If we fail to seize this CODESA moment we may live to regret it

Comment by Ps Ray McCauley – Sun 05 Sep 21

We are almost at the end of the deadly third wave which has continued to cause havoc and much destruction in our country, but we are not out of the woods as yet. Hence I strongly encourage and call on all our people to go out in big numbers and vaccinate in order to protect themselves, their loved ones and all of us. As the saying goes, “no one is safe until we are all safe”.

Many countries are beginning to count the cost of the destruction caused by the pandemic as they push to vaccinate their populations so as to return to some kind of normality. Countries are starting to re-imagine how to live and rebuild their economies. Our country is no exception to this as we are now forced to relook at everything we have been doing and come up with creative ways to rebuild our Nation and its economy. The task ahead won’t be an easy one. When the pandemic hit, our economy was already on its knees. Our economy has further been devastated by the pandemic and against this backdrop, we are now dealing with both a struggling and damaged economy.

In addition, the gross inequality and poverty in our country have been exposed and brought back to the top of the agenda by the COVID-19 pandemic. The disadvantaged and vulnerable among us have been pushed to the brink. Similarly, the middle class has been pushed towards poverty by the virus. The Government alone will not be able to deal with the problems facing South Africa. This offers an opportunity for President Cyril Ramaphosa to be inclusive in his approach and invite other stakeholders to the table as he starts to rebuild our country and its economy. The President must reach out to everyone – including those who oppose and openly criticize him.

It is time to call for unity and working together as people of this country. I don’t see how we will be able to deal with and overcome the problems of these magnitude proportions unless we work together in unity. The President must rise above party politics, governing party factions and divisions, to put South Africa first – which will then enable everything else to work. The country cannot afford these sideshows. The President must lead the way by calling all stakeholders to the table. More than anyone, the President knows the importance of unity and working together to achieve a common goal, he was a leading figure during the Codesa negotiations that led to the dawn of our new democracy. The opposition parties cannot afford to be bystanders, all are needed at the table.

Well, it seems another Codesa moment has risen for our President to call the leaders of our country together and to rebuild the country and its economy. We are talking about the leaders of all political parties, religious/church leaders, all trade unions, sports leaders, business leaders, CEOs of big and small companies, civil society leaders, and many other great leaders, all of who are willing to put our country first and contribute to helping rebuild our country.

This gathering, or Codesa, should focus on the main things that have been dividing us and creating tension and anxiety for years. We have to stop and take stock of how far we have come and celebrate our successes and acknowledge our failures. If we fail to take this opportunity presented to us by the COVID-19 pandemic we will live to regret it. There are many issues that we cannot afford to ignore or fail to deal with as a country. The pandemic has exposed these issues to our very own eyes and we can no longer look away from them anymore. The first issue is our stagnant and damaged economy.

Then poverty and inequality, the continued rising unemployment – particularly amongst our youth, the land question, the race issue, those big companies who have not yielded to transformation and finally, the rising gap between the haves and have nots. These issues need more than the Government to deal with them. Let me start with poverty. The poverty statistics out there point to a ticking time bomb that will explode if left unattended. The greatest threat that poverty poses is to the
sustainability of our democracy. As stated in one of our new democracy’s founding documents, the Reconstruction and Development Plan, “no political democracy can survive and flourish if the masses of our people remain in poverty, without land and tangible prospects for a better life”.

Poverty and inequality are ultimately the biggest threat to our democracy and to the thread that holds South Africa together. Unfortunately, the thread is coming undone as poverty increases among the majority. It is said that South Africa is the most
unequal society today. This status quo cannot be left unattended. Then there is the issue of land ownership which was always going to come up. It is one aspect that democratic South Africa has failed to resolve, not for lack of trying but because the land reform process has been fraught with many challenges. More than 28 years into our democracy, land ownership in South Africa is still racially skewed. For those who pretend this shouldn’t be a matter of concern to black South Africans, may I just remind them that the Native Lands Act of 1913 “prohibited the establishment of new farming operations or sharecropping by black people outside of the reserves”. The sooner current landowners acknowledge this historical fact and commit to being part of finding a solution, the better for the country and its future generations.

The willing seller-willing buyer principle has not worked for a number of reasons. Firstly, it takes a long time to negotiate the land price with the current landowners. There have been instances of high land prices and disputes on land valuation. Also, it is a long process to mediate and resolve claim disputes and to select the rightful beneficiaries for land redistribution.
These are the questions that are coming up in light of the expropriation of land without compensation that’s before Parliament. Different political parties and stakeholders hold different views on the matter but the possibility of sitting around the table and finding a common solution always exists. My challenge to the country is let’s do exactly that. There does seem to be a good starting point in that everybody agrees that whatever we do we should not negatively affect food security and our economy.

Lastly, the issue of unemployment – particularly amongst the youth. The latest stats show that at least 34,4% of South African adults are not employed and 74% of our youth are not employed. Unemployment, according to the expanded definition which includes people who were available for work but not looking for a job, rose to 44.4% from 43.2% in the first quarter. This has gone beyond a crisis point and is another ticking time bomb.

These are the big issues calling upon all of us to come together to rebuild our country and its damaged economy. We await our President to call on us for this important gathering or ‘Codesa’, we are at your service, Mr President.


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