South Africans are constantly looking for ways to participate in the development of the country, for avenues to affirm their belonging as valuable citizens. However, for many it seems as though the odds are not in their favour.

Earlier this year President Cyril Ramaphosa was reported to have said that he wanted to tie white people to trees — in a desperate attempt to illustrate that he does not want whites to leave SA. It may also have been an attempt to reassure white South Africans that they have a place and a role to play in today’s SA, that the country and its economy can benefit from their skills and expertise. All well-meaning, I assume, but this tongue-in-cheek statement was spoken out of turn.

No-one, white or black, should be forced to stay in a country that no longer serves their needs. Attempting to keep people in SA who have found value and validity elsewhere is unsustainable. We should instead be looking at long-term solutions that will ensure that we develop, en masse, critically needed skills for our people.

In the late 1990s the Black Management Forum, through the Black Economic Empowerment Commission, put forward an integrated human resource development strategy, which eventually resulted in the establishment of the Human Resource Development Council of SA. Maybe the council could advise the nation why in 2019 my president wants to tie white people to trees so that they don’t leave the country.

The problem in SA is not primarily a lack of jobs but rather a lack of employable candidates. SA’s brain drain is not racially exclusive. All skilled South Africans will explore their options elsewhere for as long as they do not feel they can reach their full potential in this country.

We need to shift our focus to upskilling South Africans of all races, and especially those who were previously disadvantaged, to create an environment where South Africans feel that their skills are valued and they do not need to affiliate with any political party to be eligible to contribute to SA’s progress. Let us create valued citizens who are well skilled to help the country grow economically while also espousing values that make a positive impact on this country.

This requires thought and action on our part; the time is now to roll up our sleeves, find out our needs and develop skills in keeping with what our economy needs both today and in the future. The fourth industrial revolution will require a different set of skills and we need to be ready for that.

The structures we have in place to upskill citizens for future economic participation may well be outdated at best and redundant at worst. Instead of the government being a hindrance, it needs to be a well-structured and well-capacitated enabler.

We need to focus on moulding skilled and highly motivated South Africans whose place in their own country and its economy is so obvious to them that staying in the country is a no-brainer. Like Ramaphosa said at his inauguration, we need to embrace excellence, not mediocrity. That mental orientation has to start with the public sector, from where it will trickle down.

We live in a global economy, and those with skills to trade will trade them wherever they see fit as long as the domestic environment is not conducive.

• Maweni, a former Black Management Forum MD, chairs the Valued Citizens Initiative.