This post is about us, the work we do and what we are dealing with right now in South Africa. I am writing this post, in the aftermath of what has transpired in our country this past week. Like me – you probably have been paralyzed by fear, at times crying, at times angry, at times completely numb, in despair, desolated and in disbelief of what has been playing out. Feeling completely lost, saddened, traumatised, and having to face and challenge my deep held beliefs, truths and values. I acknowledge your fear and pain, your heart ache and your sadness, much as I must acknowledge my own. I hear you; I see you, and I acknowledge our grief.
South Africa have endured so much over so many years – our history is well documented – we are still dealing with the atrocities of apartheid, made worse by the pandemic over the last 18 months, and yet, so much more will be expected of us in the next few months and years. One cannot but ask, can we do this, how can we rebuild, why us and what have we done to end up here.
However, I don’t want my post to be about despair that is not who I am, rather I hope I can touch your heart, give you hope, offer you my support and assistance and ask of you, to walk with me, to go even further and do what we are now called to do. Because of whom we are – and what we do – we have to step up and show up. Our love for humanity binds us together and we will play a great part in rebuilding our country, our economy and our communities. And we must be ready – because our country needs us now – more than ever before.
Let’s acknowledge where we come from
For years we were the people who done the socio-economic research studies – and we presented the realities to our boards. We engaged with our communities, and we developed plans and strategies to support our communities. We requested budgets to conduct our work and the evidence is there – we know how many children we have educated, how many clinics we built, how many families we fed, how many food gardens we established and how many students we funded.
But let us also acknowledge that this was not enough. 1% NPAT was far too little to make a dent and address the toxic cocktail of inequality, poverty and unemployment.
Let’s acknowledge the mistakes we made
With our best intentions we have tried to look after those who cannot speak for themselves, the most vulnerable and desperate in society who needed any help we could offer. Our plans – as well intended as they were – could also only serve those in as far as our limited budgets allowed us. Individually we tried to do the best with what we had – and with our chosen development portfolios we tried to address as many ills in society as we could.
But let us also acknowledge that neither our individual nor collective efforts across the sector was not enough. The odds were stacked against us – there was not enough of us to stem the tide of growing inequality, poverty and unemployment, and even though we tried hard and for many years, we knew that the situation was not getting better.
Let’s acknowledge that much more will be required of us
With what we know – and what we have learnt through the pandemic we know that we are resource constrained. And we know that building back better is not an option for us and our country. What played out on our television screens the past few days has brought the realization that we have to completely rebuild our country, our economy and our ecosystem, and this will require not only more resources, but our collective minds and most of all – better plans, greater focus and a transformative collective to bring about more change so that we can do better.
The question is how, and this is what has kept me awake at night for the past week. I do not have all the answers, but I do know – that if you read this post – then you are in my circle of influence. And I want to ask if you will consider the following:
Lets get working – we are the builders
- Let’s forget what we were thinking and planning for this year. By now you probably have readjusted your strategies and budgets for the next year. Let’s forget that and dig deeper, lets get serious, lets really apply our minds to come up with more concrete and realistic plans. Lets focus our attention on three things only. The question is – what we can do to address systemic inequality, pervasive poverty and large-scale unemployment. This is the challenge we must solve right now. Nothing more and nothing less.
- Let’s utilize all our assets. I know budgets took a strain as we gave so much to deal with the pandemic. But consider this – we have other assets that we can utilize. Open up your skills development budgets to communities to help them prepare for the world of work. Open up your enterprise and supplier development budgets to small businesses who needs to rebuild their businesses. Open up your company for internship opportunities for the youth. Redirect marketing budgets. Donate whatever you are not using right now in your companies. This may include computers, furniture, food and consumables and redistribute these so that we can get assets into communities so they can join in this journey as we rebuild our country.
- Let’s utilize our resources. I know you have a large staff complement. Not only do we need volunteers to help with cleaning up and reclaiming our suburbs but let us continue the work and go into communities to assist with even more. Let’s collect household goods to give communities to survive the winter. Let’s give of our time and skills, lets donate part of our salaries – and lets not do this only once a year on Mandela day, but weekly and even daily. We have to step up our efforts – all of us and let’s start with where we are and share what we have.
- Let’s use our collective voices. To influence and work with government. As we are starting to rebuild – we cannot only focus on national government, and we cannot just focus on the major centers, but we must rebuild from the smallest town and the most remote village. We must rebuild from the ground up and we need to work together, not at odds with one another.
- Let’s focus on things that really matter. Let us focus our energy and efforts on only three things – to alleviate poverty, to address inequality and to combat unemployment. Now, nothing else matters. We must address systemic challenges – not singular issues, we need to transform from the core, and our programs must be so much bigger, bringing about change and transformation at scale.
- Let’s have the difficult conversations. We may feel uncomfortable, we may be out of place – we may have to do things we have never done before, but we cannot delay. We cannot be nice about this. We must focus and recalibrate – all of us and acknowledge who we are, what beliefs we hold and get real with the real state of our country, and our complicity in actions and events that contributed to inequality. Not enough has changed, and change has not been fast enough – therefore we will have to do things we never imagined before. This time and situation require us to give up what we know and acknowledge what we do not.
- Let’s get organized. During the pandemic we all came together and we helped where we could. Now we must do it again – but on a much larger scale and with much greater urgency. We need to organize ourselves and coordinate on a national scale and we need leaders to step up and lead us now. We cannot operate in silos, the task at hand, and the level of transformation required is so urgent that we cannot think about incremental change, but actual transformational change is what is required right now.
- Let’s do better. We know where we come from – our past is one of exclusion, systemized racism, violence and corruption. The lived experience of the vast majority of our country has been shaped by an exclusionary system that was far to slow to change and have fallen short of the hopes, dreams and aspirations of our youth. But the story does not have to end there.
- Let’s keep each other to account. We know the challenges we face. We have the knowledge, the tools, the experience – bringing about impact and change is what we do – our time has come to contribute not only to nation building and social cohesion but also rebuilding, recreating, and regenerating our country. We are the leaders, we are the contributors, the facilitators, the implementers, the activists, the challengers, the influencers – our time has come.
- Let’s change our perceptions and our way of work. We have always thought of our work as doing something for others – individuals, families, communities and beneficiaries. Let’s get real and make these ‘beneficiaries and recipients’ part of our strategies, work, and programs. Let us start including their voices, lets include them in our thinking and planning, lets stop being exclusionary, get different perspectives, representation and views and lived experiences to join us on this journey and together co-design for our new future.
The future story of our country depends on us, and history will judge us by what we will do over the next few days, weeks and months. We have always been resilient, we have overcome so much in the past – and now – we will have to do it again, but we must do more, and we have to do it better. Why, because our country needs us now – we have been preparing for a moment like this. Let’s rise and do it for our country and for our love of humanity.