Howard Feldman

OPINION: SA is making headlines worldwide, and not in a good way

2019-09-11 15:53
Around 250 people, mostly Zimbabwean and Malawian nationals, are hosted at a Johannesburg community hall after being displaced due to a new wave of anti-foreigner violence that hit the financial capital. (Michele Spatari, AFP)

Around 250 people, mostly Zimbabwean and Malawian nationals, are hosted at a Johannesburg community hall after being displaced due to a new wave of anti-foreigner violence that hit the financial capital. (Michele Spatari, AFP)

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The terrible combination of gender-based violence and xenophobia has become an international story. South Africa is trending around Africa and the world, and not in a good way, writes Howard Feldman.

Remember the story of the Chilean miners who were trapped underground? On August 5, 2010, a rockfall at a copper-gold mine in San Jose trapped 33 men 700m beneath the earth's surface. There was little hope of saving them. And yet, 69 days later, they were brought to the surface and reunited with their families.

How did this happen?

The world helped. They got together. They put aside political agendas, language and cultural differences and they focused on what was important; saving the men

"Three separate drilling rig teams, nearly every Chilean government ministry, the United States NASA space agency, and a dozen corporations from around the world cooperated completing the rescue," according to Wikipedia.

On October 13, 2010 the men were winched to the surface one at a time, in a specially built capsule, as an estimated one billion people worldwide watched. Private donations covered a third of the $20m cost of the rescue, with the rest coming from the mine owners and the government.  

It showcased what could be achieved if a common goal was identified.

In another incident, this time in Thailand, on June 23, 2018, 12 boys became trapped in a cave while on a hike with their soccer coach. It took nine days for the rescue team to find where the boys were trapped and 18 days to bring them to safety. According to BBC, "the first international rescuers arrived on Thursday, June 28. These were US air force rescue specialists and cave divers from the UK, Belgium, Australia, Scandinavia, and many other countries. Some had volunteered and some were called in by Thai authorities. Others were roped in when it became clear just how monumental the search effort would be."

How did they achieve this?

The world helped. Again, differences were put aside, cultural and political agendas were ignored and teams from around the globe gathered to help. What was important was the singular focus of saving the boys. Nothing else mattered.

South Africa, just like the Chilean miners and the Thai soccer team is metaphorically trapped beneath the surface. The atmosphere underground is stifling and there is a frightening sense that we are running out of time.

The difference, however, is that unlike the two examples above, SA leadership, and consequently the country, has either not recognised the severity of the situation or they have not identified what the goal is.  

It does not help that leadership has largely been dismal. With President Cyril Ramaphosa predictably slow off the mark, Julius Malema predictably using the platform for his own political agenda and Mmusi Maimane (too) gently addressing the issues, it is painfully clear that there is not a unified agreement as to either how serious the situation is or what needs to be done to rectify it.

The terrible combination of gender-based violence and xenophobia has become an international story. South Africa is trending around Africa and the world. And not in a good way. It doesn't help that just this week an Israeli tourist was gang-raped in Mpumalanga while visiting the country.

It also doesn't help that our politicians find it difficult to even use the word "xenophobia" without it sticking in their throats. If they can't even name it, how can they expect to tame it?

Ask most successful business people to list leadership characteristics, there will be one common feature. And that is the ability to lead in times of stress and of difficulty. Leadership through difficult times means having the moral courage to stand up and take charge and not succumb to the childish playground behaviour that threatens to derail any hope of recovery.

It means having the ability to rise without being embroiled in emotion, to set out a plan, with the confidence of knowing that no plan is perfect. More than that, it requires the ability to identify a common goal that everyone can work towards. Like saving the 69 Chilean miners. Like saving the Thai soccer team. Like saving South Africa.

The story of the Chilean miners and the story of the Thai boys are examples of what we are capable of. When hope was all but lost, the magical blessing of human cohesion transformed the situation. What could have been dire and tragic became wonderous and awe inspiring.

South Africa has done it before. We know we are capable of it. We just need to recognise the immense power and value that there is if we just work together.

- Howard Feldman is a keynote speaker and analyst. He is the author of three books and is the morning talk show host on ChaiFM.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    xenophobia  |  gender violence
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