Paulina French recently ran the Soweto Marathon and shares her experiences: from the welcome the runners received from Soweto residents to the reality of poor service delivery. She reflects that the inner strength needed to push through the most difficult parts of the race is the same kind of response South Africa requires in light of the ailing economy. Springbok captain Siya Kolisi’s words give her hope that it is possible for South Africans to pull together to solve the many problems the country faces.
This past week has been one filled with hope for me. Our Rugby team, captained for the first time by a black man, are top of the world rankings after pulling off a 32-12 win against England. Social media went wild and, as footage of South Africans from all walks of life celebrating went viral, I felt a sense of pride and of hope for our beautiful country.
I also ran my first marathon the morning after the Springbok’s epic win and I am glad that my first one was run through the streets of Soweto. What a place. What wonderful, welcoming people. Standing at the start surrounded by so many people from all walks of life you could feel the previous day’s win by the “Bokke” was seeping through everyone’s pores. It was reflected in people’s faces and, as our National Anthem was played just before the start, I noticed for the very first time at the start of a road race how runners took their running caps off and stood tall.
Many people asked me afterwards if I had seen President Nelson Mandela’s House and whether I had managed to spot the Hector Peterson Museum. I didn’t. I missed them not because I didn’t run past them but because I was so overwhelmed by other sights. I had been told that the vibe is incredible, but I did not expect my senses to be so overwhelmed.
The crowds standing on the side of the road give me a sense that on the road we are all equal. Nobody cares what car you drive, where you live, where you come from or the colour of your skin . You are cheered for as if you are a champion. Women stand with their children shouting and cheering you on, not really concerned by the fact that they are still wearing their nightgowns. Children excitedly want to wet you with water sachets that they have picked up from runners who have thrown them onto the ground as they speed past. Men shout for you as they wave their beer bottles in their hands and offer you a sip for the road. (I suspect that most of them had been celebrating all night and this was the end of their party.)
There were also some sights which were not pleasant for me. I had to run past about three spots where there was raw sewerage running into the street and a few spots where it was clear that rubbish collection has not taken place for a long time. Suddenly I understood why service delivery protests are taking place in many parts of our country. The privilege I live with really hit home.
Perseverance to stay the course
And of course there is Vilakazi Street. Did you know that it must be one of the steepest roads in Gauteng! It was here that I started to walk a bit to give myself a little rest. It was also here that the hope and beauty of our country hit home.
It is sometimes really difficult to stay positive and to believe that the problems we face as a country will ever be solved. The despair I felt with myself for slowing down on this part of the run made me dig deep for some inner strength. Strength to believe that even if I ended up running and walking I would conquer this run. I was not going to give up so easily. I had invested too much time and there were people I care for deeply who were rooting for me to finish.
I made it to the top of Vilakazi Street and as I made my way to the FNB Stadium I saw a good friend waiting and cheering for me on the side of the road. As we hugged each other I knew I was going to finish.
Fixing the economy: “It’s now or never”
Another recent event, the Mini Budget delivered a wake-up call to all South Africans with alarm bells ringing for our economy on so many different issues. The growth forecast for the economy has been dropped from 1.5% to 0.9%. This does not bode well for the out of control unemployment rate we are struggling to turn around and which impacts on all of us, especially the poorest of the poor who see very little hope of an improvement in their economic situation.
The country’s debt sits at 60.8% of GDP which would not be so worrying if we didn’t have our failing SOEs to bail out, like Eskom and SAA to name only two. To make things even worse the projection for tax collection is that there will possibly be a shortfall of R53 billion. We were fortunately spared a junk status rating for now by Moody’s, and Finance Minister Tito Mboweni has called on South Africans to “roll up our sleeves and do what we need to do. It is now or never.”
I guess that is where we are as a country and as an economy at the moment. We really are at the bottom of Vilakazi Street and we cannot afford to give up the fight against corruption and the fight for direct investment in our country. First and foremost, we cannot fall into despair about our situation. I personally believe that there are so many financial opportunities in this country and we have to approach the challenges we face with a new way of thinking. We cannot continue with business as usual because this is not about business as usual. To do this, we need to dig deep, find that inner strength, and continue to believe that we can conquer our run as a country.
As Siya Kolisi said when he received the Webb Ellis Cup “We came together with one goal and we wanted to achieve. I really hope that we have done that for South Africa that we can pull together if we want to achieve something”. South Africa can be a champion country if we unite and work together and allow our spirit of determination and strength to get us to the top of Vilakazi Street.