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References to a ‘culture of acceptance’ most often conjure up a positive connotation, especially in our context with its unfortunate history of ‘non-acceptance’ and prejudice. The term usually refers to an attitude of embracing a diversity of views, backgrounds, and opinions and accommodating differences along political, cultural, gender, and religious lines. But there is a new, much more ominous ‘culture of acceptance’ taking root in our society; adopting an attitude of indifference and even complacency when it comes to those phenomena eroding our future prospects as a nation. There can be little disagreement about the general state of decay we are currently experiencing in our various structures of governance on nearly all levels. This includes government departments that are not functioning properly. Some of these structures have been systematically eroded through corruption and inefficiency over a sustained period of time.


On top of that, we have escalating crime, ranging in manifestation from gender-based violence (GBV)to organised crime syndicates that are infiltrating and effectively paralysing some of our most important sectors. All of these contribute to a sagging economy, preventing the economic growth that our country so desperately needs in order to move forward. Our current disconcerting national financial status is clearly the result of not only poor government performance, but also a totally deficient policy environment. One of the things that the COVID-19 pandemic illuminated is how quickly society can adapt to a ‘new normal’. Things that were altogether unthinkable and outside the frame of reference for most – such as a national lockdown, social distancing and mandatory public mask-wearing – quickly became acceptable and commonplace after they were introduced. Regrettably, the same trend is visible when it comes to our response to government’s non-performance, rampant crime and economic pressures that we are currently experiencing. The difference is that there is no greater common good that should make us summarily accept the current status quo.


We shake our heads when we hear about yet another corruption scandal or another murder. But instead of speaking out or voicing out our concerns in some constructive way, we tend to quickly and quietly find individual ways of working around obstacles. While on some level, it is admirable that ordinary people are showing resilience and innovation and increasingly choosing to do things for themselves amid government failures, it is, however, also indicative of an alarming downgrading of our societal values. The question is; has our current situation created a society that has simply accepted its fate? Or has it created a society that has become more innovative and creative, actively navigating current challenges, and finding new solutions to societal issues independent of government? And what should be our reaction to the challenges we currently face?


As with many things, I believe the truth lies somewhere in the middle. While it is vital that ordinary people and the private sector find ways of working around government shortcomings, it is just as vital that they remain vocal, pointing out government failures and questioning the conduct and decisions of our elected leaders. Public reaction should, however, not stay with objections alone, but evolve into physical action.  There should also be a willingness to work with struggling government institutions and incorporate other role players in order to find real solutions together. As a responsible citizenry, simply being quiet and complacent is our worst option.

Professor Petersen

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