Only tough stuff will save us
On the weekend my daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren arrived from New York for a family wedding.
Their visits always transform our house. Lego armies overrun our bedrooms, Disney apps populate our iPads and Strawberry Pops replace our oats for breakfast. Energy levels rise, bringing joy and laughter to everyone around. As our sages remind us, it is the sounds of children that open the gates of heaven. Naturally, as grandparents, we would love to see a lot more of them, but the option is out of our control.
My daughter, Karen's, choice to leave the country was made more than 10 years ago after a hijacking on her way home from gym one evening in which an off-duty policeman was implicated. Although her vehicle was recovered and the suspects apprehended, a series of administrative bungles frustrated the case from reaching the courts.
Besides the psychological trauma of dealing with being threatened by a group of armed criminals, her diminished faith in a legal system there to protect her rights pushed her to build a life elsewhere.
My son, Jonathan, keen to explore the world, joined his sister in the US. When his work visa expired a year later, reluctant to return to South Africa, he travelled to Australia, where he has established a successful career in financial journalism, but only after battling it out doing telesales and selling pet food.
Graham, my youngest, has expressed no desire to leave the country, even though as a registered chartered accountant presently in the job market, he has been unashamedly advised by placement agencies that, as a white male, his chances of finding employment are virtually zero.
It's one of many ironies in our new democracy that continue to puzzle me. Graham's grandparents, respected struggle activists, Hymie and Esther Barsel, fought tirelessly at great personal expense to create a society free of prejudice, yet it is the colour of Graham's skin that disqualifies him from earning a living in a country desperately short of skills, and one that boasts the most progressive constitution in the world.
Besides not having the support structures that friends and relatives provide, life is understandably more stressful for Karen and Jonathan and their families in cities like New York and Sydney, and the wish to unite our families one day in one country is a recurrent theme at the dinner table.
Trevor Manuel's bold national development plan to make South Africa a better place offers an appealing solution to our discussions, but to wait until 2030 to reach targets promised by the incumbent administration, when they took charge almost two decades ago, poses too great a risk to be pursued seriously.
I am not for a minute challenging Manuel's sincerity, capabilities or years of thought required to produce his framework for a better future, but rather the army of foot soldiers he entrusts to carry out his gallant objectives. Uniting the country around a common vision, eliminating poverty, eradicating disease, reducing crime, improving education and providing work for all has appeared as a pledge in each president's annual State of the Nation speech since the first democratic election in April 1994.
Yet we are no closer to achieving those promises than when Nelson Mandela took the oath of office on the steps of the Union Building in the presence of a large crowd of dignitaries from all over the world.
Writing in the Sunday Times, even Manuel concedes that on the present trajectory, South Africa will not meet the legitimate expectations of its people without introducing urgent and focused change in behaviour and incentives.
The sad events at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine last week could not have come at a worse time for Manuel's grand vision.
One of the most important engines driving our future prosperity is developing the nation's enviable array of mineral wealth. Building and operating mines are both costly and complex; requiring experienced and proficient managers and vast amounts of risk capital, that despite the obnoxious ANC youth leaders' calls for nationalisation, the government can't hope to generate on its own.
The tragic incident at Marikana has far-reaching consequences. Besides the unnecessary loss of life and the exposure of the electorates' restlessness with both the government's inability to address the gaping inequality in the economy and deliver basic services, the violent nature of the protests is assured to undermine investment in an industry so critical for our survival. Regrettably it also opens the way for Manuel's biggest fear, the fuelling of populism and ethnic politics.
The present government is facing its sternest test since it assumed power 18 years ago. Unless it exercises a firm grip on the unruly power of the trade unions and introduces effective policies to restore confidence in the country's future by tackling issues like crippling corruption, glaring incompetency and unconcealed discrimination, Manuel's plan might not even make it past 2012.