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It was Michelangelo, the world famous sculptor, painter, architect and poet who once articulated that, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it”. All it required was imagination. So, join me in a journey of imagination about South Africa.

The year is 2032 and things have changed for the better. 

The era of corruption, state capture, cronyism and state plunder is now more than a decade behind us. Those responsible for such foul deeds have been brought to justice and are now serving ‘community time’. In terms of their punishment and rehabilitation, a truth and reconciliation tribunal has insisted that over and above their obligatory one year penal sentence, the children and grandchildren of these perpetrators of crimes against humanity will be responsible for the offender’s re-habituation to a normal society. Community service for these miscreants is mandatory. The offspring of these offenders are held in high esteem within society and are specifically involved in education programmes that engender ethical behaviour. These children, the vanguard of a national societal renaissance, are highly regarded and they destined to be change-makers and future leaders.   

Indeed, things have ‘radically transformed’ in South Africa and we are now ruled by a coalition government, comprised largely of representatives from civil society organisations and a sprinkling of representatives from die-hard political parties of the past. The new dispensation has introduced an innovative model of democratic socialism into the governance equation. In essence it is truly a government of the people, by the people, for the people. The country is the new international benchmark for good governance, prosperity and peace. Undeniably, we are free, in every sense of the word. Our freedom fighters would be proud of the new South Africa.

We are standing on a hilltop admiring a scenic view of Shangrila, a sustainable and well-laid out city, formerly known as Soweto. It is no more the south western township of Johannesburg. The air enveloping this new digital hub is fresh and crisp and greenery abounds. Shangrila is the epitome of a Smart City in the fifth industrial revolution.  

Suddenly we see some young children, girls and boys, emerging from the doorway to a neat little cottage. They then exit through the garden gate and we decide to follow them to see the new South Africa.

They step out into a glorious sun-drenched day that is tempered with a light breeze. They happily walk on the pavement and the atmosphere is abuzz with laughter and gaiety as they discuss what they intend to buy from the local friendly cooperative. Democratically, they all decide to buy health lollypops with the budgeted money that they earned for their good deeds.

They eagerly tear the wrappers of their well-earned lollypops and search for the roadside garbage collection station where they carefully put the paper in a designated receptacle which is clearly marked as ‘recycled paper’. As they mulling about the station to discard the wrappers, an elderly couple strolls by. An exchange of pleasantries follows between the children and the elders. The couple wants directions to a neighbourhood supermarket and the children oblige with the assistance of their smart phones. Judging from the tenor of the conversation as the elders leave, it was quite obvious children the feel proud that they have provided service to senior members of their community.

Licking their lollypops, the children continue their walk on the pavement, not having to hold their noses as vehicles passed by. The air is pollution-free. There are no open drains or piled up garbage to avoid. It is a clean and healthy environment. Even the neighbourhood dogs are friendly and wag their tails in acknowledgment of the children’s greetings. No beggars are found at street corners or intersections. Poverty has been conquered, inequality is on the wane and crimes against person and property haev almost been eradicated.   

In their moment of joy, the children continue with their escapade and are even more adventurous. In their carefree abandon they decide to cross a bridge which spans over a new stream that the planners of Shangrila had introduced to their new city from a nearby dam. They have no real intention or idea where they are going. They are on a journey to freedom.

As they cross the bridge, they decide to look down at the stream and peer into the crystal clear water. The children do not even seem to notice the water’s purity. They simply enjoy the distorted mirrored reflections of themselves as the stream’s tranquillity is disturbed by a stone thrown by one of their lot. They continue on their unchartered route, licking their lollypops. Further on they cross the road at a zebra crossing just for the fun of seeing the cars pause for them. Public transport is battery powered and driverless. Private taxi drones hover above. Rules and regulations of road and air safety are electronically governed.

The children then skip off and walked on the pavement of another winding street. They stop at another garbage collection point which is almost adjacent to a humble-looking house, to throw their finished lollipop sticks into a bin. It is at this time they overhear the lady of the house saying to her husband how she had enjoyed her visit to the local Home Affairs office. She talks about how just a decade ago it was almost like a visit to hell. It was only after she was able to bribe an official that her request for an identity document was finalised after a six-month delay. She complements the personnel at the office for their courteous behaviour and empathy in making her once more believe in humanity. In the new political dispensation civil service has been reclaimed as a calling.

The children are confused. They do not realise that years earlier such inhumane treatment at the Home Affairs office or any other government office for that matter had become a way of life.

The little ones begin to hum their favourite tunes and see a group of teenagers in their school uniforms in buses, heading to their schools with bright and cheerful faces. As they see them, the children wave and they wave back, laughing at how adorable the little ones are, in their brightly coloured outfits. Overjoyed at being recognised by their older counterparts, they start to skip along the street once more, till they reach a statue. It is that of a skinny and frail child with unkempt hair and pitiful eyes. The effigy holds a bent plate in his hand, and is gesturing at his stomach, with tears in his eyes. The children are by now filled with curiosity and something akin to horror as they see the statue standing there. As they linger, they hear another little one say, “Mama, why is that boy so sad?”, to which the child’s mother explains about the history of poverty and begging and how it had been eradicated a decade ago.

The children go on, but no more skipping, as their hearts are heavy and their minds buzzing about that statue. They have never seen any child like that before. They walk on and come across a store displaying television sets. One set is tuned to the Mars where a new human colony has developed. On the news channel they watch the newsreader discuss with some government official cordially about the introduction of robotics in service delivery. Understanding little, they proceed further and reach a park. There, they see a girl talking to her friend about how she had taken environmental science as a career and why she had chosen so. In another bench, a few boys are discussing the recent international success of their national soccer team. Seeing no bench for them to sit on, they go over to the swings and glide to and fro, enlivened by all the greenery around.

Soon, the sun starts to set and the children decide to head back home. But they have forgotten which way they came. They look around. Everything seems different in the dim light of the dusk. Just when they are about to panic, someone calls, “Are you lost, little ones?” They look up and see a woman in uniform looking at them concernedly. Relieved to see a community-based policewoman, they all skip over to her and inform her that they are indeed lost.

Eventually, they all reach home, with the policewoman by their side, looking as cheerful as they had been when they had set out. They profusely thank their rescuer and hop into their respective cosy homes.

It was at this point that a sudden thundershower ended my imaginary expedition with the children of tomorrow and I was abruptly fast tracked to the realities of contemporary South Africa. I am yet full of hope for our children and their future, despite the fact that we as an irresponsible generation have failed them.

* PROFESSOR DHIRU SONI is Director for Research at REGENT Business School and writes in his personal capacity.



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