On my first trip back to South Africa since the 2010 World Cup, I am enjoying the pulsating city of Johannesburg. There is a real energy here, vibrant and captivating. Despite the occasional rain induced pot-holed roads, you feel that this is a country where people strive for the maximum from life, have an urge to move forward.
There is a kind of honest primal naiveté coupled with a sharp, intuitive business sense, mixed in with a readiness to take risks that makes for a seductively addictive society.
Add to that a new multi-cultural ease along with a spirit of communication, tolerance and friendliness that you do not readily find in many places and there you have the new South Africa, a warm, absorbing and dynamic society. Unfortunately but perhaps predictably, the politics are,of course, awash with the usual African gutter corruption that depresses you like an unwanted pimple, but there seems to be an inclination from the general community to dismiss those stereotypes, leaving them to pursue their non productive and selfish money games so that the ordinary man can concentrate on the real business of moving ahead. Not that the behavior of the high and mighty is automatically accepted, far from it, but solutions are best left to the determined few who may eventually succeed in removing the rotten eggs.
The country also has to put up with a stifling beurocracy and a serious unemployment problem but, interestingly, it is unemployment that has been the stimulus for this entrepreneurial drive to develop new business opportunities .Such young enterprises will of course, not all succeed, but it seems that everywhere you go in today’s Johannesburg and especially if you have had the opportunity to observe the process of change and growth, you will be amazed at the plethora of small businesses taking root, determined to create fresh openings. Driving past Nelson Mandela’s house, I think back to that complex and tenuous time, the fear, the fight, the despair the uncertainty and ultimately and against all odds, the success of the birth of the Rainbow Nation and where it is today.
Because I have strong links with South Africa, I experienced first hand some of the pain of the transition from white majority rule to democracy. It seemed an extraordinary and impossible challenge but it succeeded because of the right men at the right time at the right place. Much has been written about Nelson Mandela – his strength, his indomitable spirit, his humanity, his superhuman ability to forgive, his gift and vision to understand, to see beyond the everyday and the trite, whilst understanding the anger of his people and their empirical enemies. It is right that all this has been written and acknowledged because he was a man beyond the scope of ordinary men. But I believe that not enough recognition has been awarded to his counterpart WF De Klerk, the man who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with him, the man who persuaded an unwilling and frightened people to accept that change must come, that no longer could a minority rule a majority, that this outcast nation, derided at every dinner table throughout the world as a pariah must accept and yield to the forces of right and justice. The right men at the right time – how strange are the ways of humanity and the forces of life.
De Klerk was as much a man of vision and brilliance, of insight and humanity as Mandela, and wise enough to step off the stage at the critical moment and give way to the man who would then lead and inspire. De Klerk was a man who challenged history, who broke all the sacred rules entwined in the soul of the Afrikaner people; he made them understand that there was no other option. He somehow, almost miraculously accomplished this and his role was essential and equally extraordinary.
I hope that history will acknowledge him as a great statesman in the making of today’s new South Africa.