Over the 8 years that I have written this column, I have interacted with many people who have shared with me some of the incredible things they are doing to make this country a better place.
I have been very struck by the passion that people have to make a difference and just how willing they are to make sacrifices big and small each day to achieve this end. Many have expressed their frustration – a frustration I share on a very deep level – at not being able to do more. To those I remind us of Mother Teresa’s often quoted: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
By far the most common way that people participate in the healing of our nation is through mentorship. This is almost always informal; we mentor our staff in the workplace, our domestic workers at home, perhaps their kids; educators mentor their learners outside of the formal learning process; religious leaders mentor their flocks; Granny’s and Grandpa’s, aunts and uncles – most of us mentor somebody; young or not so young. It seems that being a mentor to someone is very deeply rooted in our DNA; we do it almost instinctively without giving it a formal name.
There are of course reasons for this; we acknowledge that without healthy and functional younger people in particular, the young themselves and society at large is at risk. So, on one level it is about survival – passing on from one to another the necessary skills to navigate the world and life well. On another level it is tied up in our instincts to care and nurture, which is why we react so viscerally when we read stories of the abuse of children; it goes against every instinct we have.
But science also proves the power of mentorship. Research conducted by the mentorship program Big Brothers Big Sisters tells us that when an adult mentor spends 1 hour a week with a child for one year, that child will be 53% more likely to stay in school; 32% less likely to engage in violence and 46% less likely to use drugs. It is for this reason that I maintain that mentorship – perhaps more than any other intervention – is a critical tool for the healing of our nation.
Over the years that I have been involved in mentorship, I have become convinced that everyone can mentor someone. So, for the purposes of this column I would like to broaden the definition of mentorship so each of us can get a sense of the role we can play. Traditionally, mentorship was seen as an age-based thing i.e. older people mentoring younger people. But some of my best mentors have been younger than me; for example, my dear friend Akhona Ngcobo has mentored me in the ways of Zulu culture. She is several years younger than me. So, mentorship is more about experience in one area or another, than age.
The other perception we should change is that mentorship only benefits the person being mentored. This is perhaps the biggest misconception created by the fact that mentorship relationships have typically been based on an unequal power ratio. Everyone I know who has enjoyed a powerful mentor-style partnership (whether adult-to-adult or adult-to-youngster) has reported that they grew just as much from the relationship as the mentee did – if not more. This means that we should start viewing and defining mentorship differently.
In South Africa we have phenomenal programs that work on this basis; co-mentorship or what some refer to as “thinking partners”. These programs create partnerships that are totally reciprocal and impact both parties equally. One of the most powerful of these is Partners for Possibility which I have mentioned before. They are leaders in this type of thinking as their program partners school principals from some of the poorest schools in South Africa with a business leader, in a mutually beneficial, generative, adult-to-adult relationship. Some of the leaders are active in business currently, others are retired; some are in small entrepreneurial ventures, others in multi-nationals. They come from different departments within businesses, but all share the same passion; to partner with a school principal in a way that facilitates their respective growth as leaders. This last week, Partners for Possibility achieved the remarkable success of being the only South African NGO to be ranked in the top 500 NGO’s in the world in the 2018 Geneva Rankings by the independent group NGO Advisor. They came in at 97 demonstrating the uniqueness and efficacy of this approach.For those of us not involved in business or schools there is our local mentorship program, Bright Stars. This assists adults and youngsters to effectively partner with one another. These youngsters may be ones that you are already in relationship with but that you need support with. You might not be in a partnership with a child currently and would like to be. The program offers comprehensive training and support to both adult and youngster for the length of your partnership – usually 1 year.
I extend an invitation to all of you; make 2018 a year in which you partner with someone regardless of age. The contribution you will be making – to yourself, to them and to our nation at large – will be enormous.
For more information about Partners for Possibility e-mail email@example.com and for Bright Stars e-mail firstname.lastname@example.orgJustin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter.
A letter to my sister who is about to return to South Africa having lived in Britain for the past 4 years:
I hope you are well and surviving that UK weather. I wish you could send some rain to the Western Cape. The drought down there is horrific.
What do you make of what’s happening in Zim? If you had told me last week that in a matter of days Mugabe would still be alive but out of power, I would have laughed at you. It gives me such hope for South Africa, though we must do it peacefully and democratically (and preferably in less than 37 years!)
Your decision to come home is such a great one – not that I am biased! It’s a very exciting time to be in South Africa, though it’s not for the faint-hearted. So, as you make plans to come back home for good, I wanted to give you my thoughts on the “state of our nation”.
From all you will have heard and read, things will appear significantly worse in South Africa. To some extent they are. But you should know that the most important difference between where we are now and where we were say last month or even last year, is that the rot is pouring out into the open in a way that it has never done before. This is thanks to people like Jacques Pauw who wrote The President’s Keepers, NGO amaBhungane and The Daily Maverick who exposed #GuptaLeaks, Adriaan Basson and Pieter Du Toit who wrote Enemy of The People. The list of people bravely exposing Zuma, the Guptas and the stench of corruption and state capture is long and growing.
New revelations emerge daily and whilst this is extremely angering and even frightening for many of us, it is good. The exposure of the sheer magnitude of criminality within government, our state-owned enterprises and institutions like the State Security Agency is the necessary bursting of a boil that has been festering under the surface of this nation for too long. We naively believed that Nkandlagate and revelations of the looting of State Owned Enterprises represented giddying high points in corruption and the capturing of the presidency and the state. But we now know that they are individual cases of a plague that has swept our country. We now know that abuse of power and sheer greed run right into the heart of the democratic apparatus of our state.
So, I’m not saying things are good. They aren’t. They are appalling. But ironically, the fact that we know they are so appalling should give us a sense of hope; a sense that we are better off now than we were yesterday. For without knowledge of the enemy we are fighting, how can we possibly win? And every day we learn more and this must inform our fight.
Which brings me to my second point. Time and again history has shown us that it only takes a handful of good men and women to turn the tide on evil and we have more than a handful. There are so many people in this country (and indeed outside the country) who are risking everything to expose corruption and lead in ways that honour the legacy of our democracy’s founders. I mentioned Jacques Pauw et al but there are dozens of people who are speaking out daily. This extends from our often-fearless press, to individuals like Pravin Gordhan, Advocate Thuli Madonsela, Zwelenzima Vavi, Makhosi Khoza, David Lewis and his team at Corruption Watch, Sipho Pityana, Vytjie Mentor, Lord Peter Hain to opposition parties, civil society groups and NGO’s to the man and woman on the street. I think of the many police I have interacted with who will not solicit a bride. I think of the many friends and family members we have who will not pay a bribe or a kick-back.
History has always proved the adage that “good will ultimately triumph over evil” and South Africa will be no exception. This is simply because the good men and women of our time are taking a stand big or small. They are resisting the temptation to join the feeding frenzy and exposing lies and deception whenever they can, and hope remains.
My honest belief is that you are coming back at a very good and very necessary time. There is no doubt that it is a time of hope, rebuilding and restoring; it is time for a new struggle that involves all of us. As the good book puts it: “I (God) will restore the years that the locusts have eaten.” The image of locusts is spot on. If I was a cartoonist I would draw Zuma, the Guptas and all the rest of them as locusts destroying everything in their path. But ultimately – like every other plague in history – the locusts will not prevail.
I began this letter by saying that South Africa is not for the faint-hearted. But South Africa also isn’t for the complacent, the lazy or the negative right now either. If you aren’t willing to actively participate in a better future, then you will probably be over-whelmed by the scale of the rot and want to jump ship. It is only when people make the decision to remain hopeful and seriously invest in a nation – time, energy and money – and stand up for their ethics and values, that they become a positive and active contributor to the solution.
I hope this gives you some perspective. We can’t wait to have you home.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.
His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter.