President Jacob Zuma. Photo: Leon Nicholas.

As the ANC policy conference ends, the resonant theme that seems to surface is that “ a radical shift” is required. Furthermore, the message of eradicating the “triangle of unemployment, poverty and inequality” was confirmed by the delegates to the conference.

What does “radical shift’ mean? I suspect this is an outward directed shift to making changes to existing policies to require other people to implement on behalf of beneficiaries which are the working class and the poor. There is nothing wrong in this sentiment but it cannot be the complete picture.

The inward-directed radical shift is needed as well. So let’s explore how this radical shift could be applied on both sides of the coin. A radical shift of consciousness needs to take place all around.

The current problem we face is youth unemployment. Part of the solution proposed is the youth wage subsidy that would be paid to employers for hiring young people.

Even around R5 billion has been earmarked for the subsidy from last year’s National Treasury budget. The subsidy is opposed by Cosatu as it would displace existing older, highly paid and experienced workers for inexperienced and lower paid younger workers. This is a valid point raised by Cosatu. So the question is how do you apply a radical shift to this issue? The objective of creating jobs must be the ultimate measure of the suitability of any alternative solution.

The radical shift can be the introduction of startup loans for people between the ages of 18 to 24 or so like in the UK, where these young people can be invited to pitch ideas of their businesses and get money along with support to create their companies.

The likelihood is that more than 50 percent of these startup loans might fail. However, the successful ones would more than compensate for the failures in terms of the jobs created. But more importantly the experience these young people would have gained going through the startup process would be invaluable.

The failing young people would be encouraged to come back to the fund for another chance for a different concept. We need to kick the stigma of failure away from our psyche, the road to success is littered with spectacular failures, so young people need to learn how to pick themselves up from setbacks without shame.

The banking system punishes failure because the people embedded within their systems are not able to pick out talent that can be backed. So we cannot rely on the banking system or structures like NYDA to run with the startup loans but an independent structure that would comprise experienced entrepreneurs would be ideal and the fund could be set at R1 billion released over two funding rounds. This solution helps with unemployment but it also ignites the growth the economy sorely needs.

The issue of poverty in South Africa is addressed by the issuing of grants to the young and the old which makes us a welfare state. How do we get radical shift by utilising the abilities that some of the grant recipients have?

For example there are old people who have deep cultural knowledge that can be utilised to teach pupils after school about the different aspects of our varied cultures. This would raise the dignity of the old people and bridge the gap between the young and older generations. There are young people who are receiving grants who may help clean or guard the schools during the day. This radical shift would require a great change of mindset from victimhood to being contributors to society.

A radical shift in the public service that is needed is having the servant leadership principles in place that say, “We are here to serve the public as our primary customers”. The attitudes now in place show that public servants are actually doing their customers a favour, which is why there is a lack of service delivery.

Another area of radical change required in BBBEE is this exclusive obsession with ownership. The ANC discussion documents and the Cosatu responses did not talk much about entrepreneurship and enterprise development which are the keys to driving transformation.

The reality is that the scourge of this “triangle of unemployment, poverty and inequality” will never be eradicated by the same level of thinking we have had over the past 18 years and a radical shift is indeed needed, probably in many more ways than the ANC intended or anticipated.