost are not worth the continued silent support from our government.
Mr President, there is a perfect storm brewing in our country that requires you to harness the considerable resources you have in the society as a whole to turn what could become a catastrophic mix of electricity and water outages, into a stimulus for a new development pathway. The extent of neglected infrastructure renewal and maintenance can only be remedied by a massive national effort. Such an effort requires mobilising our best brains in engineering, science, urban and rural planning and development, to produce a credible sustainable master plan to secure our future.
Citizens have no reason to trust the reassurances from your ministers not to panic. The Presidency needs to lead this urgent recovery and rebuilding effort to secure a prosperous future before it is too late.
- Mamphela Ramphele is co-founder of ReimagineSA and co-president of the Club of Rome.
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