Cheryl Carolus visits Rhodes

In a time when political apathy is reportedly on the rise and many South Africans appear bewildered as to how to effectively confront poor leadership and widening inequality and income gaps, Ms Cheryl Carolus called for a new approach in understanding who and what citizens should mobilise against.

“The enemies today are poverty and inequality. With the biggest gap between the haves and the have-nots in the world, are we surprised that Marikana happened? Or that we have such big problems? Or that babies die while levels of obesity and consumption are on the increase?”

Describing the economy as being “under severe threat” as a result of unsustainable consumerism and the “shocking” gaps between high earners and the workforce, Ms Carolus called for South Africans to make major lifestyle shifts and adopt an approach exemplified by former president Nelson Mandela. “Austerity will stand us in good stead now. Good leaders must lead and I appeal to those who have earned handsomely over the last few years to make demonstrable sacrifices in what they expect for bonuses and salaries while our economic hardship increases. If you don’t, you have no right to expect your workforce to be reasonable,” she said.

“As long as such discrepancies in earning persist, social solidarity cannot develop, and without it there will never be social cohesion. Those in leadership in the public and private sectors can and must decide at this point in history and must choose to close the shocking gaps,” she said.

In her presentation entitled, ‘Your future is the one you choose – now go and build it’, Ms Carolus shared an inspired vision for a future South Africa, in which citizens contribute meaningfully to their communities and hold those in positions of power accountable. “All we won when we won the vote was the right to shape our own future. Now it’s in our hands. Now we need to decide how this good house of ours will be furnished, whether we will plant good seeds.

We must decide who sits at the table where the food is served. We are the generation who will decide if we only have very small tables where only a few sit and eat everything and most people are outside, looking in through heavily guarded barricaded gates, or whether our house will be full of laughter where no one is obese but all get taken care of.”

To build a dream, Ms Carolus said, vision, plan, tools and people are required. “We have all of that now and yet we are floundering. I believe that today, as indeed in the future, we will continue to have to make choices which have consequences – which all choices do – consequences we and generations to come will have to live with. In the end, we shouldn’t be relying on government; we should be looking at our own greed.”

Ms Carolus explained her notion of a “culture of enoughness” which she hopes will begin to spread around the country and encourage a paradigm shift. “You are the only obstacle between you and any goal you seek to achieve. Be ambitious, not complacent. Lift as you rise. Your growth and success will be so much deeper if it adds value to yourself and society around you. Societies need generations who value their contributions to society.”

Ms Carolus was hosted by Rhodes University’s Business School.

Ms Carolus is the Executive Chairperson of Peotona Group Holdings, a women owned and managed company. She serves on a number of listed and unlisted companies and has recently been appointed as Chairperson of Gold Fields. She also served as Chairperson of the Board of South African Airways. Ms Carolus has also previously held senior leadership positions in the liberation movement in South Africa and in the African National Congress. She has served as Deputy Secretary General under Nelson Mandela, and helped to negotiate the new South African constitution and coordinate the drafting of post-apartheid ANC policy.

She served as South Africa’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom from 1998 to 2001 and was the CEO of SA Tourism from 2001 to 2004. She was Chairperson of South African National Parks Board for six years. She also works with NGOs focused on young people at risk, conflict prevention and conservation and biodiversity.

Article by Sarah-Jane Bradfield

Photo By Stephen Penney