Time to take control of our past, and our future

Time to take control of our past, and our future

By Adv. Sonwabile Mancotywa

Published in the Daily Dispatch, on February 26, 2015

We too in the Eastern Cape are the captains of our souls. We too in the Eastern Cape are masters of our fate,” said the premier, Phumulo Masualle, as he concluded his state of the province address on Friday.

The premier was borrowing from William Ernest Henley’s poem, Invictus, which reads: “It matters not how straight the gate, How charged with punishment the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul”.

Seated in the gallery, as I listened to the premier, I realised his was more than just an inspiration from the beautiful words of Henley’s poetry. The speech really encapsulated Henley’s message.

It signalled a new way of doing things, occasioned by the moment. South Africa is just about to begin a third decade of freedom. Life has indeed changed dramatically for most in our country since we joined the rest of humanity by recognising the equality of humankind, regardless of colour, creed or gender.

Strides have been most significant in the area of social development. Access to health and education is relatively free of charge. Schools provide nourishment to impoverished children. Indigent households receive a basic allocation of water, foodstuffs and electricity or paraffin.

And those without income or sources of livelihood receive grants from the state. South Africa is truly striving to become a caring society. We’re all agreed, however, our social safety net is unsustainable in the midst of low economic growth. This deprives Treasury of sufficient revenue to sustain the current level of social welfare.

Thus the question has been: how do we propel our economy onto a trajectory of high economic growth? For most of the 20 years of our freedom we have looked up to foreign investors to revitalise our economy. A lot was done, including making a number of sacrifices, to ensure our local economy was amenable to foreign investors.

 

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Needless to say, the level of investment was disproportionate to the sacrifices made, nor did it meet the extent of the need. This disappointment has since engendered a shift away from expectations of rescue by foreign investors, and towards our own collective resources. Thus the emphasis on creating a “developmental state” emerged.

Premier Masualle’s address is yet another call towards self-reliance. South Africa has an abundance of natural resources it can utilise to lift itself up. Perhaps more than any other province, the Eastern Cape has no choice but to respond to the premier’s call. The amount of fiscal transfer from Treasury, as the premier noted, has now come down due to declining levels of population growth.

This forces the province to generate alternative sources of revenue, a challenge which the premier rightfully recognised in his speech. Announcements related to energy and tourism especially caught my attention. Our country is in the midst of an energy crisis. This not only makes our individual lives miserable, but also stifles an already weak economy.

Small businesses are hardest hit as they cannot afford generators to ward off the effect of load-shedding. This impacts on employment and eats into our pockets. Power outages slow down productivity, which, in turn, means reduced sales that lead to retrenchments; and we’re now having to incur extra costs buying take-aways and gas.

However, the province has the potential to lighten the burden of the energy crisis on the country. We have an abundance of wind which we can use to generate energy. The Jeffrey’s Bay wind farm seems to be promising in this regard. The discovery of shale gas in the Karoo basin provides yet another source of much- needed energy. And this is not only needed for electrification, but also for water provision.

Electricity is necessary for water purification. Water shortages exacerbate an already problematic situation. On a different note, the Premier’s specific mention of the Liberation Route and the Home of Legends Campaign was particularly pleasing for us at the National Heritage Council. Tourism is a major source of income.

Tourists visit areas where there is something interesting to see. Nelson Mandela is the Eastern Cape’s best tourist attraction. He is an international icon. Whoever visits South Africa is most likely to be keen to experience the region that produced this incredible individual and also to see his last resting place.

Indeed, many South Africans are also curious to see where the founding father of the democratic republic lies buried. My point here is this province has an incredible resource in heritage, which needs to be harnessed. This is what makes the Home of Legends campaign even more important. Notwithstanding the controversy that followed the manner in which the campaign was done, there’s absolute consensus about the appropriateness of the initiative for this province.

Even in his narrative of the history of Mpumalanga, the historian Peter Delius, conceded the Eastern Cape was the richest in history: “The Eastern Cape is internationally renowned for a history of relentless and bloody frontier wars studded with terrible tragedies such as the cattle killing of 1856”. In narrating the history of icons such as Mandela, we should however, as others have warned, guard against focusing exclusively on the person.

Such a perspective would not only be false, but also be an injustice to the richness of the history of this province. Mandela is a product of a long history and events that preceded and shaped him. His biography is incomplete without allusion to, for instance, the wars of conquest and literary history.

His story, therefore serves as an entry-point to a long narrative that includes other equally distinguished personalities shaped by this province. The success of the campaign, I must hasten to add, also depends on the quality of provincial governance. It must live up to the values of the legends we’re celebrating.

If governance exhibits conduct that is contrary to the symbolism of the Home of Legends it would make a mockery of the campaign. That is why I’m pleased the premier recommitted his government to fighting corruption. And, the fact that he remains without a stain on his personal character, is itself exemplary leadership.

Based on what you said, I too believe, Mr Premier that: “We too in the Eastern Cape are the captains of our souls. We too in the Eastern Cape are Masters of our fate.”

 

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