We are not helpless. Go gently.

  • By Tsepo Monaledi

The profound advice of De Beers enterprise development head Tsepo Monaledi to the young winners of SA’s 2016 English Olympiad in Grahamstown last month.

The cacophony of elections is a regular reminder of our passion for the Republic in every way. But don’t be alarmed by that; be pleased. For the opposite of love is not hatred, which requires energy, it is apathy. We care so much about what will work best because South Africans really do believe we should succeed; and we also happen to love each other far, far more than anyone else even likes us. It’s our secret.

As rector and vice-chancellor of the University of the Free State, Professor Jonathan Jansen, puts it, leadership doesn’t have to come “from the top”. Rather, we need to find it in “the pockets of goodness” that exist at every level of society. That’s something that we have much more of than we might imagine.

And it is happening all around us in different ways. Just four years ago, a global Barclays Wealth research project found that, in proportion to their disposable income that they give away to help others in need, South Africans are the second most generous people in the world, after Americans.

In February this year, Statistics South Africa reported that the number of South Africans who voluntarily give of their time to help community projects or causes, without pay, has almost doubled in just over two years. The number now runs into millions.

Truly, we are a people who know how to maak ‘n plan. We are shaping and re-shaping ourselves as a people, and soon it will be your turn. And the last census (2011) tells us that our average age is 25 years old. We are, in other words, a young country.

As economist Mike Schűssler notes, no other country with such a young median age has as much wealth as SA. None.

Wherever I go for my work across the provinces, the generational choice of today’s youngsters seems to be for some form of excellence. If that’s their aim, then they’ll need to grasp that it requires choices to be made that aren’t always obvious.

It must start with a profound sense that they’re worth the discipline, the effort and the reward of insisting on constantly raising generational standards in thought, work, humanity – in ways both practical and tough.

This includes agenda-setting. So, when matric results come around, there’s usually a fact-free, hysterical insistence that the quality of our schooling keeps slipping, that our matric crescendo is weak, a walk in the park even. Yet almost none of these critics actually know anything about matric, and they misrepresent a far more nuanced truth with few correcting retorts.

Maybe youngsters just think this is all laughable, knowing their achievements are real. I wish they’d say so more often, and help to shape a broader discussion. For sometimes it’s an unnecessarily nasty discourse, our national conversation – so easily missing even the foundation of gratitude that comes from knowing that we have such robust exchanges in the first place precisely because we’re a free people.

I also hope that inter-generational improvement sees our little ones choose greater tolerance than we do, and that they choose to find deeper knowledge through empathy, living and loving across every segregation.

We don’t need to over-complicate our journey by insisting, falsely, that we are victims of other people’s choices. That’s not how winners understand themselves, nor speak. Do not sell yourself short.

It’s your call – for truly, life can be an experience of authenticity, rewards from anchored values, and especially so when you clothe yourself in simple truths.

In this, De Beers would be humbled and delighted if you found our own staff-designed company values as your coat: Be passionate; Pull together; Build trust; Show we care; Shape the future.

Do that. Walk through your lives in gentle curiosity; smiling at the view of so many things unexpected; lucky to be South African; God by your side.

  • First published in the Pretoria News “In Good Company” column on 27 July 2016, managed by WHAM! Media for the Muthobi Foundation’s Nation Builder initiative (proudnationbuilder.co.za).  


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