After a sojourn via Lagos airport my family and I arrived in Oliver Tambo international airport at 5 am two weeks ago- laden with cases and a sense of excitement coming back to South Africa, my home country. There is always the sense of wanting to see what has changed since we were last here.
Unlike the international airport in Lagos, Oliver Tambo is pristine. Given that recent newspaper reports provide that Nigeria is now the biggest economy in Africa it was hard to believe the contrast.
Even so, there is more to a country than the international airport it has for show: where is the infrastructure to support this? How come the majority of the population live on less than $1.25 a day?
If one digs deeper into the country and its current governance structure you cannot fail to take notice of the staggering and endemic poverty. Over half the population is under 35 and most of these young adults are unemployed. Even if the youth go to school and matriculate (the equivalent to a first year A level) there are no jobs to support them.
Aside from the Oscar Pistorious trial and the ‘rottweiler’ cross examination of Gerry Nel, the news was constantly dominated by murders and rapes taking place on a daily basis -the figures now outstripping Brazil’s. And then, of course, we have the South African President, Jacob Zuma, a man with little or no morals, corruption charges hanging over him, and a sense of being untouchable with the run up to the next election. What has the ANC delivered to this ‘rainbow nation’? Where is the education system? How does the country allow one of its ANC youth leaders, Malema, to acquire billions at the expense of the public system he was in charge of at the time of accumulating these riches?
The bleak picture continues…
The platinum mining strikes are entering into their third week. The union refuses to back down and those miners thinking of returning to work to earn a living are too afraid of the repercussions. We fail to notice what is happening here from Europe – the news was hot when it all kicked off, but it fades into insignificance next to the coverage of the Pistorious ‘celebrity’ trial…
Having got used to recycling every item that we can think of in the UK, with the infrastructure to support it, we resigned ourselves to throwing away everything. There are no paper recycling bins, perhaps the odd glass recycling container, but mostly people live with a sense of ‘throw it all away’ –an attitude which sadly seems to apply to life there, too.
In many ways I was disheartened, mostly because of the fact that there just seems such an enormous challenge facing this continent, to draw its people out of hopelessness into a place free of corruption and fear into a powerful economy that supports all those contributing it.
But I also saw glimmers of hope, even in the media coverage. I picked up a Mail and Guardian on Sunday, and there was an entire section on corporate social investment (“CSI”). Interestingly, a research project that shows the motives behind business adopting CSI programmes is driven more by a desire to contribute to the country’s development than racking up government broad –based black economic empowerment (B-BEEE) scorecard points. The key drivers cited by the Tshikululu survey into what really drives corporate social responsibility in South Africa are that companies:
– are driven primarily by values;
– feel regulatory pressure, even though the benefits of compliance are unclear; and
– feel pressure from communities, but the response is largely impulsive
Where does this leave companies in South Africa that are not embracing CSI – there were no figures to show how many companies are indeed managing their social and environmental impacts or reporting on these issues. What of human rights impacts – the devastating miners strikes, the massacre at Marikina, the continued pressure on companies to cede power to a black majority that is not properly skilled and more importantly the corrosive effect of corruption leaves me thinking that the landscape for responsible business in Africa is still unchartered. And for real change to take place, governments have to address their internal structures and look to how they can improve the moral and strategic case for investing in South Africa and indeed other African countries.
Africa, in its unique entirety and its vastness and beauty, deserves Leaders that share a vision of responsible governance and a Mandela aspiration of a society sharing in equal opportunities. And for business to follow suit.