Rebuilding after the Storm

As we faced one of the darkest and most shameful weeks in South Africa’s recent history, many of us have been experiencing an overwhelming number of mixed emotions ranging from horror, panic, fear, anger, despair and complete helplessness to feelings of unity, pride and patriotism. The devastating events of the last few days have claimed hundreds of lives, destroyed countless businesses, disrupted vital food and fuel supply chains and stoked racial tensions in the country. Our fragile economy, already battered and on its knees from COVID-19 and numerous lockdowns, has been dealt yet another crushing blow.

What appears to have started as an orchestrated attack, instigated by individuals with specific political motives, very quickly evolved into something much bigger and descended into complete anarchy. Many would argue that this scenario was inevitable, given South Africa’s appalling levels of inequality, poverty and unemployment, which are entirely unsustainable. It is clear that emerging from this crisis will require clear and practical strategies to tackle and overcome our complex systemic challenges.

In his book “Thinking the Future”, scenario planner, Clem Sunter highlights the urgent need to create what he calls a “people’s economy” which prioritises the creation of small businesses. Sunter outlines his vision of an entrepreneurial revolution which is community-led and gives rise to a more participative and inclusive economy. “The only way we’re going to create jobs now and get out of the appalling unemployment situation, is to put a huge emphasis on new business creation – because the old world of work is over. You have automation, robots and artificial intelligence,” explains Sunter. He goes on to say, “That’s why big business everywhere in the world is no longer creating the jobs of the last century. Indeed, the latest statistic in America is that two thirds of the jobs being created there are in small business. It’s got to be turned into the number one priority for South Africa.”

Progression has always been passionate about effecting real and meaningful change in people’s lives. We strongly believe that Enterprise Development programmes provide the ideal starting point for addressing poverty by creating opportunities that allow previously disadvantaged individuals to become involved in productive activities. Our Enterprise Development initiatives allow companies to invest time, money and resources to support the establishment, expansion and development of micro enterprises.

Progression’s experiential learning hubs are structured as SMMEs which are linked to skills development for previously disadvantaged learners and the intention is that these small businesses can become sustainable and thrive on their own, without necessarily relying on corporate South Africa for employment. The end goal is for these hubs to eventually become sustainable businesses that grow and result in job creation. These programmes provide an effective instrument to assist individuals to overcome poverty and earn a living, leading to long-term economic growth for themselves, their families and their communities.

Despite the horrifying violence, bloodshed and destruction over the last week, the invincible spirit of ordinary people has been particularly heartening.  South Africans of all races and backgrounds have stepped up in an inspiring display of unity over recent days to support each other. Communities rallied to protect and defend their neighbourhoods and volunteers descended on affected areas to clean up the mess left in the wake of the unrest. Taxi drivers barricaded shopping malls to fend off looters and many people are donating money and essential food items to ease the plight of those most in need.

A defining feature of South Africans has always been our ability to come together during times of adversity and work towards a common goal. What is needed now is to take this spirit of ubuntu and carry it forward into our everyday lives. We must hold onto this feeling and remind ourselves daily of our shared humanity – not only during times of national crisis. This desperate moment is indeed a crossroads in our democracy, and it is time to heed the wake-up call and come together to make real changes that bring about social and economic equality for all who live in our beautiful country. Together, in strength and unity, we can overcome our many challenges and thrive as a nation.

In the spirit of yesterday’s commemoration of Mandela Day, let us never forget the words of the great man himself: “It is so easy to break down and destroy. The heroes are those who make peace and build.”

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