by centra
Lebohang Matlabe

OPINION BY Lebohang Matlabe

Does the current dusky state of the nation irk you? Then the words of John F. Kennedy may breathe some hope and challenge us to think differently in the face of despair.

In his inaugural address, the historically youngest president of the US let citizens realise the importance of civil duty and public service. His words, “ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country”, implore us to wear a new set of lenses and dare fight for our country. South Africa is at a tipping point, and every day dissipates the hope in many people’s lives.

The growing discontent among citizens, and the youth in particular, is justified. Most South Africans doubt the likeliness of fulfilling their dreams in the same country which once promised “a better life for all”. Considering the state of our nation, the post-apartheid dream of a “rainbow nation”, as sold by towering struggle icon, Nelson Mandela, has become a living nightmare. At its core, it promised a utopian dispensation wherein diversity would be celebrated alongside equal opportunities.

Sadly, the opposite happened and is quite self-evident. Statistics indicate that SA is the most unequal country in the world today. Oxfam reported that the average (white, male) CEO takes home as much as 461 black women from the bottom 10% of earners. We are still far from having equal opportunities, and racial tensions also seem to be at an all-time high.

Lebohang Matlabe
Lebohang Matlabe

One need not be a rocket scientist to appreciate that another picture-perfect SA, as envisioned by the NDP’s Vision 2030, may not be realised within their set time. The NDP previously had goals to reduce unemployment to 25.4% by 2010, 20% by 2015, 14% by 2020, and to 6.0% by 2030. Going into #YouthMonth this year, Stats SA released harrowing figures which showed that 74.7% of the country’s youth are unemployed – using the expanded definition. And approximately 3,3 million (32,4%) of 10,2 million young people aged 15-24 years are “Not in Employment, Education or Training” (NEET).

Several days ago, we witnessed another anti-racism protest by unhappy parents, joined by governor of the Reserve Bank, Lesetja Kganyakgo, at Cornwall Hill College, a private school near Pretoria. Such incidences have been somewhat normalized again in our society. The continuing poor quality of education in historically disadvantaged communities, which make up the majority of South Africans, also does not help the situation. 

In addition, South Africans are confronted with corruption, interpersonal violence, economic uncertainty, and an inequitable education system. At this point the words of J.F Kennedy are echoed to me, to urge citizens to find ways to contribute to the public good. We ought to ask ourselves as South Africans, “what can I do for my country to make things better?”

We need to revive a sense of active citizenry across the nation. Sectors should assume the civic responsibility of holding government accountable and demanding pragmatic responses in matters of governance. We need to mobilize young people from different backgrounds and be engaged in our communities, beyond just politics.

Furthermore, it is imperative that we call on government to respond decisively against all forms of injustice mocking our human dignity, particularly around women, children, and marginalized communities.

Professionals and the intelligentsia are a critical reservoir of knowledge in any society. So we need to bring together like-minded professionals and nurture progressive thinking in the country. We should embrace scientific and technical tools in justifying our means to pursuing our national aspirations. However, this can only happen if we shift to meritocracy over partisan deployment.

We must be more cautious when voting leaders into power and subject our present and future leaders to intense scrutiny. This demands us to be sound in judgement, being able to discern beyond political rhetoric and charisma. South Africa has no shortage of orators. We have conferences and summits weekly. We also never run short of “plans”, only they gather dust being always shelved away. Therefore, going forward we need doers, not more orators, in leadership. And it is among us that we can identify them.

Renowned author, Wayde Goodall, says stunningly, “it isn’t stress that makes us fall, it’s how we respond to stressful events.” We are born of resilience, a nation that overcame many atrocities and injustices. We must resist every temptation to regress to the hopeless political and economic dungeon of the apartheid era.

Building a better and thriving South Africa is our collective dream, even in the midst of uncertainty, may we not shrink from this responsibility but embrace it.

Lebohang Matlabe is a strategy consultant, entrepreneur, thought leader and social commentator.

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