Restoring the South African dream

Mugabe Ratshikuni says for too many the goal is to milk the system and get something for nothing

A few years ago I read a very interesting book which will provide the background and the substance of this week’s article. The book concerned was titled, The South African Dream, co-authored by two brilliant South African entrepreneurs, John Hunt and Reg Lascaris of TBWA/Hunt/Lascaris fame.

The main aim of the book was to try construct and articulate some sort of South African Dream which would inspire us as a nation and serve as a driver to South Africa fulfilling its immense potential. Looking at the many challenges that we are faced with as a nation, I was reminded of this book, over the past week and I decided that my next article would be aimed at constructing and articulating a “South African Dream.”

It was the poet Langston Hughes who said, “Hold fast to dreams. For if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.” Dreams are important because the ability to dream is a prerequisite for the ability to achieve and if South Africa as a nation is ever going to fulfil its potential, we will need a well-articulated dream which we can all work towards as a people.

According to Hunt and Lascaris, both of them advertising industry legends, “the commercial market place is built on dreams. Dreams define who we are and who we want to become. Dreams are not an intangible, wishy-washy issue. Advertisers and marketers don’t sell products, they sell dreams. Show understanding of individual aspirations or show how a product fits into a consumer’s imagined, ideal lifestyle and you are close to clinching the sale.”

In other words whatever dream we are trying to sell to the South African populace in order to build a winning nation, has to be a dream that fits into the imagined, ideal, lifestyle of the average South African. A survey, conducted a few years back found that there was strong agreement across all racial groups in South Africa with the following statements:

1) Hard work will get me where I need to go in life.

2) Competition makes me perform better and feels more rewarding in the end.

3) What I do affects what comes to me in the end.

4) I like the fact that achieving my goals will take effort on my part.

From the above-mentioned statements we can deduce that the South African dream has to incorporate the values of: hard work, competition or competitiveness, pro-activeness and self-drive or initiative. So what is the South African Dream then?

Well in my view the South Dream is four-fold or it can be divided into four aspects. Firstly, the dream entails a renewed focus on entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs. In the words of Robbie Brozin, the founder/owner of Nandos, “South Africa has had a political miracle, we shouldn’t be greedy but we need a business miracle to match. Everybody has to do their bit by becoming entrepreneurial, by contributing to economic activity, by building and creating their own opportunities.”

We have a population that believes in hard work and in taking risks, that prefers to run its own businesses, that wants to try something new and that thinks competition leads to superior performance. We have to develop entrepreneurial skills. We have to mobilise individuals and become a society that welcomes and values new ideas. This is why our diversity as a nation is such a positive factor.

The greater the number of contributors, the greater the chance of coming up with new business solutions. Diversity leads to more creative ideas. Entrepreneurship is the solution to the problems of: joblessness, homelessness and crime that South Africa faces. In the words of Clem Sunter, “Joblessness is more fundamental than homelessness, because if a man has a job he can buy a house. Joblessness is one of the chief sources of crime. So, if you can reduce joblessness you automatically have an impact on crime.”

In order to create this entrepreneurial class in our country we need to create easier access to capital for budding entrepreneurs. We need new thinking and new attitudes from financiers and venture capitalists. We need new, context-specific financing models from banks and financiers if entrepreneurship is going to flourish in South Africa. We also need to modernise township economies, because that is where most of this entrepreneurial class should come from.

We need fresh attitudes and fresh ideas from the formal sector that will take the informal trading activities and entrepreneurial energy that is prevalent in the townships of South Africa and bring all that into the formal economy.

As a nation we need to make the entrepreneur a hero. Our education system needs to shift from just simply focussing on mass-producing employees and “employable” graduates, to focussing on producing more pioneers, entrepreneurs and business owners. To use the words of Theodor Roethke, “what we need are more people who specialise in the impossible.”

Secondly, the South African Dream needs to focus on a renewal of morality and work ethic. The words of Oscar Wilde are pertinent in this regard, “our ambition should be to rule ourselves, the true kingdom for each of us, and true progress is to know more and be more.” We should promote and celebrate self-governance as a nation. Instead of creating a society that is highly reliant on external governance, we need to encourage our people to learn, to grow into self-leadership and self-governance.

This will help solve a lot of the socio-economic problems that seem to hamper us as a nation, for example, for all the talk about government’s failure in the battle against HIV/AIDS, the sad reality is that the reason for the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in South Africa, is that a large part of the population has no self-governance when it comes to the area of their sexuality and they then blame government when they fall prey to HIV/AIDS and all its destructive socio-economic effects.

We need to answer the question that was posed by Hunt and Lascaris, “Are we grubby materialists, high idealists or a bit of both? Reveal the dream and the nation itself stands revealed.” In trying to answer this question as we define the South African Dream, we need to remind ourselves that a noble calling and the call of self-interest are not of necessity mutually exclusive.”

For too many in South Africa it appears that the South African Dream is to milk the system and get something for nothing. This kind of attitude needs to be discouraged in favour of a higher morality and a better work ethic. We need to promote genuine moral regeneration as a key part of the South African Dream.

In the words of former president, Nelson Mandela, “as we reconstruct the material conditions of our existence, we must also change our way of thinking; to respect the value and result of honest work, and to treat each law of the country as our own. This is our call to all South Africans to firm up the moral fibre of our nation.

It is a call to artists and musicians and sports persons, to religious leaders and traditional institutions, to intellectuals, to the media and to all those who should give leadership as we establish new symbols and role models; all of us to join hands in a new patriotism, not because the government says so, but because it is in our common interest to do it.”

We need to create an open, transparent society that treats everybody fairly; where things are done on merit and competence instead of being decided by the kind of low-level politics we have seen in South Africa. A lot of the corruption that we see could be halted by simply removing temptation and substituting sensible controls in South African society.

The South African Dream in this regard is mostly about opportunities which allow people to progress in accordance with the skills, talent and ambition they have. Key areas to sort out in order to bring this about would be: education, health and the family.

Thirdly, the South African dream has a political focus. We need higher levels of literacy with more people reading which will ensure a more informed citizenry which in turn will strengthen democracy. We need to create a society that places more confidence in our democratic institutions and systems, than in individual politicians and political organisations. We need to promote a greater level of participation by the citizenry in our democratic institutions. We need to instil a greater commitment to democracy and transparency in the average South African.

Finally, the South African Dream has an African and a global dimension. Here I appeal to the words of a South African political heavyweight, a Nobel peace laureate and a former ANC president, Chief Albert Luthuli, in his 1962 book: Let My People Go, “the task is not finished. South Africa is not yet a home for all her sons and daughters. Such a home we wish to ensure from the beginning, as history has been one of ascending unities, the breaking of tribal, racial and creedal barriers. The past cannot hope to have a life sustained only by itself, wrenched from the whole.

There remains before us the building of a new land, a land for, men who are black, white, brown, from the ruins of the old narrow groups, a synthesis of the rich cultural strains which we have inherited. There remains to be achieved our integration with the rest of our continent. Somewhere ahead there beckons a civilisation which will take its place in the parade of God’s history, beside other great human syntheses: Chinese, Egyptian, Jewish, European.

It will not necessarily be all black: but it will be African.” We must create a competitive spirit which says, “We can beat the world. We can be successful.” We need to create a greater openness and awareness of the world for ordinary South Africans so we can take our place and make our contribution in the global family of nations.

This is the South African Dream that I believe should inform our decisions and drive us as a nation. It was the Anglo-Irish poet, William Butler Yeats who said, “In dreams begins responsibility.” Our major construct is not money. It is having enough human beings with the appropriate qualities for turning dreams into realities.

We need to become a nation of dreamers whose dream motivates it to sacrifice and action. I end off with words from T.E Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) in his Seven Pillars of Wisdom, “All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find it was vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men for they may act out their dreams with open eyes to make it possible.”

May we be a nation of dangerous dreamers, “dreamers of the day who act out their dreams with open eyes” so that the South African Dream can become a reality in our lifetime.

Mugabe Ratshikuni works for the Gauteng provincial government; He is an activist with a passion for social justice and transformation. He writes here in his personal capacity.