Thousands protest against gender violence, outside parliament in Cape Town, September 5 2019. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER
Thousands protest against gender violence, outside parliament in Cape Town, September 5 2019. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER

After a week of torment and violence, it is not possible to return to our places of work, our homes or our places of worship without deep sadness. There is barely a family in our precious country that has not been not touched in some way by domestic or xenophobic violence, by lawlessness or insecurity.

When this happens we turn inward, away from the essence that makes us the special nation we are, away from that spirit that recognises that, together, we are a nation alive with possibilities.

And yet, at this time, we should recognise that in a country which struggles to provide an education that equips its citizens to find meaningful and dignified work; where health-care services are often inadequate; where the most vulnerable are the most exposed; and where the lawless are not held accountable fast enough — this is a country in which citizens will feel excluded and economically marginalised with little to lose. It is a dangerous place where violence is one way of demonstrating power.

On the other hand, a country that prioritises inclusive growth; where every person has a job; where everyone has an appropriate education, health services and housing; in which lawlessness has no place; and where there is demonstrable social justice, is a country with space for all its peoples, in which all its residents have a vested interest in its success.

This can be our country. What we have been witnessing should be a call to action for us all. There are a number of big policy issues with which we need to grapple as a country to resolve the critical issues at the centre, and we should continue to insist that government acts with urgency to address them. But we cannot afford to and should not wait for government to do so. We need to take action as individuals and companies to proactively find a more equitable way for our society to evolve.

Do we speak up when we see violence and demand accountability? Do we intervene when we hear language that is dehumanising or designed to incite? Do we pay our staff equitably and our service providers timeously? Are we finding ways to prioritise inclusive growth in how we do our business? Are we consciously looking for fairer ways to share the benefits of our legal licences to operate between our stakeholders, of ways to include the economically marginalised?

We need to demand more from each other and hold to account those (both in the public and the private sector) who threaten our fragile society. That means we need to change the way we interact — doing so conscious of whether what we are doing advances a socially just outcome or only that which is good for ourselves. We need to build a shared narrative of a country in which all its peoples can thrive.

This is why we should not allow this moment to pass only in memorials and marches. The debate on the future vision for our country is not one we should allow to be fought only in the Twitterverse, or at the extremes of political rhetoric. It affects the daily lives of each of us.

We deserve better. But if we want the country we know we can be, we have to take responsibility for making that happen.

Nicky Newton-King, CEO, JSE