In her latest column in City Press entitled “There is Hope for SA”, Professor Thuli Madonsela gives us a host of reasons why we should be hopeful. She cites her recent Social Justice Summit in which a broad community of powerful stakeholders ratified her social justice M-Plan and where proverbial lions lay down with lambs: Former President FW de Klerk and Professor Ben Turok agreed on the catastrophic legacy of apartheid; Helen Zille and Wits Vice Chancellor Adam Habib shared a vision for our country; students from Rhodes and Fort Hare held constitutional dialogue sessions with no hint of the vitriol we see in our politics. We have come so far and yet our South African narrative is so massively skewed towards the negative.
Living with hope
The piece that is missing from Prof Thuli Madonsela’s powerful exhortation, only we can scribe. And the question we must consider is this: How do we wish to live our lives in SA? With hope or without it? Madonsela has clearly decided how she is going to live: Hopeful and actively involved (of course these are two sides of the same coin). But how do we – whilst not ignoring the many deep challenges and often ghastly horrors of day-to-day life in our country – do the same? We know that to live with hope whatever the circumstances is the only way to lead a happy and productive life. Yet amidst the relentless noise of bad (often fake) news and the constant resulting barrage of negativity, it can be so hard to find flickers of hope. To cope, many of us settle for cynicism. It’s a way to survive. But I invite you to consider this:
Taking the high road
There are two roads in this country. You might imagine them as a flyover suspended above a highway. The flyover is used by scores of people each day; good people who are busily making this country work. They are hard-working; they don’t do corruption; they don’t spread lies, fake news or negativity; they have integrity and are passionate about seeing our country succeed. They are school principals, policemen and women, businessfolk, politicians, parents, domestic workers, engineers, NGO workers, advocates, judges, religious leaders, doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, taxi drivers, admin clerks, labourers, entrepreneurs. They ensure that the single story that South Africa is failing, is a false narrative.
Then there are the ones on the low road. The media has much to say about them. Contrary to News24, braai-talk and social media, my lived experience of our country is that this is the quieter road.
Madonsela’s implicit challenge is this: Which road do you and I want to travel on? This is a choice that only we can make, knowing that if we choose to join the high road it will take work and a constant commitment to fanning the flames of hope into being, for a better future for SA.
South Africa wont fail
But it will be worth it, because here’s some exciting news that most serious thinkers locally and abroad know but that gets very little airtime: Africa is rising – it is the next big thing. And South Africa is not going to fail.
Join me on the high road.
This column is proudly sponsored by Partners for Possibility
If you would like to find out more about Partners for Possibility visit www.pfp4sa.org
2018 has been a particularly challenging year for many of us. As wave after wave of stinking effluent has rained down on us from the various commissions of enquiry; as the impact of State Capture has begun to be felt and as the economy has faltered, the citizens have been left reeling and even depressed.
Over the same period, this column and indeed this website, has celebrated South Africans who are making a difference with what they have in their hands. It has done this to encourage an alternative narrative; one of hope and action. As people we need to keep telling our good stories so that we don’t become overwhelmed by the bad.
I would like to end off the year with a rare and startling story of hope and good. Several months ago, I got a call from a Johannesburg-based CEO by the name of Thomas Holtz. He runs a manufacturing company called Multotec. They have branches nationwide and across Africa, in South America, Australia and China and they employ around 1800 people.
Thomas’s brief to me – along with the way he communicated it – was unusual to put it mildly. He wanted me to work with him (not consultant to him you understand) to help break down patriarchy within his organisation. A male CEO wanting to break down patriarchy? I checked outside to see if it wasn’t snowing in Durbs.
As we spoke it became apparent that this was no ordinary CEO; he was thinking way beyond the usual aspects of bottom-line, leadership development, customer service, team building, diversity and inclusion and safety etc – although all of these would of course benefit from this work. But he was going someplace else; someplace we urgently need to go in South Africa. How fascinating that such a brief would emerge from a manufacturing company servicing the mining industry!
Thomas and I have spoken extensively over the months and what has struck me is that his implicit questions are different: How can we continue to run a very successful business and go beyond CSI and SED to build our nation? How can we contribute to the shifting of the needle on racism and sexism, not just in here but out there? How can we turn the tables on patriarchy? How can we bring love, compassion and purpose into the workplace? You see, Thomas has realised that unless he uses his position, his power and his privilege to bring about change and not just tick boxes, then all he will be at the end of it all, is a successful CEO. The world will not have shifted at all.
Now you will notice from his name that Thomas is male and white. So was 90% of his Exco when we started this journey. And the problems weren’t just the lack of diversity and the lack of innovation that results. The problem was that although he himself (and indeed many of his team) were not archetypal patriarchs, they were labouring in and under a highly patriarchal system. A) Manufacturing b) in the mining sector c) in South Africa. Breaking down patriarchy and its cousins racism and sexism would take a concerted, long-term effort from him and his executive team. This wouldn’t happen through tokenism.
We have held several very intense workshops, one-on-ones and group interviews with middle management. His exco team has done battle with the concepts of patriarchy, racism, power distance and culture. It has been tough – particularly as this is a highly successful organisation that on the surface of it might say: “If it isn’t broken don’t fix it”. But you see in their own way, they were broken, and sooner or later this would have caught up with the bottom line.
The business has begun to transform in profound ways as the individuals have done their own individual work. On one level, the exco is now more diverse. But more significantly, the tone, the mood and how they show up as people has shifted. There is a maturity, a weight if you like, a new way of seeing each other and others in the organisation. The smell of the place has changed.
As we look towards 2019, we can draw on the energy of Thomas and his team. Whether you run a business small or large, a classroom, a place of worship, a project, a government department, an NGO, a home, a family or just yourself – use that platform to have conversations that shift the needle in a positive direction. This team is not perfect, and the journey will certainly continue, but they are daring to speak about the issues that we would much rather pretend did not exist or impact on business. And the world is a much better place because they are doing this work. And by the way, Multotec is a better and more successful company for it and the people are loving the change in their leaders. Indeed, the business is on track to do its best year ever. Coincidence? Maybe, but probably not.
I salute Thomas Holtz and his team for bravely tackling their shadows and working to make not only their business but this country and this world, a better place. They are using what they have in their hands – no more, no less.
They inspire us all.
Justin Foxton is a Process Facilitator and Founder of The Peace Agency. His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter.
What a joy it always is to receive my weekly attitude adjustment from my friend and colleague Steuart Pennington – the founder and CEO of the website South Africa the Good News (www.sagoodnews.co.za).
It comes in the form of his newsletter that always strikes a necessary balance between acknowledging the myriad challenges we face as a country, whilst articulating the many positives. It is a great tonic for the soul!
This week’s instalment was particularly good and – given our current very gloomy context – it was much needed. Based on the second “Reasons for Hope” document published by the Institute of Race Relations, the newsletter was prefaced by the words of Bill Gates who said: “Bad news arrives as drama, while good news is incremental – and not usually deemed newsworthy.”
It gave some uplifting stats: That real GDP per capita has increased by over 30% since 1994; University Enrolment has risen from 211,000 students in 1985 to 825,000 in 2015 – a growth of 289%. South Africa has 11 universities ranked in the top 4% of universities worldwide. And life expectancy has increased by 10 years since 2002. There is much more – and you should visit the website and register for this newsletter – especially if you are feeling a little ‘dikbek’ about the state of the nation.
But I am not writing this simply to regurgitate the content of this specific newsletter. Whilst reading it, I became deeply grateful for how tirelessly Steuart (and indeed some others) has devoted himself and his organisation to balancing the narrative in our country. We have so many committed to exposing the bad news, but so few who devote themselves to spreading the good. And we desperately need both for accountability to be driven on the one hand, but for hope to remain kindled on the other. For without hope, we lose the will to keep contributing to the South Africa we all believe in. Steuart is a true dealer in hope – and I admire him for never allowing himself to be distracted or deterred.
There are certainly others out there doing this incredible work. One of them is Brent Lindeque the founder of www.goodthingsguy.com. These people have a remarkable ability to see hope where others see none. They have a way of making us feel like we can make a difference, one small positive thought or action at a time. In the face of huge criticism and accusations of being Pollyanna’s or ‘sunshine journalists’ – they just keep exposing the good; actively looking for reasons to celebrate life in South Africa.
One thing that I can assure you is that your life here in South Africa will be happier and more hopeful if you get a good dose of the medicine that guys like Brent and Steuart dish up. Go to their websites, sign up and support what they are doing.
I salute you gents. Keep sowing our fields with seeds of hope and all will be well in this marvellous place.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter
This monthly feature is our response to the President’s invitation: “Thuma Mina – Send Me”. It is a toolkit of ideas to help our readers respond to that call.
In 2007, I returned from the UK having spent 6 incredible years living and working in London. Virtually as my plane touched down naysayers began questioning my decision: Why on earth had I come back? Hadn’t I heard that we were “going the way of Zimbabwe”?
I had all this buzzing around in my head when – out on a Comrades training run up near the Kruger National Park – I greeted an old man carrying wood on his head. His reaction changed my life forever and set me on a brand new path.
He stopped dead in his tracks (as did I, which isn’t difficult when I am running) and stared at me like I was nuts. I wondered fleetingly if I had offended him, but my fears were soon allayed as a huge, craggy smile broke out on his old face. We smiled warmly and greeted one another and in that moment a bridge was built between two very different human beings; one old; one privileged; one white; one rural. It was a bridge that I knew in my spirit was strong and permanent; it was a moment when I knew beyond all doubt that love was the beginning and end of all faith; the beginning and end of all life and purpose and the true meaning of truth, reconciliation and healing. My experience with that old man stood in stark contrast to the naysayers who had been so negative on my return. To the two of us, South Africa was indeed alive with possibility.
This experience birthed a campaign called Stop Crime Say Hello. The thinking is that peace creation is an active process that we must all participate in daily with simple acts of kindness and bridge building. By doing this we slowly begin to chip away at the culture of violence that has been put in place over decades of disrespect for one another.
As a call to action, Thuma Mina is so simple. It can and perhaps must begin with small actions repeated often; actions such as greeting people – especially those who are different to us – as we go about our daily lives.
I guess the hardest part is slowing down for long enough to really see humanity in all its wondrous complexity and beauty and brokenness all around us. Because healing doesn’t happen in a hurry and bridges take time to build.
The call is to do something – however small – to make a difference in one life at a time.
I would love to dialogue with you around the call of Thuma Mina – Send me. You can contact me on email@example.com. (www.peaceagency.org.za)
In his best-selling book “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Austrian psychiatrist and holocaust survivor Victor Frankl describes how the smoking of cigarettes came to denote a loss of hope in concentration camp prisoners.
Given the lack of even the most basic necessities in World War 2 camps like Auschwitz which Frankl endured, cigarettes were a luxury reserved for the SS captors and the “capos” – SS appointed prisoners who headed up labour squads.
Being this scarce, cigarettes became part of camp currency and prisoners could be rewarded with a few sticks for performing especially taxing or unsavory tasks. But the prisoners didn’t smoke the cigarettes; they would use them to buy soup or a mouthful of bread to sustain their lives. Cigarettes of themselves had no use beyond a means by which to barter for life-giving items. So, when one witnessed a fellow prisoner smoking, it was an ominous sign. You knew that all hope had been lost and it was only a matter of time.
You see hope is not a nice-to-have. It is essential to our well-being and even survival. We simply must have something to believe in; a purpose or faith in the broadest sense. Some call it a “why” we live. Frankl quotes Nietzsche who said: “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how”.
I think we can all understand why a prisoner in a World War 2 concentration camp would lose hope and smoke their cigarettes. But what about us? How quickly and easily do we lose hope? The answer to this question recently came at me in the form of a good many responses to a column I wrote about the great hope that can be found in South Africa right now. Many people just didn’t want to hear it. One person’s words were particularly startling: “If you are still hopeful about this country then I feel sorry for you.”
Now let’s be blunt here; we are not comparing our loss of hope to hope that finally slips from our grasp like the smoke rising from the gas ovens that we have witnessed for months and even years. This is quite simply the hope that is given up because we – and I include myself in this – don’t get our way. As soon as things get too hot in the kitchen (i.e. we are downgraded to junk status, our political party doesn’t win, our political party doesn’t look like it used to, we get the wrong Councillore, our President doesn’t get arrested on our timeframe, we discover that corruption goes beyond us paying cops the odd bribe, our roads get potholes, our currency devalues, our pension is eroded etc.), we threaten to leave; we refuse to vote; we engage in anarchic and disruptive violence like the flinging of poo; we kill one another; we turn on our country and her people by engaging in negativity and racism. In Frankl’s terms, we sit down, light our cigarette and declare that all hope is lost. Really?
Where is our resilience, our much-praised South African spirit and work ethic? Where is our willingness to fight for what we believe in as so many before us have done? How can we expect anything to change if we are not willing to do the changing? If we don’t change it, guess who gladly will: the corrupt and the criminal – to suit their greedy needs.
How do we even begin doing this when all around us is doom and gloom? According to Frankl the only freedom that camp prisoners had left was the freedom to choose the attitude that they had to any given situation. And of course, this is ultimately true for all of us: what attitude will I adopt in this situation – in South Africa nearing the end of 2017? Will I choose to give up hope, or to grab every hope I can and make the absolute most of life in this incredible country? And having adopted a positive attitude, what actions can I take to better the situation for me and mine and for us all? Positive actions – however small – are catalysts for hope to grow. And as hope grows so our desire to do more hopeful stuff follows.
For all humanity the learning is clear: if people like Frankl and millions of others could find hope in the worst possible conditions, then we can all do it.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.
His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter.