Adding to the social and economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic, the unrest and looting that took place in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in July was a major wake-up call for South Africa.
Although the destruction of property and livelihoods was devastating and has set the country’s economic recovery back significantly, I believe it is a watershed moment that has the potential to set us on a more sustainable path. I am referring specifically to the new level of focus and collaboration between government and business post the unrest that resulted in a clear, action-based response.
Business has worked with the government in various ways for years, and is currently collaborating on issues ranging from local industry development to land reform initiatives and social and economic development, including supporting South Africans during Covid-19. But the riots brought business and government together with a new urgency to stabilise and secure the country, provide relief, support rebuilding, and accelerate inclusive economic recovery. Government opened the door for us to help and we did all we could to jointly ensure that food supplies were secured, people were fed, the army was housed and catered for, and routes were re-opened.
Being called together to share information and work out a common action strategy was, in my view, a significant affirmation by the government of business’ role in supporting the economy and driving strategic execution. When we work together with a common vision, we get things done.
This brings me to the question of where to from here. While the causes of the unrest are complex, they were certainly fuelled by high levels of social frustration driven by rising unemployment, poor living conditions and the slow pace of change. A prerequisite for recovery is an environment where people’s basic needs are met, leadership is held accountable, and business is able to operate securely and provide jobs. If the government lays the foundations for this decisively and transparently, the business sector can provide action-based support and help bring the social stability we need.
There is no doubt that recent events have battered business confidence and dented our image as a country. But teetering on the edge of the proverbial cliff has definitely sparked a new unity among South Africans. It showed how business, civil society and government can each play their part in a more sustainable future.
Let’s not miss this opportunity to see and do things differently. We’ve seen what we can do together – now let’s do more.