Sunél's Blog | Don’t talk yourself out of the game

Sunél Veldtman, | 20 October 2023

As I write this blog, I am still recovering from the nail-biting quarter-final Rugby World Cup match. In what is heralded as perhaps the greatest display of rugby of all time, the Springboks held onto their one-point lead to advance to the semi-finals. There was a point, when our team lagged the French, that I nearly lost hope. But our team displayed extraordinary tenacity to claim the lead and defend it to the end. We woke up to an elated nation.

In stark contrast, I attended an investment conference last week, where a deeply sombre mood hung over every discussion. It has been a tough year in the South African investment environment – the savings industry is experiencing outflows only seen a few times before. 

While the country is still recovering from the aftermath of the pandemic and the impact of the war in the Ukraine, our government has scored too many own goals.

The current ANC government cares more about their own politicians’ pockets and posturing a shallow show of the resistance movement than it does about the people of this country. I don’t have to remind you of the misery we face daily – load-shedding, unemployment, poverty, failing infrastructure, poor health and appalling education outcomes for the majority of people. It creates a lack of everything for most people in our country, a scarcity of the most basic things needed for human dignity.

We should be angry at our government for neglecting their people. They can do so much better.

The current negative sentiment, which is understandable given the circumstances, is drowning our hope.  In every conversation, there seems to be a hopelessness about the future of South Africa. A kind of one-way thinking. This country can only go one way, people say – sink further into decay.

But I am not sure I agree.  Yes, if we hold up inappropriate developmental models, then our only option is hopelessness.  But that is not our only route. We perhaps have to walk a different path towards the progress we desire.  Because if we don’t, and we continue to believe that our outcome toward decay is inevitable, it will become our reality. If we do not envisage a better future, from a different position, it cannot become a reality.

What if we could see our challenges as opportunities? In a country with many problems, opportunity abounds. And in this country, entrepreneurship, and creativity flourish precisely because of the lack of what we so desperately want – certainty and stability. Look at companies like Shoprite, Afrimat, Dischem, or Capitec – these are businesses that have grown despite challenges. In fact, they have turned challenges into opportunities.

Many countries in the world are struggling with the massive problems posed by inequality, infrastructure decay spreading from decades of insufficient investment, outdated and under-funded education and healthcare systems, as well as the growing challenges presented by climate change. Recently, an industry colleague returned from an investment conference in the UK, where people are equally despondent about their country’s economic conditions. We are not alone in our concerns and battles, regardless of the degree of it.

Bureaucracy holds many countries back, not just South Africa. According to the New York Times, in the US, you will wait 10 to 13 weeks to renew a passport. Recently, I renewed my son’s passport in a week. It’s an example of a departmental turnaround that although not perfect, is vastly improved and working.

This kind of change is possible, for transport and electricity generation, for our healthcare sector, and our education.  But, it will not happen if we don’t believe it and start making it happen. Note, I didn’t mention Transnet, Eskom, or the government healthcare or education sector. Except for a handful of small, wealthy countries or non-democratic nations like China, governments do not deliver services efficiently. We need to accept this and move on.

We have begun to see the kind of change we need: the private sector is already fixing load shedding one solar panel at a time. It has the potential to fix a lot more.

And in all of this, in your hopelessness, if you are, you perhaps need to ask yourself what you are looking for and what you want to be a part of, or not.  If you are looking for stability, South Africa may not be for you. If you can’t accept the messiness of our complex situation and its consequences, it will imprison you.

However, if you seek an exciting, creative, and vibrant environment, this is, arguably, one of the best places on earth. But you do need to take off any lens of hopelessness you are wearing, stop the negative talk, roll up your sleeves and think of a new game plan.  Start training even. The Springboks are just one example of the excellence that can be achieved by the magnificent people of this country.

Siya Kolisi said in an interview after the game, “It’s about the people back home. That’s what’s driving us. Win or lose, they will see that kind of fight that you saw out here today.” How can the 62 million people living here give up hope? We too, must fight hopelessness with the same tenacity and game-plan mentality that the Springboks exemplified in defending their one-point lead.

Right now, we have a proverbial one-point lead to make this work. Let’s not talk ourselves out of the game.

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Kind regards,