ADAM CRAKER: Social compact among labour, government and business must be fixed

March 23rd, 2022
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As South Africans consume rolling coverage of the war in Ukraine, one could be forgiven for feeling a sense of psychological relief. This time, with this devastating and unforgivable mass onslaught, there is physical and tangible destruction for us to comprehend. Because for decades, South Africans have been in daily struggles with invisible and less tangible threats that are less obvious to comprehend: crippling corruption, soaring unemployment especially for young people, increasingly poor education outcomes, university protests, rioting and looting, violent crime, a collapsing power grid… and a global pandemic that has isolated us from the essence of community for too long.

Our social compact is in shreds. Much was made in the President’s February State of the Nation Address about inclusively rebuilding it. This is essential, and can only be achieved at a strategic level if we have a concerted and realistic action plan with targets and outcomes tracked. Yes, we need labour, government and business to work together, but doing what?

It’s not only useful but absolutely critical that we whittle our inclusive growth goals down to their core. As a group of determined nation-builders, there are any number of efforts that could be made – and we need to heed the foundational lessons from Management Consulting 101 here and work smart, not just hard.

Make no mistake, this is going to be hard, for all of us. But without specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound (‘SMART’) goals we will lose the invisible wars being waged against us all as individuals, business, labour and government.

The good news is that there is something that each of us can do, today, towards achieving an inclusively growing economy and country.

The Jobs Fund, which sits in the Treasury, is on a mission to co-finance projects by public, private and non-governmental organisations that will significantly contribute to job creation. It’s currently in a funding round, and has called for proposals on a systems approach to accelerating business and entrepreneurial growth, building sustainable human and institutional capacities, developing economic sectors with high labour absorption rates – especially for young people and women, and developing appropriate financial systems and value chain development to unlock markets, amongst other objectives.

And this is the right approach. South Africa is home to some of the world’s very best business, tech, management and organisational change brains. We have trained in arguably one of the toughest socio-economic triage zones possible and face daily crises that we, time and again, overcome. Somehow we manage to do so with resilience and even a sense of humour. Government should be looking to the private and NGO sector for their innovative solutions and execution capabilities – and responsibly supporting these with allocated funding from the public purse.

Some of the smart solutions that the Jobs Fund is no doubt considering include capacitating South Africa’s hospitality and tourism sectors. We all know that the Covid-19 lockdowns impacted these sectors particularly hard and drove millions of people out of work and deeper into poverty. While applications are being considered by the Jobs Fund, government could immediately boost these jobs numbers without spending a cent by removing the requirement of a negative COVID-19 test for travellers to South Africa. The stroke of a pen can remove this single barrier and encourage more international travellers to visit and contribute to our return to growth.

Logistics and infrastructure delays at our ports are also destroying any hope of growth and employment. The state of our ports provides a perfect example of how ailing and dilapidated infrastructure and outdated online systems can stifle the economic growth and prosperity of a country in the long term. Last year, the World Bank released its Container Port Performance Index, where Cape Town placed 347 out of 351, ranking lower than all other ports in Africa. This means the port of Cape Town is less efficient than those in Djibouti, Abidjan, Beira, Maputo, Walvis Bay, Dar es Salam and Mombasa. And the cyber security attack on Transnet’s Port Operating System in August last year, which came at a cost of millions of Rands in export and foreign revenue only compounded the problem. The immediate investment in critical infrastructure, robust systems and skilled personnel at the Cape Town and Durban ports must be made a priority.

We have abundant natural resources in South Africa. Approved builds must be given the go ahead as soon as possible to bring more capacity – especially renewable – onto our power grid. Without a stable power supply, South Africa as an investment and business destination will be a bust. Government policy and action is non-negotiable, but ordinary families can start to shift to these solutions in their homes today. Just shifting household cooking and heating to gas can save household money, reduce grid demands and drive demand in the right direction.

Lastly, we all need to play our part in reconnecting with our neighbours and community. We don’t need to wait for formal public-private-partnerships to be established: we can take proactive steps right now and at a very basic level. Call your local school and ask to help with their learn-to-read programme; volunteer to cook for your nearest early childhood development centre’s nutrition programme; donate your unused office clothing to a youth employment incubator; offer to review and edit CVs for job seekers; sponsor a homeless person’s care at a shelter; or even just shift your mindset to an approach of integration rather than isolation. We can draw inspiration from UCT students in their Phaphama SEDI initiative – a non-profit, student-run consulting organisation. Local SMMEs can engage with Phaphama’s trained senior university students who are innovative and passionate about making societal change, and who crave practical experience – so mutual benefit is gained by the enterprises and the students alike as their navigate the real world together.

All of this industrious mending of our social compact requires a stable, safe state, that is not rocked by violent crime and protests. More strong and principled leaders must be urgently appointed into defence and police portfolios to shore up our external and internal capacities and keep our people safe.

There can be no doubt that we have what it takes to repair the social compact between government, business and labour. With a careful and smart vision, we can rebuild with integrity and impact.

Read the full article on Business Day here

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