The iconic writer Ursula K Le Guin died last week. She was mourned by many the world over.
In her story The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas she writes of a rich, happy, peaceful city called Omelas. Here, everything is “abundantly pleasing”.
Tables sigh with the weight of food packed upon them. Music rings through the streets.
The buildings are perfect, the gardens verdant, the children brighteyed and joyous. Happiness and laughter abound. And yet for this wealth, peace, serenity and joy, there is a price.
Somewhere in the bowels of this city a child is kept in a dungeon, living in perpetual filth, darkness and misery.
This child is chained, hungry, pained and alone.
No kindness is allowed to this child.
If the child is freed and cared for, then the entire city will fall into normality – rich and poor, healthy and frail, up and down, tough and easy, unequal and brutal, war and maybe peace.
At some point, as they grow up, every child in the city has to be shown this child and the truth about the city’s happiness explained to them.
“Once citizens are old enough to know the truth most, though initially shocked and disgusted, ultimately acquiesce with that one injustice which secures the happiness of the rest of the city,” a description of the story says.
“However, a few citizens, young and old, silently walk away from the city, and no one knows where they go.”
It is a haunting, shattering story. It is perhaps the story of South Africa.
I spent last week travelling through some of the most beautiful parts of the Western Cape.
Through Paarl and Hermanus and many others, this is Omelas.
I went running through the beautiful Val de Vie estate – it is more pleasing than Omelas.
We have a filthy child tied up in our basement – it is the poverty, the unemployment, the inequality and the poor education that so many of our people grind through every day. We face a massive challenge.
We have to build infrastructure, create jobs, reignite the economy, improve maths and science education.
The Zuma years were a dead loss for ideas. We stopped thinking and began walking apart as a people. The idea of a united South Africa with a shared future went out the window. Perhaps the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as ANC president offers us an opportunity to address some of those issues.
In the 1990s we lost the opportunity to impose a tax on the wealthy. Perhaps the time was wrong. Perhaps it was a bad idea. But the thought itself contains the seeds of what many leaders in organisations like Business Leadership SA are saying: what can we do to be part of the story of meaningful change in South Africa?
Last week, Ramaphosa told a dinner in Davos: “Each one of us must contribute to ensure that we have a shared future in this fractured world.
“So, we are all called upon – citizens of South Africa – and as contributors of either capital or technology, to get South Africa to work together to have this shared future.
“Can we all agree that we are going to have a shared future – a shared future that is based on a shared vision?”
We cannot have a shared future if 27% of our people are unemployed and thousands of children are receiving sub-par education.
Is it perhaps time for a once-off tax on the wealthy, ALL the wealthy and high-earning, black and white, that goes into a reconstruction and development programme?
This kitty would be for targeted implementation of infrastructure and education improvements as envisaged in the National Development Plan. It should not be a blank cheque.
It should come with performance targets from the Ramaphosa administration. First, Zuma and his corrupt cronies must go.
Institutions such as the Hawks, NPA, SARS and others must be cleansed and credible new leaders installed.
Essentially, what happened at Eskom nine days ago must cascade through the entire system.
Rebuilding South Africa can be easy. Already the confidence that has drained away domestically and internationally is returning.
Investment will return if the right steps are taken by a new ANC leadership. How can each one of us help to make our shared future a reality?
A wealth tax may not be the best idea. But let’s find some bright, new, innovative ideas to begin the rebuilding of our beloved country.
There is no better time than this.