It’s spring! Let’s all focus on areas where we can bring our voices to bear. Where we can have influence. There is no greater tool than the polls. Each and every day in business decisions, in investing in ideas, in talent, in employment, in democratising education, in creating fair and equal employment opportunities. In supporting more charities. We each have far more power than we realise.
I was at my holiday home last weekend, a beautiful spot on the water, just outside of Hermanus, enjoying the happy sounds of family and nature, when I opened that app with the little innocent white bird (definitely not a dove) on a gentle blue background. You know the one that you just touch lightly, so as to open Pandora’s Box to the gates of hell?
And there, sure enough, I read the expected, yet enraging news, the “First Lady” (both words a joke in this instance) of Zimbabwe, that bastion of democracy and preservation of human rights, had safely returned home.
That our government had provided disGrace with immunity for beating-up a young South African woman, with an electric cable no less.
We’d all by now, seen that chunk of flesh she’d removed from Gabriella Engels forehead as she mercilessly attacked her for simply hanging around with her wayward sons in South Africa. Not their home country, but that of the victim.
And so, I stopped hearing Mother Nature, the joyful sounds of my sons playing, no longer seeing the sunbirds sucking nectar out of the aloes outside my lounge. I felt my blood pressure raise, my heart-rate increase and was once again startled, believe it or not, by yet another unfathomable decision and action by our government.
Then, like a miracle, as I stared across the water, I had an epiphany – one that is probably bleedingly obvious to most of you, who haven’t been drawn into this deep and dark world of constant insta-news feeds.
I thought “why the fuck are you doing this to yourself Abel? You have worked bloody hard to be able to enjoy time away in this beautiful spot with your family – and here you are allowing Grace Mugabe’s departure to screw up your day, to rob you of this current happiness”.
And with this sudden realization, I found immediate peace.
I committed to 140 characters on the matter of the assault, and closed the app – for the day.
I then went for a glorious breakfast with my wife, to this great little hideaway spot called Milkwood, on Onrus beach.
There is a wonderful prayer written by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference” – and there, simply, is what my epiphany was about.
What I realised, is that no matter how angry and outraged I got, I could do nothing directly, about this outrageous betrayal of a South African citizen. That the words of our Minister of Police the day before were now utterly meaningless – or that we would finally do the right thing, having learnt from the Omar al-Bashir fiasco.
And while there was absolutely nothing I could do directly to stop her jet from leaving, I comforted myself in that I try to do the small stuff I can, where I can, to hopefully bring a little more justice and consequence to bear, like so many of you reading this, given our NPA continues to play hide and seek with the country.
Has there been a Shaun sighting of late?
Where organisations such as Outa, SaveSA, Afriforum try tackle the madness – where our opposition parties fight the good fight, and independent media like Daily Maverick and their Scorpio, EWN, Amabhungane and a few others try to expose these stories so that active citizenry and hopefully, finally the courts, can help bring about positive change, in the complete absence of those paid by our tax money, to prosecute.
It is through supporting these initiatives, media organisations and NGO’s that we’ll eventually return our country to the one envisioned by Mandela versus the one created by Zupta.
But we need to be kinder to ourselves in the process, so as not to become emotional victims to the insanity that currently besets our beautiful land. But to have the calm, the strength and the resolve, to help where we can, and when we can.
Wilfred Owen, the great poet of Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori fame (we all remember that from high school in the 80s) who died in World War l had two truisms that he left behind for us, as gifts. The first is the English translation of the poem above : “That it is sweet and honourable to die for one’s country” which he said was the greatest lie of all. And the stresses of the current situation here, can cause one great anxiety and illness. A country poised for growth, currently ruined by corruption and cronyism.
A country that enjoyed 3% economic growth under Thabo Mbeki, now hoping to realise 0,3% growth in 2018 – this against the backdrop of 28% unemployment. Where tens of thousands of graduates, with huge student loans, are unable to get jobs, because of the lack of investment in South Africa – 100% due to a credible lack of faith caused by endemic corruption.
His other insight was “every night as I stood in trenches, I was faced with a choice. I could either look down and see my feet in the mud. Or I could look up and see the stars”.
And so, we all have choices. We can be outraged, as we should rightfully be, but then we need to make decisions that will dig us out of this mess.
There are many ways we can help this country, beyond also needing to actively support the fighters for truth, consequence, accountability and justice.
The only way to create economic growth, is to create an environment fertile to investment. This is where our focus must be. And populism isn’t a solution. It spells even greater disaster for our country.
Yes, we may have a political party currently in power, which hounds those who would hold them accountable, even from within like the heroic Dr Makhosi Khoza, Pravin Gordhan and many others who actually tried to save the ANC with their vote of no confidence. Those who would also try bring them to book, like Thuli Madonsela, Mcebisi Jonas, Vygie Mentor, Desmond Tutu and others, against a backdrop of massive fear and tangible danger.
But back to that lovely prayer by Niebuhr: “Give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Let’s all focus on areas where we can bring our voices to bear. Where we can have influence. There is no greater tool than the polls.
But beyond that, each and every day in business decisions, in investing in ideas, in talent, in employment, in democratising education, in creating fair and equal employment opportunities. In supporting more charities.
We each have far more power than we realise – but let’s channel that energy into where we can affect positive change versus simply negatively impacting our health and general outlook.
Today’s 1 September. Spring. What better time to commit to growth and renewal. DM
Mike Abel is regarded as one of South Africa's leading marketing and advertising practitioners. He is the Founder & Chief Executive of M&Saatchi Abel and the M&C Saatchi Group of companies operating in Africa. He is the former CEO of M&C Saatchi Group, Australia and before that, co-led the Ogilvy South Africa Group as COO and Group Managing Director, Cape Town. Mike has been awarded Advertising Leader in South Africa by both the Financial Mail and Finweek : and his company was named Best Agency in SA in 2015. Married to Sara and with 3 young sons, Mike is a regular speaker, writer and is passionate about politics and contemporary African art. His company is proudly also the home of the phenomenon called The Street Store, the open-source, pop-up clothing store for the homeless. It has gone on to become a global movement providing a free shopping experience for hundreds of thousands of homeless people around the world.
"Man is by nature a political animal" ~ Aristotle