Dr Survé: Rekindling Ubuntu for South Africa's future

Business leader and philanthropist, Dr Iqbal Survé’s shares some of the steps South Africa needs to take for true democracy, one where we are united in integrity and the common good.

Business leader and philanthropist, Dr Iqbal Survé’s shares some of the steps South Africa needs to take for true democracy, one where we are united in integrity and the common good.

Published Jun 13, 2024


Last year, I wrote a piece on nurturing leadership in a post Mandela era.

Post the elections, which have seen a major vote of no confidence in the ANC in its current guise, South Africa finds itself at a crossroads as predicted, grappling with deeper divisions and growing inequities that threaten to tear apart our social fabric.

These challenges, arguably more insidious than those of the apartheid era, have fractured our society and infrastructure, creating a perilous state that demands urgent attention.

There is a Zulu proverb that says: “I am a person through other people. My humanity is tied to yours.” We call this “ubuntu” and we urgently need to rekindle that spirit of oneness and community in South Africa.

Why? Simple, there is an erosion of our social contract, which is evident everywhere we look. Rules have become flexible and self-serving, reflecting a broader societal malaise. The actions of leaders and the institutions we placed our trust in to guide us, unite us and equalise us, epitomise a profound loss of integrity and accountability. A subject I have also written on extensively.

We also have an identity crisis and we have more than just strayed into the realm of factionalism. Can we be ‘South African’ if we put our individual agendas first and above the whole? I doubt it.

The reality is that we are running out of time to provide our next generation with the role models they need to lead our country into a future of which we can all be proud.

The leadership vacuum is stark, and we must fill it with individuals of unwavering integrity, clear vision, and a commitment to the common good of humanity.

Steps to reclaim our future

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey in April 2001, the father of our first democratically elected government, Nelson Mandela, said: “A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger. You don’t have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial and uninformed.”

Therefore, it behoves our citizens to be educated and informed about their choices and about the type of leaders they select who will ensure there is a shared future of prosperity.

Investing in education and skills development is crucial. Leaders must prioritise quality education, vocational training, and lifelong learning programmes to equip South Africans with the tools they will need to thrive.

This becomes especially important if we consider the digital age, we find ourselves in and the growing number of young people without jobs or the wherewithal to create their own legitimate means of income.

Connectivity is another critical step to ensure our future and that will assist in keeping our electorate in the loop.

South Africa requires the policy and infrastructure, and the delivery skills to ensure widespread, cost-effective Internet connectivity, enabling access to information, services, and resources that empower individuals and communities.

Part of this is the political and commercial will to look at more affordable data and even zero-rated platforms that can assist in building our intellectual and skills capacity.

The next step is a no-brainer as it involves tackling corruption. Corruption undermines trust and development. Strengthening anti-corruption institutions, promoting transparency, and enforcing accountability are essential to creating a conducive environment for progress.

Decisive action is needed to address economic challenges. Implementing policies that stimulate growth, attract investment, and create job opportunities, especially in infrastructure, renewable energy, and technology, can drive inclusive growth.

Embracing sustainable development principles is essential to addressing environmental challenges and ensuring a better future. Therefore, investing in renewable energy and responsible environmental policies can position South Africa as a leader in sustainability, to ensure that future generations also live a cleaner and healthier life.

Then there are the ‘softer’ and possibly even more important skills we need to inculcate to build ‘oneness’. Respect for one another, animals and the environment as well as kindness towards all; an awareness and understanding of others and what they experience – walk a mile in their shoes – as well as self-awareness and self-respect.

For that, we require the right role-models – whether political, business, social or family.

Sadly, 30 years on, we still need to have a focus on social cohesion and reconciliation.

Promoting dialogue, addressing historical injustices, nurturing understanding between communities and creating the space where we are free to be, are critical for healing and uniting our nation and securing our next three decades and more.

In short, we need to revisit the concept of ubuntu, embrace it and live it, not just in spirit but in practice, so that when we look back, we can say look how far we have come.

* Dr Iqbal Survé is the Executive Chairman of the Sekunjalo Group.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.