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Ferial Haffajee November 17 2009 Dullah Omar lecture I try not to be a talking head editor but accepted this invitation to deliver the annual PEACE, SAFETY AND HUMAN RIGHTS MEMORIAL LECTURE in memory of Dullah Omar because he embodied: Selflessness and humility Because he eschewed a life of comfort that was available to black lawyers in favour of a life of struggle Because he represented a Titanic generation of leaders now sadly a Tsotsi generation of what the Sunday Times calls Jelly Tsotsis. A heartening factor is that our government is encouraging long-term thinking to in a nation that loves the short-term. Now, President Jacob Zuma wants us to think long-term, to envisage what we might be. Successful nations like Singapore, Scandinavia’s better economies, Botswana have planned themselves into being. In 2020, I’d like to be…safe. Primarily safe. An absence of basic safety impacts on many life choices. Where I live. When I drive. Where I hang out. And this is from a life of privilege. An absence of safety impacts acutely on our well-being and how we live our lives. In Eldo’s last week we read of two children drowning – community safety and the absence thereof is acutely impacted by poverty and growing joblessness. So, in 2020, I’d like to be safe. Living in a thriving region of Southern Africa where we can cross borders without visas. We should be growing at a romping five percent per annum and have moved from being commodity-based economies into manufacturing and services giants. Roaming costs are free across the region and South Africa is now a thriving shopping hub. The most common South African asset is a mobile phone and reducing communication costs can help people to easier financial services, access to work, for access to state services. For example: imagine if we were able to pay grants via mobile phone – savings on transport, easier, safer. Young graduates are being absorbed into telecommunications and financial services industries as the banks have pioneered exciting new technologies and methods of banking emerging economy populations. They travel across the continent helping to set up Africa-wide wireless networks. By 2015, we access cheap broadband and we are now at where India was five years ago. Cheap broadband impels growth not only because we can Facebook for days for almost free but by bringing down the costs of banking, of transport, by enabling farmers to determine prices before they set out to market. Dividing education into basic and higher education worked and finally, matric pass rates have edged up higher. I grew up in Bosmont, not too far from here. School was a walk several kilometers away. It was hard and far, but it was safe. Later, school was CJB High. Poor and not terribly well-resourced, but it wracked up high matric pass rates through the dedication of its teachers and the fierce determination of its principles like Mr. Feldman. Now, its matric pass rates are lower than they were in those days – a microcosm of a national challenge. Last week, City Press noted that only one in five members of the class of 2009 will gain entry into university. Of the rest, over half will end up on the street. We are replicating inequality every year and this is impacting on safety. The national health insurance scheme is successfully run through both the private and public school systems. Initially envisioned as a state-run system, clever footwork by the private sector ensured that pragmatism prevailed. The levels of primary health-care have gone up significantly and the horror stories of public system have begun to abate. We have bucked the African trend where the elite flies to the US, Europe and Sunninghill to access top-class healthcare while the devil teaching may care for the rest. What does your 2020 society look like? At several places where I have spoken about my dream vision, I always ask, as I will try to here? What price are you prepared to pay to enhance the dream of a national health plan. That basic fundament. Good health. One percent. Two percent. 10 percent on top of your tax bill. I have met just one person, white, male, who is prepared to pay more. Everyone else, tax-paying and middle- class says Hell, no! The six million tax-payers already subsidise by paying for education and/or health and/or security. Of course, you give of your time in selfless ways that equate the spirit of Dullah Omar, a spirit of selflessness and of sacrifice. In a country like ours, those of us with some means have no option but to build bridges across the worlds of plenty and of nothing. There is one index which we need to make an acquaintance with much more intimately. We have the highest Gini coefficient in the world – the most glaring wealth gap. Access to opportunity has skewed more rather than opened up since apartheid ended. The reasons are many and manifest: a global economy that needs high-end not blue-collar skills. An education system in decline. HIV and Aids. A generation dead. A generation growing up without the love, support and improvement that parents usually exemplify. And so we have two South Africa’s: One tweeting; one not eating One with access to Garden City clinic where the menu offers six different meals. The other lumped with Helen Joseph where my friend queues from three in the morning for simple diabetic medication. One from Sakhile where residents are rioting because they want toilets, water and houses. One in Sandhurst, where there are houses within houses. Toilets with flush options. Since my awareness has grown of this Gini coefficient, I realise its grotesqueness every day. The Audi Q7 so common on our streets measures more than the average-sized shack. That’s a car bigger than many South Africans call a home. I have stopped being surprised at our crime rate because it seems almost obvious that such a system will result in a Robin Hood mentality. King of Bling, Willie Mbatha, lived in Mamelodi as a hero. A hijacker and thief extraordinaire, he used the proceeds of crime to buy patronage – he gave poor people hand-outs and so bought his safety. With his BMW’s, his club, his GTI, his designer clothes, he became a local hero for young people with no other role models. The horizon of hope in such an unequal economy is non-existent for young, black South Africans. We need to construct bridges out of one world into the other. * Giving as you do and community-based skills transfer is one way. Teaching the simple skills of safety is another. * Encouraging a culture of living simply and of practicing ubuntu – I am because you are. If you do not have, then neither do I. Instead we live with a world of high consumerism next to a world of next to nothing. Porsche’s dealership in SA is one of the busiest in the world; Laudium has the highest number of Mercedes- Benz in the world per square kilometer. * Education is vital. A return to basics now on the agenda is welcome as is a plan to rebuild artisanal and practical skills training. * A different kind of economy is essential without getting stuck between the labels of left, centre and right. Simply, the economy must become opportunity creating. It must offer on-ramps into the national economy for the excluded, either as workers or entrepreneurs. The lock-out factor is huge – at an expanded unemployment rate of over 40%. * Different role models are needed and systems of caring that go beyond the ad-hoc. South Africans, poor South Africans, are among the biggest givers in the country, according to the most recent survey of giving. A set of government indicators out last month, which revealed that our Gini co-efficent now beats Brazil’s, also showed that the dominant family in South Africa is now the single woman headed household, not the nuclear family. Many women looking for fewer men to put a ring on it. Or maybe not. Social structures have changed with deep and important challenges for our future. The single-mother headed household is now the most common form of family in South Africa. This is amazing what it says about the power and strength of women, but it also poses challenges to social security and for community safety. There is in government a sense that if it does not quickly make good on the promises of freedom, it will be in trouble. Government’s blind-spot, of course, is the inefficiencies and the decline of the state which is its responsibility. So, while the national health plan may be a good one, there is no acknowledgement in it that the public system is battered not only because of the resource allocation in the private system but because it lacks the people and vision to make public good. Protests in Diepsloot and in Riverlea this month reveal that communities are getting impatient especially when billboards reflecting a new golf development or a massive football world cup on your doorstep is a constant reminder of your exclusion. More and more as I contemplate the popularity of Malema, the structure of family in South Africa as I exist in my bubble passing a beggar or three at every traffic light, safe by private security and growing everyday more insulated from my real country. I contemplate: what shall we do? Opt out. Live in the bubble. Or break it. Pay a little more tax. Put a kid through school. Hold a hand. Complain a little louder. Your awards this evening can teach us a thing or two about what our role might be in making our country prosperous and normal. Ours is tough but beloved country. It sits at the bottom of an exciting continent. Not easy but exciting. I firmly believe that ours is a generation that will determine whether we become an opt-out, divided post-colonial state or whether this is the generation that will go down as the one that tried and succeeded at doing it differently. Or tried at least.
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