Roberto CoelhoBy Roberto Coelho|April 5, 2022|6 Minutes|In Opinion


Pride is the spur

The weeks pass and the war in Ukraine turns from disbelief to anger and horror. Many South Africans are still puzzling why their government, run by the ruling African National Congress, refused to condemn the Russian invasion that has led to the death of hundreds of women and children.

To decipher the ANC’s response to the Russia Ukraine War, I interviewed Steven Gruzd, an author, and the Head of the African Governance and Diplomacy Programme at the South African Institute of International Affairs. “Once the ANC is your friend, they stay your friend for a very long time.”For a start, Russia is a member of BRICS. The acronym was devised to associate the five major emerging economies, Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.

The Russian – ANC relations go back decades before the founding of BRICS in 2006. During South Africa’s struggle against apartheid, the ANC was in exile in neighboring countries. In partnership with the South African Communist Party, it formed uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the military wing of the ANC in 1961. All in all;  an expensive operation.

The Soviet Union supported the ANC with financial aid, arms, ammunition, and military training. Businessman and activist Tokyo Sexwale was among a number of ANC cadres trained in the Soviet Union as military officers. The ANC leadership bears the birthmark of this support. “The Soviet Union was one of the main supporters of the anti-apartheid movement. Many of our leaders received training and studied in the USSR, if not in the satellite states of the former Warsaw Pact countries.”

Sitting on the fence seems to be an uncomfortable position for President Ramaphosa who faces an uphill economic battle and a slippery road to the ANC elective conference later in 2022.

The silence on Ukraine is yet another President vs party moment, like the private business push from the State of the Nation. “In the state of the nation address, the president said, the government doesn’t create jobs, businesses create jobs. That had a backlash from the Communist Party the unions.” This political fencing is more than just news headlines and social media memes. There are serious economic impacts depending on each decision.

The economy faces discouraged job seekers,s unemployment rate of 46.6%, with currently 46% of the population on government grants. When blended with the mass brain drain, high bureaucracy, poor communication due to the lack of spectrum, load shedding, etc. “It’s almost like we’re a powder keg that’s just waiting for an excuse to explore, so we’re in trouble economically. Is this going to be a wake-up call for the ANC to reform?” However, it is not all doom and gloom. Concurrently South Africa is experiencing an influx of cash and investment due to the commodity boom.

Maybe it is time for young entrepreneurs to stand up. “I think there’s definitely a wave of young skilled people in South Africa who are saying there is a future.” The ‘Silicon Cape’ and the ever-increasing number of technology startups on the South African stage is dragging the country into the future. Good news stories seem to be more prevalent, for example, Woolworths brings back R1 billion from Australia as they see local growth opportunities.

But at the beginning the question was posed, what is South Africa’s missing ingredient? Even as the good news spreads, pessimistic thoughts occupy the air and negative attitudes fill stuffy office buildings. “I think it starts with little things – especially pride,” says Grudz. The lack of national pride is no longer seen as a problem, it is seen as a reality.

Looking at case studies, maybe pride is a large factor, after all, “the American Dream” – not everyone’s cup of tea -is based on American pride encouraging individuals to work hard to fulfill. In fulfilling dreams, giant corporations were started, and legends were written leading to a global superpower. This may be an oversimplification, however, the point is still relevant. Maybe for South Africa, the missing element is national pride, and pride comes either from the top or from the bottom.

With a pride vacuum at the top, it becomes each citizen’s responsibility to generate national pride in other citizens. If the change of mindset is successful, South Africa will use the influx of cash and investment to change course.