We’re going nowhere if we don’t all step into the middle
Prosperity will be found in the intersection of the circles, not in autonomy, not in dominance
I didn’t relish getting up at 4am on Saturday, but I had to get to the park-and-ride in Pretoria by 5am, from where buses would take us to Loftus Versfeld stadium for the inauguration of the president.
It felt good to be there, among everyone. It was to be a day filled with lessons – of unity and of division, at a personal, sit-next-to-me level.
Once through security, I finally boarded a bus. No sooner had I sat down than the lady seated immediately behind me tapped me on the shoulder. “It is customary to introduce yourself when you sit down in front of someone,” she said. It was an invitation, not a criticism. We introduced ourselves, as did many other strangers, as we set off with common cause before dawn to bear witness to the new dawn.
I arrived at the stadium at 6.08am, before first light. Formal proceedings were scheduled to start only at 11am, so we had five hours to mull around, see and be seen, as they say. Dress was formal/traditional and people had put in an effort, so there was a lot to see and be seen – it was the first time I’ve sat in a suit and tie in the stands of a rugby stadium.
As we mingled in eager anticipation of the rising sun, and after it had risen, interactions unfolded in real time. I didn’t know the words to the songs. I so wished I did. Every now and again I’d catch a word I knew, or repetition would help me join in, if only phonetically. I wanted to sing, loud and proud, like so many around me were doing.
The Soweto Gospel Choir can get anyone off their seat. Maybe white men can’t dance, but I didn’t have to look at myself and nobody seemed to mind, so I had a go. If you have a go, even if you’ve got minimal rhythm and you don’t know all the steps, you’re in, you’re included.
Saturday was all about inclusion. No matter what you wore, or which language you spoke, which religion you followed, or how far apart the worlds were from whence you’d journeyed to get there, there we were, side by side, closer than you’d be in an economy-class airline seat. It felt good, comfortable and easy (the SAA fly-past, by the way, like all the others, was amazing, daring, flawless).
It was just for one day.
We’re back at work now, operating, it seems to me, in parallel universes, with very little intersection of understanding on the ground where it matters.
We all understand the problems. Explanations about the states of economic inequality, poverty and unemployment abound. We also have clarity on outcomes-based wish lists; we all know where we should be. But there isn’t a plan, an implementation sequence that’s going to get us there. It’s because we spend more time talking about each other than to each other and we spend more time talking than listening.
If we do more of the same we’ll get more of the same. The same people are still building skyscrapers and malls, and the same people are still starting spaza shops. It’s the middle ground that needs to be found. It won’t require generosity of spirit, or social conscience, political force or regulatory protection (or enablement). It will only require an intelligent analysis of the facts.
Universal economic and social equations do not have to be localised – just apply them to our data. Treat all numbers equally, without bias, and the business cases of our future will write themselves. Imposing special local rules for local agendas may be popular or even provide fleeting relief, but won’t attract foreign investment.
We must choose to act together to define the middle ground. Solutions will be found in the intersection of the circles, not in autonomy, not in dominance. Enduring relationships recognise the value and sanctity of the intersection. It determines prosperity, if not survival.
At a personal level, it is no different. It’s the middle ground that must be protected, not at the expense of the individuals, but precisely to ensure their survival. The person who takes the first step towards the middle wins. Let’s break some rules, blur some lines, and get on with it.