Special Reports

Prison break from poverty

Neville Gabriel

A night in prison is what guests at the 2012 Drivers of Change and Investing in the Future awards were invited to

The prison on Constitution Hill became a site of celebration for the
Drivers of Change awards this week. (Madelene Cronjé)

Neville Gabriel

This "internment" was in the name of a better future. The marquee erected adjacent to the prison on Constitution Hill was the site of celebration for this year's award winners.

It is important to remember that Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and many of the women who were jailed here triumphed over their captors to transform how we relate to each other. They created a new possibilities for all of us.

That is exactly what the Drivers of Change awards are about. They recognise and celebrate people who break new ground through practices that far exceed those of others. Their example makes it possible for the rest of us to think afresh about how we can collaborate to construct a brighter world than previously imagined.

The recipients are winners because they have escaped the prison of conventional thinking and made significant differences as a result.

Pakalitha Mosisili, the former prime minister of Lesotho accepted an opposition-party coalition taking over Lesotho's government — despite his party having won the majority of parliamentary seats — because he believed peace and stability were more important than resuming the mantle of prime minister. As a young activist he was jailed for more than a year without charge or trial. He later worked as prime minister to stabilise Lesotho and build a culture of political inclusion.

The young people in Enke: Make Your Mark — a youth-driven education and entrepreneurship organisation — are challenging the barriers of inequality in South Africa by voluntarily doing something to bridge glaring social and economic divides. These inspired youngsters are igniting fires of action for self-generated projects among the youth.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the new chairperson of the African Union Commission, has consistently proved that focused leadership and hard work can change the way the civil service works for citizens. Her determination and cross-border sensibility will hopefully drive a fresh approach to citizen-focused governance and nose-to-the-grindstone development work for progress throughout the African Union.

Anglo American's enterprise development arm, Zimele, has invested R655-million to support more than 1 200 small businesses, creating 23 000 jobs. It has also transformed its supply chain to offer sustained business opportunities to small businesses through its core business operations. This is an excellent example of inclusive business that maximises social benefits and optimises profits.

These are all remarkable examples of how a change in mind set can produce positive change.

Many dilemmas challenge relations between civil society groups, business and governments in Africa. There is a need for quality engagement between the main actors in these sectors that acknowledges that we are all citizens.

However, an assessment of regulation of the public sphere across the continent presents a confusing picture of engagement between state and non-state actors. The assessment shows that non-state actors have more access to policymakers. At the same time, however, there is greater threat from governments to tighten regulation over organised civil society.

The contradiction reflects an incomplete post-liberation transition between government and non-government actors in Africa. We are in the business of constructing working states, but have not yet re-imagined an adequate relationship between civil society and governments.

For more effective developmental results, including the eradication of poverty, we must break free from the ideas, attitudes and practices that hold us captive in our stale cells.

We have made self-imposed prisons. The hardest to escape are our those of the mind — the unchanging lenses through which we see things and think about the world. They limit our potential and hold us back from doing great things.

Today, the biggest fault lines in Africa's path of progress are the entrenched divides between governments, businesses and civil society. Yet, we are all citizens who want a better future. The winners of the Drivers of Change awards inspire us to reinvent our ways of doing things together.

Neville Gabriel is the executive director of the Southern Africa Trust and a member of the judging panel for the awards.

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