South Africa is way past due for some introspection, former president Thabo Mbeki said on Thursday evening.
Addressing a gathering in Cape Town organised by Discovery Business Insurance and entrepreneurship learning platform Heavy Chef, Mbeki cited recent events in SA which he said illustrated the country had too long tolerated a disregard for law and order.
The event was education-themed, with a focus on the impact of the fourth industrial revolution on the sector and the economy. A comprehensive report into education and how the fourth industrial revolution will inform the sector was handed over to Mbeki and Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga on Thursday evening. The final report will be made public soon.
The event came during a challenging week for South Africa, which saw gender-based violence reach the forefront of national discussion in the light of the rape and murder of University of Cape Town student Uyinene Mrwetyana, among others.
'Difficult not to be depressed'
South Africa also saw rampant looting of stores run by foreign nationals in Johannesburg. These challenges pulled President Cyril Ramaphosa away from the World Economic Forum gathering in Cape Town, which was also taking place during the week.
Mbeki said lawlessness suggested that South African society had "a permissive atmosphere that allows for this kind of crime", and called for practical responses to be found.
"It's very difficult not to feel depressed.
"Because it is young people who are demonstrating, rightly so, against this scourge of gender-based violence. We need to ask ourselves what kind of society we are to have people of this kind," said Mbeki.
Mbeki said the looting of foreign owned stores in Johannesburg was to be condemned, but that it was an oversimplification to reduce the behaviour to xenophobia.
"You look at the criminality and how it has evolved. It does not look like this morning a gang goes to attack this shop and another gang goes and attacks another shop. This criminality, where does it come from? This phenomenon of a loss of respect for the law has become more and more widespread," Mbeki said.
The elder statesman said too much of South Africa’s dark past defined life for its most disenfranchised people today.
He told the gathering that he would be meeting with leadership in the mining sector to address them on Saturday and was seriously contemplating what he had to say to them.
"If you look at mining and many things associated with it, in many cases you see that we carry a terrible legacy of the past. Challenges need to be address, whether it’s to do with proper housing, skills development, a living wage and when you look at all of that it’s happening as the industry is shrinking.
"Mining managers have asked me to come to them and talk about mining and their responsibility. I am trying think of what I am going to say to them. (It's) trouble, trouble, trouble everywhere," said Mbeki.
At the event, the Thabo Mbeki Foundation unveiled a 200-page report into how best the fourth industrial revolution can transform education, with benchmarks leading up to 2030 and 2063.
He said the submission of the document was the start of a positive development for a country that has had more than its share of trying times.