Let’s mobilise the nation to reduce inequality

Jesmane Boggenpoel. Picture: Rosetta Msimango
Jesmane Boggenpoel. Picture: Rosetta Msimango

The #strongertogether hashtag that was created to support the Springboks during the Rugby World Cup reminds me of the motto emblazoned on our national coat of arms – “!ke e: |xarra //ke” – written in the Khoisan !Xam.

It translates to mean “unity in diversity” or “diverse people unite”.

South Africans are still drinking from the spring of happiness and are on a high following the incredible Bokke winning the Webb Ellies throphy against England in Japan. (Ironically against a former conquerer of our territory dating to 1795 when Britain first seized control of the then Cape colony from the Dutch.)

But what happens now that the party’s over; the festivities have died down and the rugby boots have been packed away until the new season starts?

Storytelling is the cornerstone of the human experience and human connection.

How do we use this moment to build sustainable social capital instead of retreating to cynicism and apathy? Here is a suggested guide:

Continue sharing our life stories with one another. Storytelling is the cornerstone of the human experience and human connection.

Through stories we construct our world. Siya Kolisi’s story is a powerful one of overcoming the odds and his humble beginnings.

In my book, My Blood Divides and Unites, I tell my story and those of others around the world.

There is power in your story and how it can connect to others, bring healing from lingering emotions and instil a culture of empathy.

As I write in the book: “... That’s because empathy – listening to the other person with an open heart and connecting with the other person’s feelings even if you don’t agree – can put you in the other person’s shoes, and that can often be a catalyst for repairing and strengthening broken, even hostile, relationships.”

Springboks captain Siya Kolisi greets excited fans at the MTN head offices in Randburg during the team's 5-day trophy tour.

Though many elements of storytelling have remained the same throughout history, we now have better tools and mediums for telling our stories to a wider audience. However, the key to building authentic relationships is to always be genuine and have an actual interest in the person (or groups of people) you are working to build an honest relationship with. For relationships to be authentic your mind-set has to be one of a genuine desire to be of value to the other person and this will remain the same even as we go into the future. Institutions can and should facilitate sessions and roundtables for their staff to share their stories with one another.

The Body Keeps Score by Bessel van der Kolk states: “Reliving trauma reactivates the brain’s alarm system and knocks out critical brain areas necessary for integrating the past, making it likely that patients will relive rather than resolve trauma … people automatically keep repeating certain actions, emotions and sensations related to trauma.”

Apartheid was a cruel system and we are still recovering from the associated suffering.

Reframing is a powerful way to deal with painful events. Using my part-slave ancestry as an example, last year I visited the oldest surviving South African slave lodge built in 1679 in Cape Town. I felt so stuck in the unspeakable cruelty my slave ancestors faced. Many arriving dead in South Africa after inhumane conditions during the voyage – little or no water and food and too many confined in small spaces on the ship, some having their knees broken if they tried to escape ... and the list goes on. It took me a while to become unstuck and I had to craft a new script, turning the crucible into something positive. I looked to the ancient and magnificent kingdoms from which my slave ancestors arose and saw them as resilient survivors instead of as victims. I am born of a people that rose above great adversity. I reflected upon and processed my lingering emotions from apartheid. My shame and pain turned into hope and acceptance.

An aerial view of Hout Bay and Imizamo Yethu. Picture: SuppliedOurFriends.co

This same process of reframing can be applied to any group going through a difficult time. While acknowledging South Africa’s horrendous past, we need to reframe so that we can move forward.

The rugby brought our beautiful nation together around a common cause – to win that globally coveted trophy. There is so much power in bringing people together and we can build further social cohesion by rallying together around select and noble values. A common value for our nation to mobilise around is reducing inequality. We need to address and acknowledge those who are – and continue to be – marginalised for the country to move forward.

Technology is helping solve some of the most complex problems affecting lower-income people and thereby addressing inequality. Institutions can have its staff champion and get involved in tech-impact investing projects and can seed fund start-ups solving intractable challenges affecting poor people.

Institutions can tap into their enterprise development and corporate social investment funds for this.

There are other tools, but as a starting point telling our stories, reframing and rallying around combating inequality can propel us forward as a nation.

Boggenpoel is a businessperson and the author of a book on identity, building trust across diverse communities and inclusion, My Blood Divides and Unites

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July 2020

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South African truck drivers have threatened to not return to work and instead allow foreign nationals to be at the forefront of the trucking industry should employers continue with their preferential hiring tendencies/ if things don’t change.
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