Speak out South Africa!

2015-06-08 09:12

I am indelibly tied to South Africa. It is the country of my birth, the home that I love, the place where I will grow old with my family and where I will lay my head one day. I am 100% committed to the transition we have seen in our society, the roll-out of freedom, the march towards non-racialism and the attempts to create at least equality of opportunity. I remain hopeful that together, with the meaningful assets at our disposal, we can become a very successful country. However, right now I believe we are at a crossroads. Right now, South Africans need to speak out at the issues that are pulling our country in the wrong direction. Please join me and speak out South Africa.

There are many commentators in our country who are speaking out. They are speaking out against lack of delivery, whether it is the loadshedding caused by Eskom, the poor outcomes in education, health and crime. They are speaking out against corruption, citing issues such as tenders, cadre deployment, Nkhandla, Guptagate and more. They are speaking out against our lack of economic growth and our rising unemployment. However, I have two main problems with the way that people are speaking out in SA. Firstly, there are too many people who are unbalanced in their criticism and include distinct racial undertones in their discussions. Secondly, there are too few people in the tripartite alliance and in the business world who are speaking out and often those that do are marginalised and victimised.

Why is an unbalanced view problematic in SA? It is a problem because it fails to give credit where credit is due and because it is grossly unsympathetic to our history and the way that most people feel about it. We come from a very tortured past in this country where there was an institutionalised division between the haves and the have not’s. Despite what so many people may think, 20 years of democracy is by far not long enough to erase the damage that our past has created. This is made so much worse by the fact that we remain such an unequal society, that our unemployment is so high and that our economic growth is so low. The electorate is often called ignorant for continuing to vote for the ANC, despite its failings. In my opinion, that statement is totally ignorant and totally misses the point that most ANC supporters have seen meaningful improvements in their lives over the past 20 years. People are voting for the party that they believe acts in their interest.

By simply criticising the performance of government without putting forward a balanced case, commentators are alienating the electorate before they even have the opportunity to listen to arguments. Similarly, criticisms with racial undertones can so easily be shot down by government and supporters of government. It gives them an easy way out! A balanced argument is so much more difficult to dismiss out of hand. To take a valuable weapon from an underperforming government, we need to remain balanced and force them to address the issues. Play the ball and not the man is a motto we should adopt in this regard. Even if this does not sway the powers that be (who have a vested interest in not being shown to be fallible), it has the potential to sway the electorate that has voted them into power. I have faith in our people and our voters.

Why is a lack of criticism from insiders a problem? This one is obvious. They either do not want to show weakness or fallibility or they are afraid that speaking out may damage their position within the alliance, which is a justified concern. The problem for the alliance is however that their long-term tenure is ultimately dependent on receiving support from the electorate and that they cannot expect such support not to wane in the wake of underperformance. If they do not improve, they will be voted out, unless they resort to nefarious means to remain in power.

There are many people within the ruling alliance who are unhappy with the current state of affairs, but are scared to speak out because of the consequences it could have for them, and rightly so. Many outspoken leaders have been rewarded by being pushed out into the cold, like Zwelenzima Vavi, Pallo Jordan, Trevor Manuel, Ronnie Kasrils and Tokyo Sexwale. I would urge politicians within the ruling party to set aside their concerns and speak out for the greater good of our country. Please do more Kgalema Motlante, please speak out Cyril Ramaphosa. Be on the right side of history.

The business world, especially large business, also finds itself in a very delicate position. The New South Africa has given them a very comfortable environment to operate in, with good infrastructure (Eskom permitting), rule-of-law, low interest rates, a growing public sector, limited competition, low tax rates and increasing social grants to fund purchases of their products. Yes, there are issues surrounding BEE and the labour market, but growing profits and rising share prices highlight how good they have had it. They have much to lose by speaking out and alienating government and its electorate. So they wait. I just hope they do not act like FIFA’s sponsors and only speak out once the wheel has turned. Instead, now is the time to speak out South African business and help to affect changes.

Independent commentators, especially those of you with strong credentials, please do not give up the fight. We need you now more than ever Thuli Madonsela, Max du Preez, Zapiro, Ferial Haffajee, Eusebius Mackaizer and so many others. Refuse to be bullied, ignore accusations of racism, do not simply be painted as opposition apologists. Remain balanced and continue chipping away. We will get there.

South Africa is a free country, with freedom of speech, freedom of association and a free democratic process. Our civil society is vibrant and do not simply believe what they are told. Together, we can build the land swell that will move our country in the right direction. It does not matter who you are, speak out. Without bringing race into it, speak out against what you see wrong with our country. Use balanced arguments and offer solutions when you speak out. If you are an insider, let go of your fears and speak out. If you are a business leader, be on the right side of history and speak out. If you are an independent commentator, do not be bullied and speak out. Speak out South Africa.

Speak out to your friends, comment on facebook and twitter, fight against corruption in your local communities, schools and work places, support the National Anti-Corruption Forum and Corruption Watch, call your councillor, write an email to your premier, call the Union Buildings on 012 300 5200 and ask for Cyril Ramaphosa, email Ronnie Mamoepa on ronnie@presidency.gov.za, call the presidential hotline on 17737 or email President Zuma on Presidentrsa@presidency.gov.za. Comment on my blog!

What are you going to do to speak out? I would love to see your views. In the mean time, keep your talking straight!

Marius Strydom is the owner of MLAX Consulting



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