Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Morning After

South Africa changed last month. It had a different attitude, confidence, pride. People like me, who wouldn’t describe themselves as soccer mad, were carried along by a wave of enthusiasm, found ourselves shouting for the home side, then an African side, then our favourite side. And we reacted to the way the world saw us. Not as a crime-ridden, corrupt, third world country sinking into oblivion, but as a new emerging leader with great things in its future.

There was plenty of speculation that the World Cup in South Africa would be followed by a hangover of mammoth proportions. Not only would we be left with stadia all over the country which we wouldn’t use and couldn’t afford to maintain, but all the build up of tourist facilities would be left high and dry. Yes, tourists might come in the future, but that was for the future. The economy – for many years underpinned by infrastructure spend – would slump. Perhaps even worse, South Africans would revert to a mood of pessimism and wait for everything to fall apart. All the flags would come down.

Nelson Mandela Stadium
Well, sporting bodies are mulling over the jaw-dropping rates that the new stadia demand to host events. No doubt costs will be negotiated and sponsorships will be found to make it feasible. Business, which largely held its breath during the World Cup, is now at higher than normal activity, and much work still needs to be done to complete the infrastructure upgrade the country so badly needs. Resource prices are on the increase again and returns from mining should improve. The economy looks okay provided there isn’t a second dip in the big overseas economies. But where do we go from here?

Guess who holding guess what.
Yesterday a new initiative hit the headlines. Literally, because it is being supported by a consortium which includes several of the big newspapers and radio stations. Johannesburg’s major daily, The Star, gave it four pages including the front page. It’s called LeadSA and here’s what it’s about.

We hosted the World Cup. It wasn’t just okay, it was great. There were hardly any hiccups. Everything was ready on time. The world was impressed. We are talking about the Olympics in the future. We can do this in the other areas that trouble us, too. We just have to have the confidence, commitment and enthusiasm to do it. LeadSA asks us to do this. It’s not necessarily to do something big, but it is necessary to do something. Watch things improve. Keep the pride of the World Cup achievement. Keep the flags flying. At first thought my reaction was lukewarm. This was just another of the endless team-building exercises. What can one really do? Then I thought that there are some things one can do, very small things but if 45 million people do a few very small things it will make a big impact. A few I can do. Make a point of taking a cloth bag to get groceries rather than lugging off more everlasting plastic ones, cut back on power usage until the infrastructure has caught up with the economy, be careful with water – plentiful this year but what about next? Take part in events like the Knysna Book Fair and Jozi Book Fair which are about literacy rather than selling books. Yes, all tiny, but all a small commitment to a positive outlook.

I don’t think these issues are local to South Africa. Obama famously said ‘yes we can’. Now the refrain is ‘you aren’t delivering’. When did the ‘we’ become the ‘you’? I read about the LeadSA initiative while waiting for my car to be ready after its service, and decided I would write about this today rather than the topic I'd had in mind. Do this small thing. Nelson Mandela once said: “It is in your hands to create a better world for all who live in it.” I wanted a piece of paper to get that quote exactly right. For once my wallet wasn’t full of credit card slips, but I found a small square scrap and wrote on that. I was halfway through before I realised on what I was writing. It was the back of a passport photo. Of me.

Michael - Thursday


  1. Michael, there can never be too many stable democracies in the world. South Africa took its place on the world stage with pride; the World Cup atmosphere was so like that of the Olympic games. People got to see South Africa as it is, not as people think it to be.

    All democratic nations come kicking and screaming into the world. The US didn't move seamlessly from colony to country. Mandela and Desmond Tutu are the international face of South Africa. Now the world needs to see the new leaders, the people who are carrying the country forward.

    "It is in your hands to create a better world for all who live in it." So we take baby steps like re-usable grocery bags. But baby steps are formidable. Watch as adult try to catch up to a toddler who has a goal in sight. Those little legs make long strides.

    Bit by bit we do are bit and is all adds up.


  2. That's a good question, Beth. Mandela had very big shoes to fill. So far his successors feet have been too small. But as you say, we have to build up bit by bit and that applies to leadership at the top as well. Let's wait and see.