Hey Obed, howzit.

I trust all is good and you cracked the nod to the Queen’s 90th.

I haven’t been much in the party mood lately. I’m normally the first to down tequilas and throw myself into the arms of Morningside madams. But a few sobering things have happened lately. 

I saw a post on Facebook which, though quite trite, hit home. A friend posted a picture of children in Zululand crossing a river on the way to school. 

“President Zuma, how can you take R250 million of taxpayers’ money to build yourself a home when born-frees are defying death just to get an education? Please take some money just to build these kids a bridge. #crythebelovedcountry”.

So we know there is a moral deficit in South Africa’s political leadership, but it’s one thing to repeatedly knock the ANC, as I do, it’s another to engage around South Africa’s challenges.

Let me explain.

I was moved by Tongaat Hulett CEO Peter Staude’s keynote address at the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry dinner at the ICC last week. 

He made a powerful speech about social change.

I was reminded of it on a trip to Johannesburg this week.

I chatted to David, my 34-year-old Uber driver, who described himself as lucky.

Since he moved to Uber eight months ago, his life is much better. He no longer drives a truck and now earns R8000 a month. He gets to spend more time with his wife and two kids aged 8 and 11. The Uber job has allowed his wife to pack in her R60 a day gig as an office cleaner, because R30 was spent on bus fare anyway. 

I asked him if he’d ever been to Durban.

“No,” he said smiling. I showed him a picture of the beach on my cellphone.

He and his family have never been on holiday, ever.

“S’true’s God, I’m telling you,” he said shyly. 

“I take them to eat out, maybe once in three months, when I get paid.”

It makes them very happy, he said.

Staude’s thought provoking message at the ICC was around perceptions of business and how some believe it exists to enrich a small elite.

“In society there is a serious mistrust towards business and a sharp sense of injustice.”

Staude said expectations are not being met and he urged South Africans to do a “mind flip” and answer the call to developmental action.

He wasn’t prescriptive, saying we each need to address how we interface with these multi fold challenges. It would help, he added, if we had “synergy and the alliance of multiple stakeholders to resolve our problems”.

Businesses deliver products and solve problems. Good businesses add value.

So, Staude asked, how does each of us add value to society?

Little choices, like using a caddie versus driving a golf cart, impacts on society and the unemployment challenge.

Business, he said, was generally good at innovation and problem solving. It would do well to apply itself more to tackling serious social issues and become part of the solution.

Staude said it was dangerous to develop a Zimbali and ignore the dynamics of the 4,000 workers that go through the gates every day.

Where do workers stay and what are their transport options?

Income inequality is a big issue in South Africa. Think about what you are doing and what more you can do. We need job creation, economic growth, a more thriving, innovative and competitive small business sector and to tackle serious environmental issues.

A bit of corporate social investment is not enough, Staude added. 

“Each one of you has the possibility to develop innovative, practical approaches that will have an enormous positive impact on our developmental challenges.”

So there you have it, Obed. I have strayed from my usual flippancy because, every day, I’m increasingly reminded that we have to act with conscience in South Africa. 

It may be lacking in politics, but it doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t have it and exercise it regularly.

Our lives don’t have to be defined by Umshini Wami and his ilk.

Have a flash weekend, boet!