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Op-eds

Half full or half empty? Conference considers state of our nation

  • AboveBoardShaunZagnoev (3)
Telling people to “face reality” generally means saying they should recognise where there are problems instead of burying their heads in the sand. In a different context, though, it can mean precisely the opposite, namely that we should beware of becoming so fixated on the negatives that we fail to take into account where things are going right. Reality, after all, is by definition all-encompassing – it refers just as much to strengths as it does to weaknesses.
by SHAUN ZAGNOEV | Nov 14, 2019

In his opening message at our national conference on Sunday, Investec CEO Fani Titi put it well when he said: “While always being realistic, we have to remain hopeful and forward-looking. We cannot afford to lose faith in ourselves and our ability to negotiate the challenges confronting our country, since such negativity can all too easily become self-fulfilling.”

“Unpacking Reality” was the theme of our conference, and our five distinguished panellists obliged by rigorously debating both sides of the question. No one denied the huge challenges facing our society. Undoing the destructive legacy of the state capture era will inevitably take years to accomplish, and although South Africa is in a much better place than it was two years ago, progress has in many ways been disappointingly slow.

Mention was made of the failure so far to prosecute those implicated in serious acts of corruption and the fact that the government has yet to take the tough decisions necessary to fix Eskom and other state-owned enterprises, start addressing the jobs crisis, attract more foreign investment and, in general, get the economy moving forward again.   

Against all this the positives were highlighted. Thus, we heard about the vital role a strong, vigorous civil society is playing in confronting the challenges of the day, the exciting opportunities available for entrepreneurs, and how our top universities are producing more world-class graduates and postgraduates than ever before, at a fraction of the cost of their overseas counterparts.

From a Jewish perspective, I dwelt on the continued strength and vibrancy of the community, mentioning our enviable network of outstanding communal organisations, the unmatched proportion of learners in the Jewish day school system, and the success of such initiatives as Limmud, the Sinai Indaba and, of course, the Shabbat Project, a global phenomenon that was birthed in South Africa. I further noted the outsized role that South African Jewry continues to play on the international Jewish stage, and how we are able to thrive in a country where the rights of all faiths are respected and guaranteed. National president Mary Kluk pointed out how strikingly low anti-Semitism levels continue to be in this country at a time when, almost everywhere else, they are assuming alarming proportions. 

Another thing that made this year’s conference so memorable was the wonderful spirit in which it was conducted. One was aware throughout of a real sense of patriotism, pride and hope on the part of both the participants and the capacity audience. Especially well received were a message of support, recorded at the eleventh hour, from Springbok captain Siya Kolisi, and a tribute to the late musician Johnny Clegg. These two people epitomise the spirit of national unity, and in their own way they have reminded South Africans what we are capable of achieving when we stand together.

•         Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00

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Kosherworld04122019

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