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What we see as the state of our nation

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As president Cyril Ramaphosa was preparing for his State of the Nation Address that was given on Thursday, the SA Jewish Report asked a selection of influential members of our community to give their views on the state of our nation.
by VARIOUS | Jun 20, 2019
Things are actually getting better, not worse

Adrian Gore

The economy is weak and people are in difficult circumstances, but we shouldn’t misconstrue this as permanent or inevitable. It will pass.

We all suffer from the human trait of “declinism” – the conviction that things around us are getting worse, when in fact they aren’t. Research shows that this is particularly true of South Africans.

We must fight hard to avoid this, especially at this important time. The reality is that across every measure that matters – growth, poverty, crime, life expectancy, and more, our country is doing better than before.

This is remarkable given the lost decade of the Zuma administration. It illustrates our country’s substantial robustness on one hand, but crucially on the other, the huge inherent potential that can be unleashed with positive and good leadership.

Our new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, presents that opportunity. He is a good, wise, and strong man. He needs time to lead. Remember also that the best opportunities avail themselves during difficult times, when opportunities and assets are under-priced, and people are distracted.

My advice is to stay focused, to seek out the positive alongside the negative, and to remember the unique and special community we have built.

All of the Jewish leaders I speak to are committed to building the community into the best it can be – the envy of the Jewish world.

  • Adrian Gore is Chief Executive of Discovery.

In love with South Africa even as they moan
Rabbi Yossi Chaikin

I am writing this while sitting on my veranda, in the dead of winter, under the benevolent Highveld sun, surrounded by birds chirping in the trees. So, I may be looking at the state of our nation through rose-tinted lenses.

In truth, the climate and fantastic standard of living are the prime reasons people cite for wanting to live in the country I have called home for 33 years.

I arrived in South Africa at the beginning of 1986 as a shaliach, and with the blessing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. To put matters in perspective, that year, the queue at the immigration desk of the South African Consulate General in New York was short, very short. It was just weeks after the famous Rubicon Speech, and the country was in flux and its future uncertain.

South Africa has been in transition for decades, yet through the resilience of its people, we have come through crisis after crisis. We all know that things could have turned out very differently.

I like to think that Hashem has a special place in His heart for this blessed country of ours, and that He keeps a special eye on South Africa. There is no other way to explain how time and time again, we have not descended into absolute chaos after each period of upheaval.

I gauge the mood in the country to be cautiously optimistic. With the elections behind us and a cabinet in place, we are emerging from a recent nightmare to a period of hope and positivity. After a bad dream, it takes a while to recognise that the shivering and trembling can end.

True, young people are concerned about being accepted into the faculties of their choice for tertiary education, and about finding suitable jobs thereafter. But on the whole, people are passionately in love with the country, even as they complain about the ills of South Africa.

As far as yiddishkeit is concerned, the facilities we have here are unsurpassed in the world for a community of our size: shuls, Jewish day schools, restaurants, shiurim, and places of learning. We are a tight-knit community that can overlook our differences when necessary.

At a time when anti-Semitism is rising sharply all around the world, we are fortunate that serious incidents have not occurred in South Africa. This is in spite of the fact that the government doesn’t align itself with Israel, it hasn’t banned terrorist organisations such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and some of its members openly support the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement.

In 1990, South Africa was once again in a state of flux. My father-in-law, Rabbi Koppel Bacher, was then told by the Lubavitcher Rebbe to go back and tell the South African community that it should not fear as things would be good there until Moshiach, and thereafter even better. Amen!

  • Rabbi Yossi Chaikin is the rabbi of Oxford Shul, and the chairperson of the South African Rabbinical Association.

States can recover – and this one will too
Errol Anstey

States can recover, no matter how bad the situation. There are many examples of countries that have recovered from the worst scenarios in a relatively short period of time.

Who would have thought that African states like Ethiopia, Burundi, and Rwanda could become flourishing nations today?

There is no doubt that South Africa is on a precipice that could go either way. We have been at this point before, not only at the last African National Congress national conference, but under the old regime pre-1994. Each time, we seem to pull back from disaster.

The single most pressing issue facing our country today is our catatonic economy, which is failing to halt runaway unemployment, and taxing to death a dwindling tax base.

South Africa has the natural resources and people to turn it around. Unfortunately, we are now lumbered with an administration of many corrupt politicians and officials from top to bottom and across all spheres of government.

We need to follow Singapore’s three principles, which turned its country from one of the world’s poorest to one of the most successful. These are: a government of meritocracy, where ministers are appointed for their skills and knowledge; pragmatism, where it takes good policies from capitalist and socialist ideology; and honesty, where corrupt leaders are jailed.

When recovery occurs, it creates huge benefits for everyone, especially a community like ours.

The president has the support of the people, even if some of his party’s MPs have a different agenda. Let’s hope he is strengthened by that support base to make the necessary changes for South Africa to recover.

Success is up to us. We need to remain as committed as ever to the project of building one South Africa for all.

  • Errol Anstey is currently deputy chief whip of the Democratic Alliance in the City of Cape Town, and the manhig (leader) of Habonim Dror SA. He served for many years on the South African Zionist Federation, and IUA/UCF (the Israel United Appeal United Communal Fund).

Three steps forward and two steps back
Eden Plein

The nation is in a bit of a trough.

The election which solidified Cyril Ramaphosa as the leader of our country and the African National Congress had the potential to be a peak. The community felt overwhelmingly optimistic about the fulfilment of promises to strengthen the economy and streamline the bureaucracy. However, as cabinet dissolves before us - perhaps, along with the economy - it feels like we are quickly becoming disillusioned again.

I am disappointed at the state of the nation. We might be repeating the cycle of relying on unkept promises.

The weather is cold, and rich and poor alike are tired. The state of the nation is simply exhausted with broken promises. This is not to say that there has been no recognisable progress, but nationally, it feels as though our energy has been sapped from a 25-year celebration dance which takes the form of three steps forward, two steps back.

I remain devoted to this country. I am a born-free/millennial who plans to dedicate the upcoming years of my life to giving back. However, I would like the government to give me sound evidence for telling so many in our community that I do see a future here.

This belief motivates everything I do. The adoption of this attitude by others in our community would also improve matters.

It’s obvious what the government needs to do to uplift the nation, but arguably, the more difficult question is, what do we do? It’s unrealistic to rely solely on government, we need to be active.

As Jews, we need to confront our responsibility to tikkun olam (healing the world), as well as our advantages here, and take an active role in uplifting fellow South Africans through charity, educational outreach, and empowerment opportunities.

Don’t underestimate the role you can play in the flourishing of our precious South Africa.

  • Eden Plein is s’ganit mazkira (deputy secretary general) of Habonim Dror Southern Africa.

Pockets of light in the darkness
Sol Cowan

We have come out of ten years of what I refer to as a dystopian era. We have had the breakdown of the process of law, and the selling of the state for a mere pottage synonymous to Esau selling his birthright for a “meal of lentil stew”. All this took place under the stewardship of former President Jacob Zuma and his sycophants and acolytes.

The consequences of this is clear to see. There has been little or no economic growth, complete breakdown of all state-owned entities (SOEs), and the threat of a downgrade to junk status. There has also been a rise of xenophobia, and the deliberate promotion of division within society by the usage and promotion of the idea of “white monopoly capital”.

However, there were pockets of light amid the darkness. The courts stood fast against all attempts to plunder by various state and non-state actors.

Sectors of the media investigated and exposed the rot. Hats off to them. Various civic organisations such as the Right2Know Campaign (advocating for access to information and protecting freedom of expression) and Corruption Watch applied pressure to have the corruption exposed and perpetrators brought to book.

The African National Congress (ANC) veterans league also played its part in applying pressure on the ANC in spite of much vilification from various quarters of the party.

With all this, President Cyril Ramaphosa finds himself in the invidious position of trying to maintain unity in the ANC as well as moving the country forward.

There are definitely forces within the ANC that are trying to destabilise his leadership and bring back to the fore the allies of Zuma. However, as a result of the events of the past week, many of these characters have resigned from Parliament, thus weakening the anti-Ramaphosa faction.

The appointments of the new head of the National Prosecuting Authority, Shamila Batohi, and the head of prosecutions, Hermione Cronje, are a stroke of genius on the part of President Ramaphosa. Both individuals come with no baggage, and will carry out their duties without fear or favour.

I believe we will see some high-level prosecutions of individuals implicated at the Zondo Commission, and the other commissions of enquiry that are being held.

As for the country itself, this is a rather more arduous task. The cabinet itself is a mixed bunch, but individuals such as Tito Mboweni, Pravin Gordhan, and Barbara Creecy have proven themselves in the past to be up to the task.

The civil service needs to be professionalised, and the main criteria for appointments to posts must be competency. It is vital to stimulate the economy, and formulate policies to attract new investment and give certainty to investors in manufacturing, mining, tourism, and agriculture.

The litmus test in the short term is Eskom. No matter how many pieces you break Eskom into, you cannot wish away its more than R500-billion debt. It cannot be allowed to fail as it is the bedrock of our economy. Certain unpopular decisions are going to have be made regarding SOEs, such as whether we need a national carrier.

In conclusion, we must not allow ourselves to put President Ramaphosa on a pedestal. He is human, and must be judged by the court of opinion, and the court of the land.

  • Sol Cowan is an ANC stalwart.

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