There is a saying: ‘You never know what you have until you lose it.’ Please excuse my adaptation of this but it is apt in this instance: ‘You never know what you have until you’re away from it.” Well, I’ve been away from South Africa for a few days to attend my son’s graduation ceremony in Savannah, Georgia, USA where he has spent the past four years studying fashion design while on a golf scholarship. He has now qualified as a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Fashion Design (Cum Laude). Being away from my familiar surrounds in South Africa for the past few days, I have taken notice of things around me and have come to the firm conclusion that South Africa is living in Cloud Cuckoo Land. When one refers to someone as “living in Cloud Cuckoo Land” this hints that the person referred to is naïve and unaware of reality and that’s exactly where South Africa is when it comes to implementing actions that could improve standards and lead to a better quality of life for all.
Many of us have had an inkling of this reality for some time but it is only when one goes away and has the opportunity to compare what you have with others – and look at your own situation and circumstances from outside of your own borders – that you realise just how far down the ladder South Africa has let itself fall. Deterioration of standards has become so prevalent on so many fronts in South Africa that we now accept low standards as the norm. Why do we do this? Perhaps it is because we’ve got so used to sitting on the side-lines and watching tenderpreneurs grab the spoils without any chance of seeing efficient service delivery. We’ve also watched the controls that lead to an orderly society go out the window. Road safety is a typical example of where this has occurred. South Africa has effective road safety legislation but non-effective policing and enforcement of that legislation. And because of this, we have non-compliance to the legislation. So road safety is a mess and we just accept this as the norm. On top of this, we’ve watched the country become riddled with corruption, bribery and other high levels of crime – and we again seem to accept this as the norm. We’ve also watched unemployment figures rise and an education system – which holds the greatest potential for increasing employment in the long term – fail. We’ve watched cadre deployment replace ‘qualification’ and ‘performance’ as the criteria for getting the job. We’ve watched militant strikes cause havoc in various industrial sectors while causing overseas investors to become nervous and hesitant to invest in our country.
All this – plus more – comes with a political leadership and administration that is totally self-focussed instead of being service-focussed.
I have to be honest and state that ever since our former President Nelson Mandela left the political scene, I have found politicians to be the most incredibly boring and uninspiring people around. Far more interesting and inspiring are the ‘men-in-the-street’ for that is where the true lessons of life are learnt. If I put forward that a street cleaner or a parking control officer has more wisdom than a Cabinet Minister, would you go with that?
Let me put this into context. In South Africa we have hundreds of unemployed people standing on street corners every day hoping for a pick-up for a day’s work. And while this continues, we have the politicians arguing about decent work versus nondecent work – whatever that is! Not sure what the heck it is all about. To me a job is a job – and especially in a society where we have some 40% of our people unemployed. So let’s hear what Marcus Ziegler, a street cleaner in Savannah, who does a job most people would call demeaning, has to say about job security. Please click here to listen to his wisdom:
Let’s now move to Norman Roberts, a parking and traffic flow control officer in Savannah. I noticed his colleague ticketing a vehicle and since the parking meter had not expired, I wondered what the ticket was for. I also saw a car parked on the opposite side of the road with its front wheel clamped. Why was that? So I asked – and you can click here to listen to what he had to say:
Wow! If only we had that type of wisdom, passion and dedication in South Africa. This is the down-to-earth, good stuff that I have seen in so many different ways in the past few days. People take pride in the work they do and they do it well – not only for themselves but for the good of the wider society. There are rules and regulations that are strictly enforced with no compromises granted. In South Africa, that would read ‘with no bribes offered or taken’. Listen again to what Marcus the street cleaner says about his job: “Hey, if you really look at the big picture – its job security.” And then listen again to what Norman says: “If you enforce the lower, smaller ordinances and regulations, you keep the larger criminal elements out of the way. I’ve seen it working in action.” In South Africa, if you get caught for speeding, there’s an easy way out – just give a bribe to the cop and you’re on your way. It’s no wonder the ‘larger criminal elements’ have made such inroads and get away with their horrible deeds. They do so because there are no adverse consequences. My son was pulled over by a cop in Savannah some time ago for a defective headlamp on his car. In South Africa, this would have gone go unnoticed. Am I exaggerating? No. Click on this video link for a regular nightly occurrence on the N3 – or any other road in South Africa.
Now compare this to Savannah where my son had his car impounded, had to go to court, pay an admission of guilt fine for the defective headlamp rendering his car unroadworthy and, in addition, had to pay the impoundment fee before getting his car back. If he had tried to offer the cop a bribe, he himself would have been impounded – in jail. It is actions and attitudes such as described above that create orderly and safe societies. Is there hope for South Africa? Yes, if the leadership decides to lead instead of just enjoying the
spoils that go with their positions. I recall a saying: ‘Leadership is an activity not a position.” We need more activity – of the right kind – from our leaders. Please
may it come soon!