By Neil Robinson, Relate CEO

As we begin 2019 with a renewed sense of hope and optimism, it’s important to take the time to reflect on the previous year that brought us to this point.

2018 was punctuated by numerous events and happenings that left an indelible mark on South Africa’s history and legacy. It was a year in which we celebrated Nelson Mandela’s centenary as well as the start of a potential new era in our country’s politics, with President Cyril Ramaphosa at the helm. Furthermore, as we entered 2019 we’ve been greeted with positive news in the form of a reported 78.2% 2018 matric pass rate, and the prospect of many young South Africans establishing a bright future for themselves.

Sadly it has also been reported that of the 1,002,500 pupils who registered for Grade 1 in 2007, only 51% wrote matric exams this past year. This far less pleasing statistic, that represents drop out and fail figures, frequently flies beneath the radar. If we were to take this figure as an annual average for the past 25 years of democracy in South Africa, this equates to the millions of “lost” pupils, who have slipped through the cracks of the current and previous education systems and political regimes.

President Ramaphosa’s Youth Employment Service is commendable in that it has begun uplifting, educating, training and assisting South Africa’s youth for formal employment. However, there are as many as millions South Africans at any one time who are not able to be a part of that, because of inferior education levels compared with their peers, age or simply because their attributes or circumstances don’t fit the criteria of government upliftment programmes.

Since its inception almost a decade ago, not-for-profit social enterprise, Relate, has been geared to assist and improve the lives of South Africa’s forgotten and most vulnerable citizens. To date, we have helped raise over R33 million for education and social upliftment causes in South Africa. Relate’s underlying philosophy and purpose has been not only to help the youth who’ve struggled to gain employment, but also to promote education and literacy at an early age in order to offset learning challenges later in life. The Nelson Mandela School Library Project and Tomorrow Trust are cases in point, where hundreds of thousands of rands have changed countless lives for the better.

2018 was also a year overshadowed by further economic woes, as South Africa slid into a technical recession. Furthermore, many parts of the country suffered horrendously as a consequence of drought, with the poorest South Africans again bearing the brunt. Sustainability and conservation are likely to be key issues over the course of the year, as South Africa creeps slowly towards contributing towards a more sustainable planet.

As a nation, we have an increasing number of opportunities to invest in renewable energies and recyclable materials, while moving away from dependence on mineral resources and fossil fuels. The scope for job creation through modern, cleaner industries has the potential to benefit us all, as well as steer our economy towards 2-3% growth and upwards annually as opposed to the 0.5 or 0.8% we’ve been seeing.

Of course, in order to generate this growth, South Africa needs greater investment. Trillions of rands sit on the balance sheets of hundreds of companies, poised to invest. However, political uncertainty, particularly in terms of a lack of clarity regarding land expropriation, remains a stumbling block.

As we begin the New Year with a sense of hope, it must be said that 2019 has much to live up to. South Africa faces the potential for further economic turmoil as the General Election looms mid-year. The election is going to be a pivotal moment in our country’s history and indeed future. It’s important to look beyond the smoke and noise of electioneering, colourful promises and easy answers.

The keys to a nation of equity and prosperity stem from education and opportunity as well as mutually beneficial business partnerships and sustained investment. Relate will continue to map paths to prosperity and dignity for South Africa’s most vulnerable citizens and we hope you will join us in helping to uplift the many whose desperation is rarely acknowledged beyond the announcement of election results.