Sensationalism vs. Solutions

Once upon a time I used to enjoy reading the newspaper. Sunday morning in NYC was a steaming cup of Starbucks in hand and the New York Times weekend addition smiling up at me from the table, oh the excitement and anticipation!

Fast forward to my current relationship with the printed press-I avoid reading the newspaper on most days (although I do still enjoy my NYT online edition).

If sex sells in the USA, sensationalism sells in South Africa. The papers fly off the shelves with daily headlines of infanticide, child rape, murder and corruption.

A Kim Kardashian or Justin Bieber headline would actually be a welcome respite.

Election year is upon us and it looks like an easy win for the ruling ANC party as the opposition have proven themselves to be just as ridiculous. There is an alarming lack of top-down leadership in this country, as the recent cat-fight debacle between opposition party heads Zille and Ramphele proved. The reality is that South Africa is in a state of pure chaos and unless something shifts, something big is going to spontaneously combust.

The smut press of the Star publication is not helping the current situation. Do we really need to be engaging in sensationalism when the underlying issues are screaming for attention? And why not address those?

If I were to write an Op-Ed to the Star, it would read something like this:

Dear Sir,

Instead of inundating your readers every day with Tales from the Crypt, perhaps you might provide a solution oriented article next to the sensationalist one you chose to print. For example the article published today, “South African Mothers Getting Away With Murder”, instead of just printing the facts, make an inquiry about why this is happening and use your platform as a space to create a new conversation on this topic. You raise it and then you leave us hanging. Furthermore, bring the government into this conversation- a shame and blame technique would be a great start. Why are South African mothers killing their children? Is poverty to blame or is it more complicated? These are important questions that someone should be asking, why not you?

Sincerely, M (currently on strike from reading your paper as it is pointless).

With everyone so concerned about the future of South Africa, maybe infanticide, child rape and murder are good starting points. When mothers kill their babies, and uncles rape and murder their nieces and no one asks why, what kind of future can a nation have?

Chocolate Cookie Vanilla Cookie

I stared for a good few minutes just to make sure I was really seeing what I thought I was seeing.

Leaving the gym, a white man. Behind him, a black man running after him carrying his gym bag to his car. Not knowing how to process this sight I contained it just long enough until I was face to face with the receptionist who swipes my membership card upon entry.

“I am wondering if you can help me”, I asked her in dismay, “did I see what I think I just saw?”, sharing the black bellboy running-after-white-man scene with her.

“Yes, those things still happen here,” she smiled, a beautiful young black woman with huge brown eyes and gorgeous long braids, “and do you know what else”, she said lowering her voice and staring intently into my eyes, “imagine what it’s like to hand someone back their gym card after you swipe it for them and they make sure that your hand doesn’t touch theirs when they take the card back”.

I asked her how she copes with that, everyday. “We have no choice”, she smiled, “we have to stay strong”.

I tried to imagine being her, being black- standing behind the desk of this white-gloved fancy shmancy gym, plastering a smile on my face every morning as the predominately all-white clientele try to avoid being contaminated by my black fingers.

Welcome to South Africa in 2014, where the legacy of Nelson Mandela is still trying to catch up from behind the scenes with the leftover bits of the Apartheid regime.

It is taught that the children of Israel had to wander the desert for 40 years so that the generation who had known the slavery in Egypt could die out. This would enable a generation without the mentality of slavery to enter the land of Israel, in order to build a nation free of bondage.

I wonder if the slave mentality will ever fully die out in South Africa and if the white man will ever really cease viewing the world in black and white.

It has only been 20 years since apartheid ended.

My South African born child will not know apartheid, but she will most definitely pick up on racial tensions that are still very much on the surface of this rainbow sea, sometimes as slick and strong smelling as freshly spilled oil.

And thankfully at not yet 2 years old my daughter is still colour blind. I watch her as she interacts with her black nanny and I think of my mother growing up with her black nanny in South Carolina. “Mama!” she exclaimed excitedly one day to my grandmother, “Nanny is a chocolate cookie, and I’m a vanilla cookie!”

I guess being colour blind does not last forever. Perhaps one day my daughter will make the same discovery and then it will be up to me as her parent to give her eyes, now seeing colour, context. “Yes darling, Nanny is a chocolate cookie and you are a vanilla cookie,” I will say, “and you can hug her with all your heart forever, just as you do today.”

In Death, a Celebration of Life

The hearts of the world were fused with South Africa this weekend as the news of the passing of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela spread. We awoke early Friday morning to a grey, overcast day to hear that at the grand age of 95, this great light made a peaceful transition into the next world from his home just a few blocks from our own.

For many months since Mandela’s health scare last June, rumours had been circulating that he had actually already passed away and the powers at be were withholding that information. I did not want to believe that the leadership of the country would prevent a national mourning of their “Tata Madiba”- that sounded cruel and heartless. I wanted to believe that at the moment of his death, the floodgates would open, the tears would flow and the heart of the nation would come together.

It did.

And then there was the dancing.

At Jewish burial ceremonies I have always felt that something was missing- the overwhelming pain of loss is there, as is the confrontation with our own mortality standing next to an open grave. At Jewish houses of mourning even the stories that are told of the people who have passed are mostly overshadowed by an enormous grieving. What has never been palpable at Jewish burials or in Jewish houses of mourning is an experience of joy in celebrating the life that was lived, the contributions made, the hearts touched.

I spent the weekend outside of Mandela’s Houghton home, with scores of other South African’s who came to show their respect to this great man who, the current mantra of mourners sings, “gave us our freedom”. How can one not rejoice for the life of the one who gave such freedom to the masses? One of the “Greatest sons of Africa” as he is bring called on the radio. How can one not dance, not raise voices to honour this greatest of gifts that he gave? “We sing,” a young black African girl shared, “in our joy and in our sorrow”.

I made my way into the whirling center of mourners and joined hands with those around me. Engulfed in liberation movement songs, I hummed along to the melodies, my body swaying with the crowd, my heart soaring and unified with those around me.

It was a surreal scene straight out of messianic times: A white woman taking a photograph with a group of black policeman, black maids and white employers embracing. Representatives of the “Neo Black Movement” and the ANC smiling at my daughter and telling me “she is so cute”. And my husband, tears in his eyes, holding our daughter up proudly on his shoulders showing her the legacy she has inherited.

Our daughter will never know apartheid.

In joining the masses of mourners in celebrating the life of Mandela, I have learned that this gift of freedom has not been taken for granted. Each member of your beloved country owns and cherishes your gift. Thank you Mandela for this gift, and for the privilege of bearing witness to your people at one of their finest hours.


My friend from Homs and 5774

Syria on my mind. Thinking about Sammy and his story, thinking about dictators and horrible wives of dictators aka Asma Assad, who is currently reported to be holed up in her bomb shelter on an online shopping spree. No joke. I just can’t seem to get the images of the lifeless children and white body bagged aftermath of the sarin gas attacks out of my head.

My husband and I had met Sammy, a host at a popular Greek restaurant, when we went out for a long overdue date night back in February.

Assuming he was Greek I asked where he was from. Syria was not the answer I expected. “Oh! I thought you were Greek!” I exclaimed and asked him how he ended up in Johannesburg.

“Well,” Sammy explained, “we had to leave Syria. They bombed our furniture factory in Homs, we had no more livelihood. I decided I needed to take my family to a safe place. I worked here in South Africa 10 years ago so I knew the country. I knew I could find work. We have been here for only a few months but my wife speaks no English. I have two small daughters and my mother is with us. I am working 15-hour shifts to support my family.”

My heart immediately went out to his poor wife, isolated even more than I had been during my first few months in South Africa. “How is your wife holding up?” I asked. “She is having a terrible time, besides the English, she has not heard from her family in 4 months. The phone lines are down. There is no internet. She does not know who is dead and who is alive.” Sammy’s voice shook with emotion.

Really, I had so much to say after that share I did not even know where to begin. My heart was breaking for this beautiful family. I felt kinship with Sammy, his wife, their story. For it is my story, it is the story of the human experience. The story of pain and loss, of heartbreak and unknown. The story of courage and survival. The story of being burned and rising from the ashes. The story of death and renewal at all costs.

And there was the Middle East connection as well. This conversation with Sammy, for me, was a breath of fresh air. Sammy, my Syrian neighbour- we are from the same ‘hood. Just being in his presence was comforting; it was a homecoming in the urban jungle of Johannesburg.

I looked across from the table at my husband, whose eyes were sparkling. He knew what I was about to say.

“Sammy,” I said with a nervous chuckle, “I want to tell you something”. Sammy was looking at me expectantly, but also with a curiously knowing glance.

“I am from Israel”.

After a short pause Sammy exclaimed “I know!” and smiled, “I could tell”.

I was so moved I got up from the table and gave Sammy a huge hug, both of us with tears in our eyes as we parted.

I often find that people become people again when we are pushed just beyond the confines of our own national rhetoric- just beyond the boiling point.

The human heart is able to connect, wants to so deeply and does so very easily.

It is simply breathtaking.

On the eve of this Jewish New Year, my deepest prayer is for the emergence of a new story of the human experience. I pray that the fear of the unknown does not pull us back into old archetypal patterns.

This new story could begin with peace, inshallah.

Blessings for newness in 5774.


Waiting to Take Flight

There is a thickness in the air, as if the entire nation is on standby waiting for a flight to take off. Estimated time of departure is still unknown, as Nelson Mandela’s condition remains critical. The media has been camped outside the hospital where he is being cared for, his family has gathered around him and everyone is trying to come to terms with the unthinkable: a South Africa bereft of Mandela.

How South Africa will as a nation move through the impending period of grief and its aftermath without dear “Madiba”, Mandela’s nickname alluding to the Xhosa tribe to which he belongs, is unclear.

In a previous blog entry on this site (February 2011) I wrote about how Mandela holds a certain vibrational frequency for South Africa. This frequency, of possibility, is palpable in the spirit of modern day South Africa. You can feel it at sports games especially, as there is genuine pleasure in the experience of being unified and cheering for the same team.

During the FIFA World Cup kickoff concert in 2010 they screened a tribute to Mandela and we all danced to Black Eyed Peas and a lip-synching, hips shaking Shakira. Mandela’s presence via AV had the love effect as people around me remarked that it was the first time they had felt that elated since apartheid had ended.

Mandela is surely a modern day alchemist. After apartheid, he was able to pick up the sick, terrorized and wounded pieces of the nation and shape-shift them into a voice that demanded ‘truth and reconciliation’, avoiding civil war. The entire gamut of South Africa’s experience since has been the direct result of this one great man and his standing strong in non-violence and forgiveness.

What is so profound about Mandela is that he is an ordinary man who, under extreme circumstances, chose to be extraordinary in his actions, creating a new pathway for South Africa.

US President Barak Obama who is currently visiting South Africa calls Mandela his personal hero. He is one of mine as well, and I feel privileged to have been able to get to know him more through experiencing life in his country for the past four years. I am nervous thinking about what will come after Mandela. A great light is dimming and my prayer is that a multitude of lights are lit from the the space that will remain.

Mandela is also holding the frequency of hero. This energy will, at the moment of great transition, become available to the masses in a new way. While the people and current day leadership may not have necessarily chosen to follow in the footsteps of their ‘father’ during his life, perhaps in his death another act of large-scale alchemical wonder will occur.

Nelson Mandela in his lifetime experienced the bliss of actualizing his fullest potential. This kind of actualization is one that we all yearn for, yet few of us are lucky enough to experience fully. Imagine a South Africa where people choose to emulate Mandela and experience themselves as fully actualized beings. The rainbow nation would be brilliant and light up the world and I know Tata Madiba would be proud.

On National Braai Day and Yom Kippur

Today was National Heritage Day in South Africa. Also known as ‘National Braai Day’, Heritage Day is one where the people of South Africa are encouraged to get together to celebrate their unique culture and diversity (by barbecuing a cornucopia of flesh).

What Rainbow Nation can not deny is that there is one thing all the colours share: a love for food!

Another alarming wave of violent crime has, however, dampened spirits on this day. In the past few weeks stories of fathers, husbands, daughters, and sisters being shot to death during robberies in front of their families has touched a major nerve. These senseless murders have been an abrupt wakeup call, the very rotten cherry on top of the very stinky pile called Merikana- the rioting mining sector debacle – that came to a ‘peaceful resolution’ this past week (after over 40 miners were shot to death by police after demanding wage increases).

The people of South Africa do not feel safe- and the fear factor has set in again. You can feel it welling up into your chest as you pull into your driveway after sunset, looking right and then left to make sure no one is lurking in the bushes. You can smell it in the air as you pass a volatile looking character on the street and you slowly pull your shirt sleeve down to hide your watch. And it is there hovering above your head as you say a little prayer to the angels to protect you and yours on this quiet night.

On many levels South Africa is unravelling at the seams: high levels of unemployment, atrocious corruption at the level of government, a general disregard for human life at the top-down and from the bottom-up. On the radio listeners have been urging for the reintroduction of the apartheid-time death sentence, for stricter control at the borders (as migrants from other African countries are notorious for being the perpetrators of voilent crime) and pushing for more citizen involvement when it comes to combating crime (as the police are the most corrupt of the lot).

As the Jewish community prepares for Yom Kippur by going into self-contemplation mode, I pause to wonder if National Braai Day had a similar reflective quality for South Africans. The day of atonement or at-one-ment is an opportunity for us to take an accounting of all that has passed in the year, reflect upon it and grow from the lessons learnt.

My prayer for South Africa is that she choose the path of reflection at the end of this day of celebration. I pray that one day soon, regardless of level of desperation, a human life will be perceived to be more valuable than gold. I pray that integrity will be something everyone takes on and lives by. I pray that South Africans turn inward and choose soul expansion over growing the machine. I pray that the jobless will find employment and will be able to feed their families.

I pray that one day guns will be exhibited in the museums of South Africa as relics of a unenlightened bygone era.

The entire continent is waiting for South Africa’s true rise from the ashes as the Phoenix. South Africa, you are very much like the eye of the dragon, I pray that the flames do not consume you.

May we have a meaningful Yom Kippur, may our collective reflections have healing powers to reach the darkest corners of this planet and transform them into light.

On becoming a Mother in Africa

Amy, a dear friend from Miami who recently visited us in Johannesburg shared with me that when some of her African American co-workers found out she was traveling to South Africa they said “you are going to the motherland!”. This struck a chord as I realized that my connection to Southern Africa has turned maternal as well, for it is here that destiny had me give birth to my first child, a daughter.

After experiencing pregnancy and now motherhood in the “motherland”, I feel that I have been privileged to don new lenses through which I view this newest chapter of my life. I would describe this process a little like falling in love and feeling my feet on the ground here, for the first time.

This grounding occurs a little bit more each time I step into our garden, holding my daughter, feeling the sun on our faces. We sit, in silence, and it is like a blanket of snow has fallen. I look at her and watch her smile when she hears the loud caw of the hadeda (Egyptian ibis).

When I was having a hard time adjusting to the reality of my firstborn being born outside of Israel, a good friend challenged me: “if you dont find your roots here, how will you be able to connect to your African-born baby?” I spent most of my pregnancy deep in my thesis and the rest of the time trying to locate the access point to which I could connect to this land.

I spent a lot of time thinking about my father, who spent some of his childhood living deep in the jungles of Liberia. My sisters and I grew up on stories about riding pet donkeys and swimming away from white alligators and giggled endlessly when our father would sing-song to us in a language of clicking noises. He told us that he was called “Jungle Joe” at school- he and his younger brother David being the only ‘whities’ around. We of course thought that these stories were over-the moon outrageous, even better than any fairytale.

My grandfather, Saba Moshe, was sent to Liberia by the newly established state of Israel on a friendly diplomacy mission. His construction team was responsible for building  infrastructure- roads and schools and hospitals. My Savta Trude, a child-survivor of Aushwitz, was a mother in Africa too.

The chasidic masters teach us that the places we are drawn to in this world- we are drawn to in order to reclaim pieces of our souls. Having a baby has anchored me to this land, and allowed me to rediscover these African roots by reconnecting me to my own families circle of life.

My African-born daughter, Oriana Saphira, whose name means “my sapphire light has answered”, is a tremendous blessing. She is gentle and loving and every sweet breath she exhales holds the newness of experience. And her laugh…well you will just have to come for a visit and hear it for yourself.

My Savta Trude, May Her Memory Be a Blessing, who never had a daughter, would have loved Oriana Saphira. She sits with us on the grass each morning, the sun caressing our faces, and we laugh together as Oriana Saphira wiggles her toes into the earth.

Jubuntu: Innovation comes to South Africa

All it took to propel the South African Jewish community into the global Jewish conversation of the 21st century was 24 hours with a ‘dream team’ of visionary orchestrators all connected to the ROI community network- Guy Lieberman, Seth Cohen and Jen Keys. Add to that the generosity of powerhouse philanthropist Lynn Schusterman and the Sasfin Bank, inspiring speeches and workshops by Shaka Sisulu, Helen Lieberman, Charles Maisel and Taddy Blecher among others, some speed networking and open-space sessions and the result was an event that truly catapulted the 50 participants at the ‘South African Young Jewish Innovators Gathering‘ into a whole new realm of possibility.

An event with innovation at its core was the first of its kind for Jewish South Africans. Due to factors such as living for periods of uncertainty post-apartheid, the mentality of fear still manages the point of view of many Jewish South Africans today. As a result, thinking ‘outside of the box’ and taking risks that might defy the status quo has become a rare quality within the Jewish community. Since the end of apartheid the community has shrunk to half of its size with many Jews convinced they were fleeing for their lives. Of the 70,000 Jews who remain today in South Africa, the growing trend has been an increase in religiosity, a decrease in inclusivity and a wariness towards innovation especially any kind of innovation within the Jewish community that is not perceived to be ‘orthodox’.

And outside of the Jewish community, while business entrepreneurialism is popular amongst Jewish South Africans, social entrepreneurship is a newer concept. And as the concepts of social entrepreneurship and innovation often go hand in hand, with ‘innovation’ often implying risk-taking of some kind I would argue that most South African Jews are risk averse. A gathering around innovation was thus a risky undertaking for the community as the prevailing tension between innovation and tradition could have proved to be problematic. Yet somehow, the gathering was able to override the tension and the diverse group of participants with a variety of expertise, each coming from different spaces religiously, found common ground.

Only an international presence could have accomplished this seemingly impossible feat where no clash of belief systems occurred and both orthodox and reform community members came together. Since moving to South Africa less than three years ago, the only international presence I have witnessed being actively invested in the Jewish community besides Chabad, Aish Hatorah and Or Sameach who have an agenda around Jewish outreach is the Jewish Agency, encouraging South African Jews to move to Israel.

No international initiative that I am familiar with has ever come to this land promoting innovation for the sole purpose of capacitating young South African Jews to become change makers in their communities and in the larger scheme of Africa. That the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation recognized the potential that exists within the Jewish community to contribute to the larger transformation of the nation and chose to invest through this unique gathering was incredibly moving for me.

The intention of the gathering was to bring together young Jewish South African social innovators in various sectors in order to create a strategic global community network that connects and creates, this being one of the larger goals of the Schusterman Foundation. The gathering was also an opportunity to showcase the entrepreneurial spirit that exists within the South African Jewish community and to celebrate, in the words of Seth Cohen, Director of Network Initiatives at the Schusterman Foundation, “what the South African Jewish community has to bring to the global Jewish community.”

The Jewish contribution to South Africa was emphasized and honored. Both Shaka Sisulu, the grandson of the great freedom fighter and one of the founders of the African National Congress (ANC) Walter Sisulu and Helen Lieberman, known as the “Mother Theresa of South Africa” for her work during apartheid spoke about the role Jews played in South Africa’s struggle for freedom. Both Shaka and Helen urged those in attendance the next generation of South African Jewry to choose to continue to pass the torch on towards the development of South Africa.

In a community that sometimes chooses to be silent rather than challenge the prevailing authority over issues such as the role of women in the community and inclusivity of other streams of religious expression, the South African Young Jewish Innovators Gathering empowered us to step up and reclaim our voices as members of the Jewish community. We took on the commitment to each other of taking responsibility for our role as change makers and promised to support one another in the process.

When sharing with a friend in Israel about the event she wondered, “imagine what would have happened to the Jewish community in South Africa if it were not for globalization.” I took her words into the gathering with me and observed from this perspective how empowering it was for young Jewish South African’s to realize that they are not as alone, isolated or cut off from the global Jewish community of innovators as they had previously imagined.

What I took away from the gathering is that inclusivity and innovation go hand in hand, for without Ubuntu, the African philosophy which means: “I am what I am because of who we all are”  Tikkun Olam can not succeed. We cannot afford to continue to operate from islands, disconnected from each other and from our larger communities. At the end of the gathering, as conference director Guy Lieberman declared, “it’s a wrap”, I looked around the room and saw a multitude of smiling bright-eyed peers, full of the spirit of ‘Jubuntu‘, and thought to myself, “a new generation of freedom fighters has just awakened.”

Good News for South Africa= Bye Bye Malema

After South Africa’s debacle with denying the Dalai Lama a visa this past October (Foreign Direct Investment from China more attractive than enlightenment) the country appears to have redeemed itself from moving further into the depths of corruption as todays suspension of the notorious Julius Malema has shown. Malema, the head of the ANC’s youth league has been causing most South African’s heads to drop in shame from his ongoing antics. Some of our friends as I had reported in previous blog postings have been even threatening to leave the country if Malema were ever to be elected into an even higher position of power.

It appears that all the hype around leadership in the 21st century did not make it into Malema’s lexicon as this man has proven to be a complete and total embarrassment to everything South Africa purports to hold dear. Values such as racial equality went out the window with Malemas encouragement to sing the “kill the boer” song last year (a song that encourages black South African’s to kill the white farmers (Afrikaners) and where the pursuit of economic justice meant organizing nationalization of the mines marches (meaning more moolah for Malems pockets). And that Malema was (so exciting to say that now) head of the ruling parties youth league was possibly the most disturbing part as this man was supposed to be a role model for the next generation.

Today Malema was reportedly suspended from his position for 5 years due to the need for “internal disciplinary action” but I suspect the ANC has finally buckled from the anti-Malema pressure and has taken action despite the fear of loosing potential ANC votes from the youth league. What we do know about the trial was that Malema was found guilty of sowing divisions within the ANC but not for racial or political intolerance. I do believe that he should have been found guilty for racial intolerance- he even went as far as accusing all whites for being criminals who stole black land. Even though this is true from a historical perspective- how affective is this accusation in post-apartheid times?

South Africa is still in the process of licking her wounds by trying to pick herself up from the abyss of one of the most offensive crimes against humanity committed on this soil- the aftereffects of the apartheid regime. There is a heaviness in this place and I think it is fair to say that the 99% carry the tremendous baggage on their shoulders. The anger-energy however carried and dispensed by Malema has proved to be inaffective in the long run and this I believe is a very positive step towards healing for the country as a whole. The lesson perhaps is this: do not dwell in the past for it will not create the future. It will only create more hate and bloodshed- the opposite of what this baby democracy is really needing.

For this nation to rise and truly lead Africa into the next chapter of growth and development on all levels leaders like Malema need to be disciplined when they show their true colors and moved out of a space that can potentially hold the real movers and shakers of transformation.

Johannesburg’s Ring of Fire

After the uprising in Tunisia, Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi declared that Johannesburg is surrounded by a “ring of fire” and that bold measures must be taken by the government to prevent a similar situation as Tunisia Egypt and Yemen (Business Day July, 2011).

What is this “ring of fire” you might ask? It is made up of scores of unemployed youths in townships around the city sitting around doing nothing- feeling helpless, hopeless and useless (the three adjectives common to persons with suicidal tendencies). These youths are also feeling angry and the streets of London have shown us today where anger can lead. South Africa is currently not scrambling fast enough to prevent the “walls being breached”.

The walls of middle-upper class South Africa that is. In today’s news headlines it was reported that unemployment rates have decreased again (for the third consecutive month) with a prediction that South Africa will lose another 468,192 jobs in the remaining months of 2011 and in 2012.

In the same news flash it was advised that South Africans should not travel to London for safety reasons. I found it incredibly ironic that these two stories were reported back-to-back with no e-news commentary in between.

Is the writing on the wall or what? But just like anywhere else, the employed people of Johannesburg continue to fill up their shiny SUV’s, blowing exhaust fumes all over the ring of fire while the domino effect of social justice demanding uprising continues across continents thick in the midst of a global economic crisis.

London’s burning and it has everyones attention. Tunia, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Israel- OK- revolution/uprising/riots is in the flesh and blood of Middle East and North Africa. But a 12 Monkey takeover of the streets of London in 2011…we are all left dazed, confused and in shock- how could this happen in one of the most ‘civilized’ cities in Europe? “Those monstrous looters!”

Tottenham and Johannesburg have a very important link: an extraordinarily high rate of unemployment. Coupled with feelings of hopelessness and with no where else to turn, violence is embraced- one explanation for the rampant and uber-violent nature of crime in this country (S.A).

General Secretary Vavi said “we have an army of 6-million people who want to work but can’t find jobs. Most of them are black, women and young without education and skills. They face a lifetime of poverty. This is what I have called a ticking bomb.”

Recently my husband was approached to design software by a 20-something black South African man from one of the townships 2.5 hours away from Joburg. He was one of the lucky ones-he chose school over the life of a thug- got high marks and was offered a scholarship to attend university. He’s been in the workforce now and has been consistently employed since he graduated with reputable international companies. Today, it is his dream to create an online portal to connect the future leaders of S.A with job prospects and potential employers. He told us that it pains him to go home and see his friends living a life of drugs and voilent crime because “they never got a chance for a job and they have no other option but to live a life of crime to survive.”

“In the townships,” he said, “no one is waiting at home for you with a hot meal when you get home (especially in child-run households as the adults have all died of HIV-AIDS). No body cares about you. Maybe your relatives will feed you if they think one day you are going to make some money, get a job or are still in school. Otherwise you are on your own.”

The dream of this young man is to be able to help his friends find jobs because he knows how difficult it can be to get out of the vicious cycle of going nowhere fast. He also wants to use the website to encourage his friends and others from township communities to stay in school by connecting them with scholarship opportunities- so they too will have a chance. He is personally funding a part of this dream team from his own pockets-along with help from a close white (and Jewish) friend who believes strongly in his vision.

This special young man is what the literature would call a ‘social entrepreneur’- a term that Bill Drayton, the founder of the Ashoka Foundation coined to describe “those individuals who combine the pragmatic goal-oriented methods of business with the aims of a social reformer.” I am studying this unique species and their potential contribution to society in South Africa for my thesis, towards an MA in development studies. A year ago, when I presented my research topic to the review panel I got glaring question mark faces staring back at me- they had never even heard of the term before.

Today, social entrepreneurship has become a bit of a buzzword here- along with the trend of social enterprise. I am researching how the government of South Africa is taking on the social economy- after Minister of Economics Ebrahim Patel declared in 2009 that South Africa’s new growth path (ngp) is chucking the inherited neoliberal capitalistic trajectory of the apartheid government and embracing a more social and economically equitable one.

While General Secretary Vavi doesn’t believe that the new growth path is going to fix socio-economic problems, there are many on the top who believe that promoting the trends of social entrepreneurship and enterprise are the solutions to many of societies ills- including unemployment.

I wonder in light of the world’s recent uprisings, if service delivery protests, strikes and other potential incitements fueled by societies demand for basic needs will increase and if the ring of fire will erupt like the streets of London. Or have recent incentives taken by the South African government to create jobs like the recently launched ‘jobs fund’ help to quell the flames.

Will the walls of Johannesburg be breached by the fiery masses or will South Africans join the people on the streets of Tel Aviv- rallying for social justice in a peaceful non-voilent groundswell?

To be sure, something is on it’s way- I pray that South Africa will find the courage to follow Israel’s example this time around.