A better life for all is in our hands

Talk Radio 702/567 Cape Talk host Redi Tlhabi

As expected, the national development plan, aimed at enabling South Africa to break the shackles of poverty and march to a prosperous future, featured prominently in President Jacob Zuma‘s state of the nation address.

Even though the president mentioned the plan before anything else, his speech did not give any specifics. A greater focus on how the plan would be implemented and its time frame would have been helpful.

The president did mention that to create 11million jobs by 2030 “the economy would need to grow threefold”. How this is going to be achieved is another matter, given our high rates of illiteracy and unemployment, the lack of skills and poor standards of education.

Be that as it may, all South Africans — government, business and civil society — must realise that the success of the national development plan depends on them. The government must create certainty and a conducive environment for our economy to grow. Businesses must also be honest and willing partners in this endeavour. Those that engage in fraudulent and uncompetitive behaviour, pay slave wages and keep workers trapped in inhumane working conditions are intensifying the burden of poverty.

The minister in charge of national planning, Trevor Manuel, said South Africans needed to take ownership of the country‘s development. That‘s all very well, but how do we change the mindset that was created by the ANC in the early years of our democracy?

I am sure the party meant well when it promised “a better life for all” in 1994. It was the rallying call that swept Mandela into power and emboldened the disenfranchised majority.

The slogan promised that they would taste the fruits of democracy, benefit from the opportunities created by the new government and be beneficiaries of fair business opportunities. The future looked bright.

But the reality of providing this better life for all has become a treacherous path paved with corruption and wastage. Add the toxic mix of a lack of skills and poor education and it is clear that this was always going to be “a better life for some”.

As we gear up for another election year in 2014, I am sure political parties will be campaigning in full force, lying to the people again and telling them that only they can create a better future for them.

The message must change. Promises create expectations and these, in turn, create apathy. People must be told how difficult conditions are; they must be told about the turmoil in the global economy, the shrinking tax base and how these present a new challenge to all of us: to be part of the solution, to be innovative and roll up our sleeves and do the work.

Our clarion call should be “Vukuzenzele” (get up and do it for yourself).

At the 90th anniversary of the ANC, former president Thabo Mbeki said: “During this year, we must focus on the mobilisation of our people actually to engage in the process of continuing to be their own liberators, of occupying the front line in the popular struggle for the reconstruction and development of our country.”

This does not absolve the government of its responsibilities, but it does put much power in the hands of citizens, the power to imagine the country of their dreams and work towards making it a reality. It can be done.

Last week, I expressed the sentiments of many South Africans who are tired of sexual violence. I implored the president to give rape a special mention in his speech and announce practical measures to tackle this scourge.

I would not be so arrogant as to claim the president read my piece, but he did issue the strongest warning yet to rapists and spoke strongly against this crime, calling it ihlazo (a disgrace). Sceptics might say it was just words. I disagree. It was a powerful statement that reverberated in offices, homes, taxis, restaurants, shebeens and so on. It will take us many years to change mindsets, but every small step counts.

This column appeared in The Sunday Times.