Feb 16

Build our beloved country – Stand up & be counted!

Toni van Niekerk examines the state of our nation and calls on everyone to stand up and be counted, saying each and every one of us can make a difference to South Africa. 

With SONA on our doorstep I was thinking about the state of the nation, and it does not paint a pretty picture. However, I recently read another negative email about the state of the nation, just ranting on and not providing any solutions or options for us mere mortals to get things going.

Our beloved country is far from falling apart and your life in most suburbs in every city in our country is as safe as in any first world city. When you analyse police statistics, even taking into account the way it is collected, it is clear that the violence and murder rate is located in a few hot spots. A few simple measures will put you in the same risk pool as most first world citizens.

As for government ventures (Telkom, Post office, Eskom, SAA, Healthcare, Education, etc): Yes, these are failing and in shambles, however, the forces of a free market system, which is alive and extremely active in SA, is slowly but surely privatising each and every one of them. The markets have a way of finding equilibrium. Mobile operators are privatising communications, Kulula and Safair are privatising SAA, Couriers and other delivery providers are privatising the Post Office, Eskom is fast being privatised by alternative providers and this process will increase exponentially in a very short time. The innovations that are coming from the load shedding challenges will go down in history books.

Education, even amongst the lower middle class is fast being privatised by very innovative and affordable private schooling providers. This is due to the fact that across the board, people are realising that there is power in education and they are willing to work and pay for it. Contrary to popular belief, we are churning out thousands of well-qualified learners on all levels. Yes, I know we are also churning out hundreds of thousands of poorly educated, but these numbers are fast reducing. Our required pass rate will be increased for a second year in a row in 2015. The Government may not admit the failures in the system, but they are certainly aware of it.

Our Minister of Health, Dr Motsoaledi, is making great strides in fixing the healthcare system. The backlog of the neglect over the past 20 years is vast, but he is doing a sterling job under very trying circumstance.

The latest unemployment figures show that, despite the struggling economy, we have made some small gains over the past few months. Business in SA is still extremely vibrant and profits are still there  for most businesses. As an entrepreneur in this country the opportunities are comparable to the best in the world. Yes there are many challenges, but go and try to set up a new business in the EU right now and see if it is not challenging. BEE is also a challenge, but as a start up, BEE should not be a problem for many years due to the R10m base. On top of that, I know many businesses who have bridged the BEE gap with appropriate advice and assistance, legally, and many with really great BEE partners.

When looking at the sales figures for luxury cars, the number of iPhones and Samsung top of the range phones being sold (yes, you find them in large numbers amongst even the lower middle class) then it is clear that there is still much life in this country.

What actions to take?

It is in the power of every single person to contribute and to make a difference:

Step one, don’t focus only on the political rhetoric in the country. Keep it in mind, but do not let that be the main influencer of your personal and business decisions.

Step two, don’t get confused by statistics quoting negative people (locals and ex-pats), looking to find reasons for their own failures rather than looking at solutions for the challenges everyone faces.

Step three, take the racial blinkers off your eyes when it comes to crime. Yes we have hate crimes and xenophobia, which we should strongly condemn) Crime, for the most part, is colour blind. More black people, as a percentage of that population group, are victims of crime than white people, simply due to the fact that more black people live in crime ridden areas and are exposed to criminals while commuting.

Step four, decide where you would like to and can make a difference. Here are a few simple and easy suggestions. (Many other people will have many more):

1) Make a point of greeting every person you have the opportunity to greet, every day, all races. Example: When you fill up, get out of your car and greet the assistant. Enquire about his wellbeing and build a relationship. Every time you encounter a retail assistant/cashier, ask their name and greet them by name when you leave. Empathise with the Post Office assistant about the challenging conditions they work under, etc etc.

2) As a male, every opportunity you have, evaluating the risk, pick up a hitchhiker, enquire about his/her well-being and learn more about their environment. When you pass someone walking in the rain, why not give them a lift. I have been doing this for the past 30 years and have never had any problems.

3) Strike a friendship with your Homeless Talk/ Big Issue etc sales person. If you are really adventurous, go and help them sell one day. It will be a great eye opener. Do that with any other controlled street vendors.

4) Next time you are in a grocery retail store, identify a shopper you can support. Simply watch the behaviour of a few people and you will easily identify whom you would like to assist. (Usually the older lady who carefully evaluates every item she takes, sometimes putting bigger tins back for smaller etc. The construction worker buying a packet of mealy meal and some beef bones with two tomatoes after a hard day’s work, etc. You will get it quickly. Follow her/ him to the pay point and when there stuff is rung up, make a decision whether you can afford the assistance and then offer to pay for them. You will enrich yourself, touch the person you are assisting, the person behind the till and the person behind you. It is magic.

5) When you are in the traffic, make a point of being friendly, smile at fellow motorists, greet the taxi driver, give drivers a gap, yes even the taxi, despite the immense difficulty of knowing that he breaks every rule. The best drivers when it comes to giving a gap, is taxi drivers. Make a note of it.

6) Obey the rules of the land. Start with the rules of the road, despite the fact that it feels like everyone else breaks them. The speed limit is a limit, not a target. Stop streets are stop streets, not yield signs etc.

7) Join a voluntary organisation to do whatever suits you that adds value to our country. Clean the local spruit, walk the SPCA dogs, read to the elderly and sick, become a wildfire fighting volunteer, help paint the school or go and oil the doors at the school etc. You get the picture. The possibilities here are endless.

8) If you are a person of faith, pray for our leaders, pray for the poor, pray for the rich, pray for the country. If you are not, start by simply meditating on positive things like the good work done by SPCA or Hospice, our many blue flag beaches, our rating as a top corporate governance country etc. It will lift your spirit.

9) Make sure your gardener/ domestic helper receives at least one balanced meal per day (protein/ vegetables and fresh fruit)

10) Mentor someone, anyone, from a co-worker to a neighbour’s child or an employees son/daughter.

I can go on for ages. The point is, each and every one of us can make a difference and change our country. If this really is your “beloved country”, stand up and be counted. Find your niche, find what suits you and start small, but start somewhere.

We can fix this country, person to person, one person at a time. You will be amazed how your own life will change and how the smile on your face will become a permanent feature. You will influence those around you, you will raise your kids with a positive and happy outlook and we will all be for the better.

Try it, I dare you. Build our beloved country!!