Neil Robinson | Up to us to make Mandela’s vision a reality in SA

Last month, the World Economic Forum released its Global Competitiveness Report 2018-2019 and the results appear bleak for SA.
It showed that out of 140 global economies evaluated, SA’s competitiveness had fallen to 67th – down five places from the previous spot.
The findings came at an especially depressing period for the country, with the economy in the grip of a technical recession and unemployment figures peaking at 27.5% in the third quarter, according to Statistics SA.
The hopeful sentiment that filled the nation at the start of the year, when President Cyril Ramaphosa came into power, appears to have evaporated and once again it feels as if we’re staring into a despairing economic abyss.
But I would like to argue that now is, in fact, a moment of opportunity.
We are facing great challenges, but this isn’t the first time we have stood on this kind of metaphorical cliff-edge.
And actually, we aren’t near the edge.
SA has faced far greater challenges and we have overcome them.
It might feel overstated, but we can take a cue from the late and undoubtedly great Nelson Mandela.
This slice of history is well known, but in this case it’s worth repeating: our country could so easily have fallen into the grip of a civil war in the early ‘90s, but it was the unifying voice and actions of people such as Mandela who pulled us away from that scary reality.
Struggle activists such as Ahmed Kathrada, Walter and Albertina Sisulu, and others could understandably have become overcome with bitterness at the cruelty and corruption of apartheid and the inhumane stranglehold it held on their lives, but they had a greater vision and determination.
There is a lesson for us in this.
We need to try to realise that vision and take inspiration from their strength to guide our beautiful country onto the path towards a better tomorrow.
The question is how?
There are numerous causes that we can support that play important roles in changing lives for the better.
You can choose any one of these, but I’m most concerned with programmes focused on education.
Mandela famously stated, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”, and the need for focus on education and skills development in SA has reached critical levels.
The Global Competitiveness Report states that SA languishes at 116th out of 140 countries in terms of digital skills prevalence.
In terms of critical thinking skills within the current workforce, we’re ranked 78th.
The report says: “[These rankings] are inadequate for the progress of a successful economy in the fourth industrial revolution.”
So what do we do about this? First, let’s look at the matter of empowering people with critical thinking skills.
For this, pupils need the foundations of literacy.
Literate people are obviously able to partake in lessons to equip them with new skills and knowledge.
A year ago you might have seen the headlines stating that 80% of SA grade 4 pupils are not able to read for meaning.
But don’t bury your head in your hands just yet: literacy intervention programmes have the data to prove that they’re effective.
My organisation has partnered with one of these – the Mandela Library Project (MLP).
This is a programme that identifies schools in need of literacy resources and then donates stocked libraries to them.
It falls under the Long Walk To Freedom organisation that released a report showing that the literacy annual national assessment (ANA) results of pupils at more than 100 schools had significantly improved after libraries had opened there.
One such school is Qoyintaba Primary, a severely underresourced school in KwaZuluNatal, whose grade 3s recorded a literacy ANA average of 41.1% in their home language in 2012.
In that year, MLP opened a library there.
In 2013 grade 3s at the school recorded a literacy ANA rate of 58.48%.
I cite this not to punt Relate or this partnership (though that is the point of this piece isn’t it? To inspire you to support organisations such as ours!).
I’m pointing this out because programmes such as these can easily show why they work.
It’s also because education forms the basis of a functioning and prosperous country.
We each have the means to support organisations like MLP.
This doesn’t necessarily mean money.
Your time is of equal value. The books taking up space in the back of your cupboard can unlock the potential of another Einstein or Siyabulela Xuza.
If you’re unfamiliar with that second name, Xuza is an Mthatha-born engineer who invented a cheaper, safer form of rocket fuel.
He’s studied at Harvard and has a whole planet named after him!
The point is that we have so much potential.
Yes, we have challenges but in challenge lies opportunity.
So is there reason to despair? Probably.
Is the vision of Mandela et al impossible to reach? That’s up to you.
For more information on the campaign with the MPL and how you can support it, visit
Neil Robinson is CEO of the Relate Trust. It is a proudly 100% not-for-profit social enterprise which predominantly sells handmade beaded bracelets around the world to raise money for charities globally, while creating jobs for people in low-income communities...

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