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By Gerhard Papenfus


 11 June 2019

Many South Africans are waiting for some sort of extraordinary intervention to save us from our national predicament. Who will lead us to a better place, they wonder – while they sit and wait.

The ANC won the election comfortably, but what does it actually mean? Did this victory give the President a sufficient mandate to carve out his vision for South Africa? Only time will tell. The recent internal squabble in the ANC about the mandate of the Reserve Bank and, adding to this, the very contentious issue of land reform, illustrate how deeply divided the ANC is.

With the exception of a few critical positions, the President’s composition of his cabinet illustrates that he does not have a free hand. In the absence of a noteworthy opposition, the ANC has become its own opposition. Therefore, apart from steering South Africa towards a better future, the President must also keep the ANC from going to war with itself.

Eskom stands out as a millstone around our neck. It is often said that Eskom is too big to fail, but ratings agency Standard & Poor warns that it may well be ‘too big to support’. Surely, the same applies to SAA. In fact, all State Owned Enterprises – and there may be an exception – are similarly dysfunctional.

Ratings agencies warn of further downgrades unless bold action is taken in order to kickstart the economy. I am convinced that the President, and surely many others in political leadership, are taking them seriously, but is there sufficient political courage, and political reserves, to take action. The President needs time, but does South Africa have that luxury?

The rot is being exposed in the Zondo Commission. Justice has to take its course – and that was always going to be a very slow process. The President has dismissed the previous South African Revenue Services (SARS) boss and appointed a new head of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). That’s not enough – we say: much more has to be done, and be done now. The fact that the President has a very unenviable task is not our problem.

Despite all these efforts, what we say is this: we will invest and risk again as soon as business confidence is restored, when we feel welcome in the country, when the murder of our citizens stop, when South Africa is healed of racism, when corruption is rooted out, when crime in general is under control, the current self-defeating ‘Black Economic Empowerment’ arrangement is modified, when our labour laws become more business friendly, red tape is reduced, doing business is made easier – and many, many other good things are done.

The question we must ask ourselves is this: what are we going to do if this ideal environment, our condition if ‘they’ want ‘us’ to give it our best, does not come to bear. And, unfortunately, and this might be construed as the bad news, it might not happen soon – if at all.

The truth is, while we wait for ‘them’ to change the circumstances, circumstances wait for ‘us’ to change them.

This life presents us with two options. We can wait for others to shape our world according to our world view, and then blame ‘them’ if ‘they’ don’t. We can remain adamant that it is ‘their’ responsibility, after all. It is just unfortunate if ‘they’ don’t get it right. In the meantime, just don’t expect of ‘us’ to give it our all while everything is just not right – and ‘right’ is measured against our criteria of the perfect world. Be reminded that choosing this option is choosing the life of a victim.

The alternative is not to wait, to take ownership in the area of my influence, where I stand, to take responsibility for the task I am called for, to be the solution I long for; to realise that this life is a gift, that I must ‘play’ with the hand I was dealt, to live life to its fullest, and not waste it as a result of my misplaced expectations of what this life owes me, or as a result of my fears and my hesitations.

If I don’t, one day I will look back to today and wish I could redo it, realising that my fears and hesitations, my consequent withdrawal, was a big mistake. Looking back, I may come to the shocking realisation that what I saw as obstacles, and used as excuses, were actually opportunities.

How fortunate are we that we are not there, in the future, looking back, disappointed, even with self-reproach, but that we are in the present, in the ‘here’ and ‘now’, with life ahead of ‘us’, with all its obstacles, but choosing to view them, and to seize them, as our opportunities. I can choose to view this life, my circumstances, even the situation South Africa finds itself in, as my great opportunity, although it may be clothed in garments of adversity, even disaster.

I can choose – and if I wish to exit this world with a legacy – I have to choose, to live this life as if it owes me nothing, but that I owe this life, this once-off opportunity, all my talents, abilities and resources – and not within the context of circumstances that I choose, but within the context of whatever form life presents itself to me.

Ps 37 calls on us to dwell in the land and to do good, under all circumstances. Dwelling in this context is the exact opposite from wandering in the desert of murmuring, fretting because of evildoers, who, in any event, has no future. It is guaranteed that evil men will wither, they will fade, like grass.

Where wickedness abounds, there is even more reason to do good, to build, to plant, to employ, to expand, to repair, to clean – and to do that without ceasing.

This opinion piece is by Gerhard Papenfus, Chief Executive of the National Employers’ Association of South Africa (NEASA). He writes this in his personal capacity.

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