OPINION | Healing requires a sharing economy and inclusive culture

16 July 2021 - 11:47 By Mike Abel
Residents from Thembisa have banded together with the Ekurhuleni metro police department to protect their community from looters. The group, which numbered in the hundreds, took it upon themselves to protect a mall.
Residents from Thembisa have banded together with the Ekurhuleni metro police department to protect their community from looters. The group, which numbered in the hundreds, took it upon themselves to protect a mall.
Image: Alon Skuy/Sunday Times

A message to South Africans living overseas:

Over the past few days, I have received and read many notes of concern and sympathy for SA. Each of them is greatly appreciated. Thank you.

I have also seen many messages with “I told you so”, “Thank heavens we left when we did”, etc. My note is to these people, the second grouping.

My family and I left SA towards the end of 2008 following a terrifying crime incident and went to live in magnificent Sydney, Australia, where I was CEO of the largest and most successful advertising group in that country. We lived in a beautiful home, in a beautiful suburb, with wonderful friends and family.

We’ll leave if we want to and we’ll stay if we want to. It’s deeply layered and complex. There are no perfect solutions or answers. There is no decision without compromise.

We came back to SA as we found the sadness of being away from those we loved most and a country that was, in every possible way, home, to be too heartbreaking. We also came back as I had a wonderful opportunity to start something fresh, from scratch. We knew why we left, and we knew why we came back.

Many people who left and have stayed overseas have created happy and wonderful lives for themselves, and that is a beautiful thing. Many, however, justify their lives overseas because “they saw the writing on the wall for SA”.

Yes, SA has many, many problems for sure. It always has and it always will, certainly for the foreseeable future until we solve poverty, unemployment and corruption. Until there are far fewer people who have absolutely nothing and little hope.

But SA is a magnificent country too. When you sit in Sydney, Perth or Melbourne, Toronto, Vancouver, New York, Tel Aviv, London, or wherever your journey has taken you, reflect on your own lives and happy childhoods in SA. Remember who you are, your accents, the Bokke, braais, biltong, pap, the people who helped raise you and the people who are still here. Who want to be here.

Many of us could live anywhere but we have chosen to be here. Because it is home. Because we love it. Not because we are stupid and couldn’t see “the writing on the wall” less than you could. Many people here would also love to leave, but can’t because of financial and other limitations.

However, SA is not the only country with issues, dear friends. This week we saw soccer hooligans and riots in the UK and vile racism following the penalty kicks — none of which would have been visible had England won. But there you are…

We have seen Americans (where guns literally outnumber people) storm the Capitol Building. Anarchy. Where I’m not sure who is more threatening to their society, the toxic left or lunatic right?

Every time we get to the very edge, the remarkable everyday people of this country pull us back from the brink. We regroup, re-evaluate and somehow recover.

We are dealing with a global pandemic first identified in Wuhan, China, that has destroyed hundreds of millions of lives and impacts us daily. It has literally changed the world. And not for the better, as some may like to believe. The dolphins have not returned to the canals in Venice.

We see unrest in Cuba, Venezuela, the Middle East and around the world. Chaos, anarchy, hate and insecurity is not unique to us in SA. But I don’t see you commenting on this. You reserve a special scrutiny and, dare I say, hints of schadenfreude, for a country that gave you your identity and best memories. A place where your parents, siblings, cousins and many friends still may live.

We don’t need your judgment and relief that you don’t live here. We need your love, concern and support. There are many NGOs and charities like Gift of the Givers, Afrika Tikkun and others who do remarkable work here in tackling poverty and hunger. Make a donation to them or to others, big or small.

Send love and thoughts to those you care about. Not messages of “you need to get the hell out of there”. We’ll leave if we want to and we’ll stay if we want to. It’s deeply layered and complex. There are no perfect solutions or answers. There is no decision without compromise.

What I do know about SA is every time we get to the very edge, the remarkable everyday people of this country pull us back from the brink. We regroup, re-evaluate and somehow recover.

It’s a scary time here. Dangerous forces are at play. There is deliberate insurrection and treason happening. Whilst [former president Jacob] Zuma and  Co were the flame, unemployment-related poverty created the firewood.

We need to fix this. We need far more of a sharing economy and inclusive culture.

Hopefully this is a wake-up call for the government. We cannot address unemployment without investment, both domestic and foreign, because only economic growth can solve this. And a destabilised economy and society won’t attract investment. We know this and we need to fix this.

So my request of you is not to pat yourselves on your backs and say, “yup, we knew it, well done — and thank God we aren’t there”. Perhaps think of all the magic this country gave you, the very essence of who you are today, how you managed to move overseas, and then please think of how you can help. In both big ways and small.

Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika — God bless Africa 🙏🇿🇦❤️

  •  Mike Abel is founding partner and CEO of M&C Saatchi Group South Africa

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