If there is one thing that is never in short supply in South Africa, it is drama. The past two weeks have been particularly dramatic, considering the humiliation that our national soccer team suffered at the hands of Brazil.
Add to that Eskom’s power crisis, the collapse of platinum industry strike talks, the Oscar Pistorius murder trial, the ever recurring service delivery protests and you soon realise that the country is in a league of its own.
In the context of South Africa, these depict what unfortunately amounts to “business as usual”. And therein lies our problem as a country, society and as individuals. Wherever one looks, there seems to be no realisation of the fact that the challenges we face call for a “business unusual” mindset from all corners of society.
As we eagerly wait to commemorate the 20th anniversary of our democratic dispensation, it is difficult to shy away from acknowledging that too much of what we identify as problems today – be it power cuts, labour strife in the mining sector, corruption and so on – stem partly from not understanding that “business as usual” won’t take us much further.
If the past 20 years are anything to go by, the building of a new, prosperous, winning and cohesive society remains a distant illusion. As I have said before in this column, South Africa is at a crossroads: we can either take the route that will see all South Africans – regardless of party, political affiliation – working together to build a country that the cynics still tell us is impossible to achieve. The only reason South Africa will fail is if South Africans continue to see themselves as failures.
Yes, that we can look back at 1994 as having opened the door for all of us to see what was possible, serves to underscore the belief that guided those who laid the foundation for us to build this South Africa, vastly different from the one that, for example, made it a crime to be black and subjected the rest of the country to a system whose only sustenance was fear.
The fact that Eskom was forced to shut off power in recent weeks to prevent the total meltdown of the country’s power grid is not alien. It is not a development that suddenly came out of the blue. Its genesis is really the “business as usual” psychosis that seems to afflict the psychology of those who should be championing the cause for building a dynamic, resilient, and forward-thinking society.
That Bafana Bafana once again displayed to the whole world that our national football is in disarray is not alien. This sorry state stems from thinking it is “business as usual”.
That after more than 100 years since this country began digging up the wealth beneath its soil, we still wrestle with how to make mining fortunes work for all, shows just how much “business as usual” has seeped into everything we do, think and say.
Whatever the disagreements, surely there must now come a realisation that the cost of accepting the current paralysis as a norm will prove too costly.
If cynics keep on telling us “it can’t be done”, every South African must then respond by asking: “Why not? If not now, when? If not by us, by whom?”
Education must be fixed now. The public service must be capacitated now.
Corruption must be rooted out now, wherever it manifests itself, and the culprits must be punished, whoever they may be and wherever they are.
It is “business as usual” that is holding this country hostage. Even the government thinks the best it can do is merely be a government. Business also thinks the best it can do is merely be business.
In 1994, South Africa faced a unique set of circumstances and that is still the case.
By all accounts, South Africa faces an uncertain energy future like the rest of the world, which by implication means an uncertain economic future. But where are the bright minds to help solve this clear and present danger?
It is six years since the first blackouts, yet Eskom still thinks like the Eskom of 2008. I can give numerous other examples of “business as usual” psychosis.
Do you remember the words of former president Thabo Mbeki in his February 2008 State of the Nation address?
“More than at any other time, the situation that confronts our nation and country, and the tasks we have set ourselves, demand that we inspire and organise all our people to act together as one, to do all the things that have to be done, understanding that in a very real sense, all of us, together, hold our own future in our hands.
“As we act together everywhere in our country, this we must also understand that what we have to be about is – business unusual,” he said.
Mbeki knew then, just as I do now, that in the final analysis it would be a tragedy if all that the historians would remember about our first 20 years of democracy is how little progress we made, thinking it is “business as usual”.
Ask the Chinese. They would tell you that the era of “business unusual” has long arrived. For them it was more than 30 years ago. For us, it is here now.
We must embrace it and align our policies, actions and thinking with it or forget about expecting that the next 20 years would be any different. The clock is ticking.
* Ellis Mnyandu is the editor of Business Report. Follow him on Twitter @Ellis_Mnyandu