On weekdays I prefer working out at the gym sometime between 11 am and 1 pm. That way I break my day. I can be super productive in the morning, pushing to get things done before I head off and then super productive in the afternoon again after I am back and filled with all the good stuff that flows around in my veins after pumping iron for an hour or so. But yesterday (like too many other days recently) was different. I changed my schedule so that me and my fitness freak daughter, Mandisa, could start our workout at 3pm so as to coincide with my office’s load shedding induced down time. I was not at all happy about this inconvenience. I am not at all happy that Eskom is now causing me daily to lose money in business. But I was happy though that I got slightly more time, between bench press and back squats, to think a little. To ruminate. To ponder on the peculiar situation in which we find ourselves in this beautiful country.
Lets start perhaps with what we know. We know that we have all the essential ingredients as a country to deliver world beating performance. We have just this week delivered a South African Miss Universe. We have just last month delivered South African victors of the Rugby World Cup. We have in recent years effortlessly delivered Elon Musk and Trevor Noah onto the world stage. The evidence is clear, unequivocal and indisputable. We have the right stuff! We are able to dominate the world in a broad range of disciplines. But friends, how then do we explain Eskom, SAA and Mayor Bobani?
It seems perhaps that South Africa exists in two realities. One in which we are the absolute shit and another in which we are just plain shit! How is this even possible? Well I am glad you asked, because this gives me a chance to try out my theory on you.
My suggestion is that where we have succeeded so spectacularly as a country is where we have figured out mechanisms that allow for the best of us to “float to the top” of our chosen field. We have seen this in rugby, we have seen this in the Miss Universe contest and in the worlds of technology and entertainment. But where we have developed institutions that have built “filters” that prohibit the best from rising to leadership and decision-making positions, there we find failures like Eskom, SAA and the NMBM. Perhaps it’s just a simple case of where vicious competition is obvious and clear to us, we rise and where we are blinded to it, we fail. I say this because somewhere in our collective South African consciousness we must know that we have no choice but to put our best foot forward in the Miss Universe competition. If, in that contest, we had used our Eskom mindset, we would have held back Zozibini Tunzi in favour of a lesser competitor whose surname just happened to be Gupta. If we had used our SAA mindset in the Rugby World Cup competition, we would not have even made it to the first game. We would have insisted that a 15 man team is just not big enough and that we refuse to come on the field unless we can meet our job creation goals by having a 40 member squad!
If we were living in Southern Sudan, it would perhaps be understandable that we are experiencing Stage 6 load shedding or that we couldn’t figure out how to run a little airline with 58 planes (for heaven’s sake American Airlines has 1500 planes!). But we are not living in Southern Sudan. We are living in a country with significant human resource. South African has proven in the Miss Universe contest, in World Cup Rugby, in Elon Musk and in Trevor Noah that we can build systems that allow our best to shine and to make the world a better place.
But don’t get me wrong. I am not talking to you about politics (or the delusion that causes people to think that they can make any real change by queuing up once every four years at the ballot box). No. That’s not what I am after. What I want to see in each and every one of us is that we make sure, that within our own sphere of influence and control, we insist that the best of the best be allowed to float to the top. The best people, the best ideas, the best products and the best technology. And yes, you do have power and sway. It may be in your kid’s hockey club where you insist that the best kids make the first team. It may be in your office, where you make a scene where you encounter nepotism. It may just be you, on Instagram, promoting what you know to be the best sirloin steak in town or making a fuss about sub-standard service at the bank or being ripped off with data prices by your cellular company. It’s our duty every single day to reject bad design, bad coffee and bad attitudes. Each and every one of us must demand the best and we must insist that all that is not up to the task is sent back to try again.
Believe me. Our country depends on it! Our country depends on you!