I sit here with the indigo ink on my finger and I am proud that I went to the polls as a free man in a free South Africa, to cast my vote along with my fellow South Africans black and white, rich and poor in this our fifth general election.
It was a special moment for me, since my daughter voted for the first time in a national election. We both couldn’t resist the temptation to take selfies of our thumbs, which reflect the celebration of our right to vote, and how technological advances have enabled us to record the moment as it happens.
In many ways, her voting for the first time can be compared with South Africa and its emergence as a teenage democracy into a young adult democratic state.
As I drove with my daughter to the polling station, I reflected on the time when Madiba was released from prison and my role on February 11, 1990. I was included in a special task team of doctors to ensure that in the event that some deranged person tried to harm Madiba, we would do everything possible to save him.
On that occasion everything that I learnt in emergency medicine played in my mind. As I stood in the City Hall behind Madiba, as he addressed the jubilant crowd gathered on the Grand Parade, I hoped, while listening to his awe-inspiring speech, that I would not have to use my medical skills in the event of a catastrophe.
History shows that the day was uneventful and thank goodness Madiba, with his great wisdom, went on to become the first president of a democratic and free South Africa. Who can forget, in this year in which we celebrate 20 years of freedom, the most enduring memories of the election then on April 27, 1994? This includes memories of a beaming Nelson Mandela putting his cross on a paper and of millions of joyous, patient South Africans in undulating queues.
We should never underestimate just how glorious it is that we can so casually stroll in to a polling booth and determine the government we want. It is a right we did not have before April 27, 1994. Therefore, as South Africans we should cherish our freedom and hard fought right to vote.
South Africa is a young democracy, invested with the blood and sweat of hundreds of thousands of men and women who gave their lives for the right to vote. It is not a right that came by easily. It is not a right that we should be treating with frivolity. And it is a right that comes with obligations. An obligation on us to play our part in crafting a South Africa that we can all proudly call home. An obligation on the government we elect to deliver the South Africa we have entrusted to their care.
In 20 years we have achieved a fair amount as a nation. The government has, of course, asserted its “good story to tell” with respect to the 12.5 million people who have been provided access to accommodation through government housing programmes; the reality that more young people than ever are now in our education system; that fewer people suffer from TB; and that our infant mortality rate is down.
Yes, much has been done. Truer still is that much more needs to be done.
As Sekunjalo, I would like to believe that as an investment group we have contributed towards the good story of our country. Over the years we have combined a philosophy of “doing good and doing well”. At numerous times in our history, as a company, we have made a call to action of our employees to put “people before profits” and to develop enterprise programmes for the bottom of the pyramid.
Sekunjalo has been a pioneer in articulating social development as a core of its business philosophy and remains today the most awarded black economic empowerment group in South Africa. It remains the only company that has consistently ranked number one multiple times in the Empowerdex rating due to our commitment towards economic transformation, employment equity, corporate social investment, enterprise development and social development.
People have often remarked that we have done the right things the hard way to build a sustainable business that embodies both the letter and spirit of a new kind of South Africa. Our approach of combining our business model with a strong emphasis on social impact remains an important narrative in the South African journey of business in 20 years of freedom.
As someone who has experienced democracy through many roles and perspectives – as a doctor, as an activist, as a business leader and as a philanthropist, I have tried to focus on some things that we, as the Sekunjalo Group, should do to honour our 20 years of democracy. We should do this in partnership with our fellow South Africans, our colleagues in business and the government and civil society. We should envisage a great South Africa, so that in 2034, we can say we achieved many of the goals that it has the potential to fulfil.
We can honour our 20 years of democracy in the following ways:
l Creating a Nation State: Our role in our democracy does not start and end with casting our ballot. It extends to every part of our lives. We must accept responsibility as fellow South Africans to create the nation state that was desired by Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Chief Luthuli, Braam Fisher, Ruth First and Ahmed Kathrada. We must, like they did, put our country first.
l Rooting out Corruption: A number of mechanisms have been put in place to root out the corruption that is bedevilling this country and these mechanisms will, it is hoped, restore public confidence in the state and the economy. Corruption reduces economic growth, competitiveness and investment. It is not only a problem to be fixed by the public sector. We need to start creating a culture of zero tolerance across society, with businesses and citizens playing our part.
l Truly South African Media: For the first time ever, we have true black ownership of the media in the transfer of Independent Newspapers last year to Sekunjalo, a majority shareholder. Much has been said about my ties with the ruling party and I want to say the following: Media has a critical role to play in the transformation of society. It must live up to its role, with pride and sincere responsibility, as the fourth estate. It must put its stake in the ground with respect to its responsibility. As Independent Media we believe that our role is to help build a better South Africa.
l Jobs: At the heart of building a strong economy is the need for us to play a role in employment creation, which is the key to ending poverty and inequality. What we should be doing is supporting entrepreneurship, forging relationships across Africa, fostering innovation and supporting South Africans to convert their ideas into sustainable, doable business plans.
l An end to bigotry: We all have an absolute responsibility towards building a nation free of bigotry. This includes looking at how we, as a nation, are transcending our past of bigotry and racism to assert a South Africanism that goes beyond creed and colour. We have indeed come a long way. But, we hear daily the stories of people who will not let go of immoral, outdated, ludicrous notions of superiority or inferiority. And it is incumbent on each and every one of us to play a part in stamping this out.
l Education: More young people than ever are now in our formal education system, but are we teaching them to become thinking, critical members of society? As parents and teachers we have a huge responsibility to transform the nature of education and bring commitment and passion to our classrooms.
l Technology: We must use technology to enable people to overcome the cycle of poverty and for our country and continent to emerge as technologically advanced, providing hope to our many young people.
l Youth development and support: We should actively develop programmes in partnership with the government to create opportunities for our young people to become active citizens and entrepreneurs and professionals contributing to the growth of our company. We should harness the energy and resources of our young people as a positive contribution toward growing our economy and improving the living standards of our people.
l Sustainable partnerships: Our countries future depends on us building sustainable business and economic partnerships between business, government and labour. A social development accord with the engagement of civil society as a key partner is important to achieve sustainable job-led growth in our economy.
I am under no illusion about the task ahead and the need to create jobs and eliminate poverty and build a society that is socially cohesive. As business leaders it is our obligation and legacy to use our skills base, our capital and our resources to build businesses that lead to economic growth and real social development.
I am positive about South Africa and its future. I am positive about our continent and believe that we now as South Africans and Africans need to commit to building our future. Our democracy has successfully conducted another election that was peaceful, orderly and testimony to Madiba. The best gift we could have given him is the safeguarding of these democratic ideals.
Let us remember the words of Madiba: “Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”
Iqbal Survé is the executive chairman of Sekunjalo Independent Media, which publishes Business Report and other newspaper titles.