Cape Town - Ignore the "noise at the top" and rather get into action to ensure a better future for SA and especially its youth, said well-known anti-apartheid activist Jay Naidoo on Friday.
Naidoo is, amongst others, on the board of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, which promotes African development through a focus on good governance. He was the guest speaker at the monthly networking breakfast of the Ubuntu Foundation at the Atlantic Imbizo Conference & Function Studio in the V&A Waterfront.
"I get inspired by people who 'do'. If I had to listen all the time to the noise at the top, I would have to go and sit in the Himalayas or take a pill," joked Naidoo.
"We have so many crises in SA and in the world. It is very important not to make the same mistake more than once. We need to connect our past to the present and realise what the world is we want to leave behind for our children."
He called SA a "laboratory of diversity", yet, pointed out humans are 99.9% identical on a genome level.
"We should promote the idea that we as humans are all from one ancient historic route and we should think before we do things," cautioned Naidoo.
"The future of Africa is about how we can together leverage assets - including business assets - for inclusive growth. This can be done through uniting the heart and the head and not just being materialistic, but getting the youth out of poverty instead of joining gangs or turning to crime."
A big question for him is why protests in SA always lead to violence. He even called SA "the protest capital of the world".
"The question now is which direction we want SA to go and what each individual has to do, as opposed to just becoming more and more negative," said Naidoo.
"Millions of people are doing things. We must have inter-generational conversations in SA. Young people are becoming more angry with and dismissive of my generation and they have a right to be."
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Another big question for him is what development paradigm SA needs.
"Technology is redefining the world and 80% of manual work can be replaced by machines. So, what education should we provide people? Are we providing relevant skills?" asked Naidoo.
"Work with local communities to help them create their own income. It is estimated that by 2050 75% of Africa's population will be younger than 25. Africa also has two thirds of arable land in the world. So, why is it a poor continent?"
In his view it is important to look at governance, leadership and "connecting the heart and the head".
"We must build the right type of leadership and the right type of democracy from below - from within communities," he said. "Where is the Mandela of the world of today? We have a shocking deficit of leadership in the world."
He recounted how he was one of the first people to meet Mandela on the day of his release from prison.
"I asked Madiba how it felt to leave prison after 27 years and how he felt towards his jailers. Madiba said: 'If I walk out of these gates with bitterness and anger in my heart, I will forever be a prisoner'."
Naidoo pointed out that what divides "the suburbs from the townships" is just a piece of land.
"We can all take some action and learn to trust. Just go and make contact. You will feel inspired. Create hubs for conversations, especially among young people," he suggested.
"Our leaders have forgotten about Mandela's ability to listen. We must learn to listen to each other again. Build pathways on the ground to connect communities. Create safe spaces where people can have conversations."
He cautioned that South Africans must find a way to have these constructive conversations, especially with the youth, otherwise "some opportunists out there" will seize the chance to "burn things down, because they take a short-term view".
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