Rewriting the South African story – One sentence at a time

I read a great quote recently that speaks powerfully of the role South Africans can play in creating the future reality we want for our country. It said simply: “You are just one sentence away from changing the story.” It seemed to echo another commonly articulated trope that the battle is always won first in the mind. If we can exercise the mental muscles to come up with new and more positive story lines – starting with just one new sentence – the battles we face will always be won. History proves this point every time.

What is our current story about South Africa?

I must confess that as we enter this new decade, I am surely not oozing positivity. But if it is worth considering that we are one sentence away from a different story, then what could that sentence possibly be? And would it help to spend time talking about and creating new sentences rather than rehashing our old tales of woe?

Its just a jump to the left

As human beings we get stuck in narratives that bleed us of hope. For example, if we have made up our mind that the Department of Health is inept and will never deliver improved health services to our people, then hope vanishes and we look for validation of this viewpoint, which abounds. If the battle against hopelessness (and indeed poor health care) is to be won in the mind (and hence in reality), then a different sentence leading to a new story needs to be crafted. This might be: “What if I begin to seek out and tell the many success stories in the Department of Health?”. Or better still: “What if I find ways to contribute to better health care in our country?” This kind of thinking takes some serious effort, but it disrupts our personal and collective narratives and sets us on a new and more productive course. It requires us to physically jump out of our current mindset to create new realities and when we do this, reality literally shifts.     

The power of possibility

Where are you stuck in terms of your current story of our country? If you stay there, it will become a self-fulfilling prophesy. If you start a new sentence – and I suggest beginning that sentence with the powerful possibility words “what if….” – you will quickly enter a new realm of possibility and positivity. Suddenly, the future will become brighter as the feel-good chemicals flood your brain.


You will need to do something painful before constructing new possibility-laden sentences; let go of some stinking thinking as we call it at home. You will need to be prepared to make peace with being wrong in your current assumptions, judgments and attitudes about our country and our people. You will need to let go of your view that we are on a course of failure. You will need to let go of some stereotypical, single-story narratives and the notion that this is not your problem to solve. This is painful because many of us have held our tired old views for a very long time.

But if the battle can be won one sentence at a time, isn’t that a much better way to go into 2020 than holding onto our old negative stories that will ultimately lead only to failure?

Sowing Seeds of Hope for South Africa

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 (

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 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