Gary Koekemoer: Building a diverse society the greatest challenge of 2018

As we head into the festive season rush, where every shop holds its breath that year-end bonuses are sufficiently fat to ensure that shoppers spend with abandon, where those fortunate enough to have credit cards swipe with their eyes closed and fingers crossed, it seems a little out of place to ask the question, “What will 2018’s greatest challenge be?”.

After all, our mayor and speaker have just survived their first no-confidence vote!

Surely the public’s focus is now on planning that Christmas meal, finalising present lists, thinking happy thoughts about family around the table and putting the bubbly on ice?

Unless of course you’re one of the nearly 14 million South Africans living on less than R531 a month (aka the food poverty line), or one of another eight million citizens who live off R758 a month (the lower-bound poverty line), or among the nearly nine million additional people who scrape by on R1 138 per month (the upper-bound poverty line).

All in all, for just more than 30 million South Africans (out of a population of nearly 57 million people), how likely is it that this season will be a merry one? Depressing isn’t it? Surely then, poverty alleviation must be the number one priority for the next year?

So if we can all agree that as soon as this year is done, we’ll give it our full attention then – sigh – we can allow at least a little cheer back in through the chimney.

But don’t hitch up those reindeer just yet, there are a few other candidates for gloom that threaten to beat the Grinch to it – stealing Christmas cheer that is.

Let’s start the Grinch list with the long view.

Imagine Nelson Mandela Bay 30 years from now.

Your children bundle you into the car (they’re now the earning adults and you’re the dependent) and off to the beach you go.

Summer means time by the sea, except for one small problem: Kings Beach doesn’t exist anymore, the beachfront has moved to where the stadium now is (if we’re lucky). Our bay has moved inland. In a recent article in Grist (November 21 2017), Eric Holthaus warns that two glaciers in Antarctica hold human civilisation hostage.

According to recent research, the two glaciers – Pine Island and Thwaites – act as a plug holding back enough ice that, when melted, would raise by 3.3m the sea level of the world’s oceans.

He suggests it’s “an amount that would submerge every coastal city on the planet”. The (likely) time frame? Twenty to 50 years from now!

So by 2037, Soweto-on-Sea will become Soweto-in-Sea.

Fortunately, many of us won’t be here by then so let’s kick that can down the road.

If you’re into books about South Africa, and you have enough socks and jocks, there’s a good chance either Crispian Olver’s How to Steal a City, or Jacques Pauw’s The

President’s Keepers will find their way onto your gift pile.

Not the most pleasant of reads.

In a nutshell, these two stories are about the people in whom we placed our trust (and tax money), and how their networks of greed and corruption have cost us billions of rands and have sabotaged almost every state-owned enterprise.

We wish they were fictional accounts and that some novelist dreamt up these tall tales, but the gut-wrenching, nauseating truth is that corruption (and the arising dysfunctionality) is the likely reason the National Development Plan’s anticipated 5% annual GDP growth rate has never materialised.

But never fear, the December ANC conference is near.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa looks likely to pip the good Doctor Zuma to the post and (overnight) South Africa will get working again.

So pour some more custard on that malva pudding and sing along to Bob Marley: “Don’t worry about a thing, ‘cos everything’s gonna be all right . .”

But worry you should, as the Grinch isn’t done yet.

He’s got a plan that will dash any chance of recovery.

His select focus is on the youth. It’s a simple plan – keep young people from working, give them nothing to do after school for long enough and it becomes a habit that can’t be broken.

New Year may inspire you to give up cigarettes, carbs or alcohol, but for the youth of our city – for those areas where youth unemployment exceeds 50% – the Grinch has them captured.

They’re more likely to turn to drugs and crime than to attempt the daily grind.

Which of course brings us to the issue most people would put at the top of the Christmas tree of gloom – crime.

With more than 500 murders per annum in our city, with the daily molestation of our children, the beating of spouses and partners, the jumping of fences into private yards to steal laptops and garden hoses, how can crime – violent or petty – not be the top challenge we face?

Or could it be government and state enterprise failure at all levels?

Think about local government audit fails (49 of 263 municipalities received clean audits from the auditor-general this year) or – if you can keep the bubbly down – think about the collapse of Eskom, SABC, SAA or Sassa.

It’s a tough list to stomach, but the real priority for our city in 2018 isn’t any of the above. It’s bubbles!

The real focus of our attention and the greatest threat we face is our comfort zones.

Based on the 2011 census, Stats-SA declared Nelson Mandela Bay the most segregated city in South Africa.

We largely still live in the communities the Group Areas Act moved us to.

With one exception: the black “middle class” are moving out of the townships/northern areas and into the suburbs.

We have sorted, and continue to sort, ourselves according to race and economic means.

And we’re very comfortable in this unconscious arrangement.

In his book, The Big Sort, American author Bill Bishop describes how in America due to advances in technology, ease of migration (to communities of similar values) and material abundance, his country is sorting itself into homogeneous communities, balkanised against difference, intolerant of outsiders, and polarised with regard to politics and culture.

His caution is simple but cataclysmic: “monocultures die”! It sounds too much like home.

So if you’re fortunate enough to have a holiday this festive season, take a walk through a patch of fynbos or stroll down a natural forest path and take a look: we’ve got it all wrong – diversity isn’t a nice-to-have.

Diversity is essential to the thriving of any natural system.

Perhaps 2018 can be the year we take up our greatest challenge: building a diverse society even though none of us truly want to change.

Leave a Reply