Cape Town - In the wake of negative reports and publicity
surrounding South Africa, an email by a prominent South African businessman has
surfaced in which he tries to dispel rumours to a concerned friend.
According to website 2oceansvibe the email, written by
founder and former CEO of FirstRand [JSE:FSR] Paul Harris, was a reply to friend living
The e-mail reads:
Hope all is well with you guys. I will drop you a line later
with the family news but I would first like to respond to the e-mail you sent
me attaching an article by Clem Sunter, which seemed to concern you about us
here in South Africa.
You also sent me an article last year by Moeletsi Mbeki
warning about the danger of an “Arab Spring” in South Africa. I often get
e-mails like this from “concerned friends” worried about us, which is sweet of
you guys. Of course we are concerned. Some worrying things have happened but we
have been through and survived much worse in much more volatile environments.
Including the Boer War, two World Wars, apartheid, the financial crisis without
a bank bailout, the Rindapest, Ge Korsten and Die Antwoord!
However, for as long as I can remember there have always
been people who think SA has five years left before we go over the cliff. No
change from when I was at school in the sixties. The five years went down to a
few months at times in the eighties!
But it seems the people who are the most worried live far
from the cliff in places like Toronto, Auckland, London and other wet and cold
places. Also from St Ives and Rose Bay in Sydney, Dallas and Europe and other
“safe places” that are in the grip of the global financial crisis, which by the
way is quite scary. Many of them have survived decades of rolling “five years
left” since they left South Africa. So maybe they will be right one day!
My message is, please don’t stress about us in South Africa.
We are fine. We are cool. We know we live in the most beautiful country in the
world with warm and vibrant people. There are more people here with smiles on
their faces than in any country I have ever been to.
Young people are returning in droves with skills and a positive
attitude. Collectively we bumble along and stuff many things up while letting
off a hell of a lot of steam (have you heard of a chap called Julius Malema?).
Yet in between South Africans do some amazing things like win a few gold
medals, big golf tournaments and cricket and rugby matches.
The South Africans I know get off their butts and do things
to build our country rather than whinge from a position of comfort. We actively
participate in projects that improve the lot of underprivileged communities. I
would not trade for anything last Saturday in a hall full of 1 500 African
teachers singing at the top of their voices and demonstrating their commitment
to improving education in their communities.
We have our challenges and surprises. The standard deviation
of our emotions are set at MAX. You are never just a “little bit happy” or a
“little bit sad”. At one moment you can be “off the scale” pissed off or
frustrated or sad or worried or fearful or depressed. The next moment you are
“off the scale” exhilarated, or enchanted, or inspired, or humbled by a kind
deed, or surprised by something beautiful. It makes life interesting and worth
We also have passionate debates about the future of SA.
Helped of course by red wine which you must taste again because it is getting
better every year! Clem makes a great contribution to the debate as others like
Moletsi Mbeki do. Russell Loubser, the former head of the JSE, made a feisty
speech the other day that has whipped up emotions. Up to MAX on the emotions
meter of the ANC Youth League whose campaign for nationalisation of the mines
was attributed to people who have IQs equal to room temperature.
South African politics has always been volatile, we have
opinions that could not be further apart and it evokes emotion on a massive
scale. Interesting and stimulating for those that want to take it seriously but
noise in the system to me. Fortunately we are rid of apartheid that would have
definitely pushed us over the cliff. These are the birth pangs of a new and
unpredictable democracy. So buckle up and enjoy the ride and contribute! That
is the message I convey to South Africans.
Sad as it is, it is true that the South African diaspora has
a largely negative influence on confidence in South Africa. It would not be a
problem if their fretting about how long we will last before we go over the
cliff was merely a reflection of their concern for us, their friends and
The problem is that it does impact foreign investment, which
is important for economic growth. A person who is thinking of coming to visit
or investing is often put off by listening wide-eyed to the stories of people
who have gapped it.
As you know I host many foreign visitors and I have never,
EVER, met anyone who has visited for the first time without being blown away by
the beauty of the country and the warmth of the people. It is not for nothing
that South Africa has the highest ratio of repeat visitors of all long-haul
So, Jeff, how can I help you stop stressing out about us?
Maybe best is that you get exposed to some articles and websites that give a
more balanced and uplifting perspective of South Africa. So please don’t worry
and if you get a chance, put in a good word for us.
All the best