For the good of South Africa, let’s all be agents of positive change
A 2018 survey by an independent research organisation, Our World Data, found South Africans to be the most negative people in the world. The survey measured the relation to the reality of citizens’ perceptions of the state of global poverty, child mortality and optimism about the future. South Africans were found to have the most negative outlook.
True to form, the outcomes of the survey caused a national outcry. After-all, South Africans are friendly, witty and generate jokes about anything and everything. We are always ready to braai and/or to party. We have been voted as one of the most beautiful countries in the world and we attract millions of tourists each year. A number of South Africans felt that the survey had to be wrong.
But a broad review of public conversations and social media commentary supports the findings. South Africa is the protest capital of the world. Every year our students at institutions of higher learning protest around this time. These past few days, we witnessed university students destroying infrastructure despite their participation in platforms established to address challenges in the sector. Posts like “in my country, it is easier to get raped than to get a job” dominate social media sites. Efforts to build national unity and highlight the positives in South Africa are denounced and/or mocked.
South Africans can learn from people in countries with far greater challenges. The optimism of the people of war-torn Syria is inspirational. While highly conscious of the severity of the impact of war and the impact of sanctions on their standard of living, when engaging others, they prefer to make light of the situation; for example, by saying that Damascus has become like a Christmas tree with flashing lights due to the now regular power outages. They speak proudly of their security forces and focus on the many enemy missiles that were shot down rather than the few that managed to hit targets. And when destruction does occur, they rally in support of each other, clean up and rebuild as quickly as possible. Their objectives are peace and prosperity and they carry themselves with dignity and work hard to realise the objectives by projecting a good image of themselves and their country. The attitudes of the people of Syria make them pleasant company.
Yes, the past few years have been less than easy for South Africans and the mistakes made, together with the persistent global economic crisis and continued trade war, is delaying our recovery. While it is important to remain vigilant and to hold both government and business to account, recovery will be so much easier and faster if we, as a nation, demonstrate more enthusiasm and effort.
One initiative that seeks to reignite our confidence as a nation and garner our energies towards collective action is the Social Cohesion and Nation Building Strategy launched by Minister Mthethwa at the Social Compact Convention held on February 6, 2020. President Ramaphosa will be delivering his State of the Nation Address soon. He will report on the work done by the government over the past year and outline the focus areas for the coming year. It is important that we incorporate these programmes into the Social Cohesion and Nation Building Strategy to maximise the chances of its successful implementation.
However, playing a positive role should begin with the governing party. There are too many influencers in the policy space, and the pace and quality of service delivery need to improve. We require policy certainty and enhanced consequence management. The ANC-led alliance has to exercise leadership and be far more forceful in asserting the electoral mandate given to it by directing the policy trajectory and efficiency of the administration. The role of government is to translate the manifesto of the governing party into an unbiased and objective implementable program. If the government does its work and complies with popular policy thrusts – for example, the overwhelming public expectation that state-owned enterprises remain in state hands, then citizens and workers, will protest less.
Furthermore, we need less commentary on which arrests to anticipate and much more tangible action to speedily bring to trial those accused of corruption. Instead of being subjected to endless speculation, the guilty need to be sentenced and the innocent to be acquitted. If the NPA is not ready to prosecute, it should remain silent rather than stir instability.
The private sector also needs to pull its weight. Business confidence levels have returned to the pre-1994 era. This is unjustifiable given the enormous efforts by the government to support the industry and stimulate economic growth and development. The actions of the private sector simply do not match the commitments made at the well attended 2018 job summit and highly successful investment summits that accompanied the Ramaphosa presidency. Huge profits continue to be prioritised above jobs and insufficient patriotism is being displayed despite the lofty promises. The acceleration of the implementation of those commitments has become imperative.
The power for reconstructing domestic happiness and positive world perception of South Africa, however, resides with our over 50 million citizens. Imagine the impact if each of us stopped littering and ensured that our lived environment is clean. We could contribute to keeping our neighbourhoods safe by respecting each other, running extra-mural activities for our young people, reporting crime, not buying stolen goods and participating in neighbourhood-watches and community police forums. Planting vegetable and fruit gardens and sharing the products will help to reduce food insecurity. Such small initiatives will go a long way to making South Africa an even happier place to be.
Imagine the impact if we each should post something encouraging on social media once a week. There are pockets of citizen-driven initiatives that serve as examples. Demonstrating how much we love our country will amplify existing endowments such as our phenomenal scenery, superb weather and world-class banking and economic infrastructure, and contribute to national cohesion and pride.
In line with a social compact that directs the actions of the government, citizens, business and civil society at large, let us be optimistic and present our country in a manner that would entice even more tourists and investment that would boost our economy. It is precisely because conditions are tough, that we need to be more united and to be agents for positive change.
* Reneva Fourie is a policy analyst specialising in governance, development and security. She currently resides in Syria.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.