South African optimism: yes please!

This speech by keynote speaker Guy Lundy, formerly of Ernst & Young, Oracle, the London Stock Exchange and Dimension Data, has been mentioned a lot lately:

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Many years ago I was an exchange student in the USA, and every morning in my school, as in all schools across America, all classes came to a halt as the Pledge of Allegiance came over the loudspeaker system and every student stood to repeat these words.

I was quite amazed by this display of daily brainwashing in so-called “land of the free”. But in hindsight it isn’t actually that amazing, because we’ve all experienced how Americans are just so proud to be American. No matter how big their problems, and heaven knows they’ve got a lot of them, Americans will still spend hours telling you how fantastic their country is, and in fact, how it is better than, pretty much anywhere else in the world.

What a contrast then, when I later spent a few years in London and I ended up actively avoiding other South Africans. Why? Because frankly their negativity about our homeland irritated me so much! These people who will gladly put new South African flags on their cars and support a whole cottage industry importing biltong and NikNaks to munch on as they cheer on the Springboks at Twickenham, will spend hours telling anyone who will listen just how awful it is in South Africa, how lucky they are to be in London and how they are never going back because it’s in such a mess. At the time I put it down to the fact that they were justifying why they were
holed up in their dingy little flats under grey London skies while their friends and family enjoyed the sunshine on Camps Bay beach. However, when I came home, expecting to be greeted by the smiles of new South Africans everywhere, I was very disappointed to find that exactly the same attitude is pervasive right here. The number of people, who asked me why I came back here and why on earth I had brought my French wife with me, simply amazed me. I would have thought the answer was perfectly obvious.

I was later very disturbed, although not surprised, to hear that our president found it necessary to make a point to South African businessmen that they should stop running down their own country on overseas business trips. Can anyone tell me what it is that makes sense about running down your own home to foreign people that you would like to visit here and invest here?

It seems to me like inviting your boss to dinner at your house in the hope of getting a promotion but discouraging him from coming because you’re a terrible cook and your dog bites. Yes, we have problems, but so does everybody else. Sure, the Rand is down the toilet, but if you look closely enough, you’ll see that just about every other emerging market country has suffered from the same woes – and that includes Australia and New Zealand, which everyone seems in such a rush to get to. And aren’t we lucky that we aren’t living in Argentina with their currency crisis? Sure, our neighbour, Zimbabwe, is run by a mad, despotic fool, but man am I glad that I’m not a Pakistani. We have AIDS and we also have an army of people trying to find a cure for it * possibly more vigorously than anywhere else since we have the most to lose from it. We do have corruption, and the Americans have George W. Bush, whether they like it or not. We’ve got all sorts of problems, yes, but must we be so hard on ourselves? In many ways we are far better off in South Africa as a whole than we have been at any time in our history.

Our people are getting educated and housed at a world-beating rate, we have amongst the world’s cheapest electricity, our inflation is the lowest it’s been in my lifetime, we have an economic growth rate and there is development everywhere you look.

We have so much going for us; we have so many good people, such an interesting mix of cultures; we have so much beautiful countryside and natural resources that we can draw from – we really have such a bright future ahead of us. Let us concentrate on the positive things that surround us every day, the sunshine, the people, the beauty, and the progress. Constantly criticising our country can only do harm for you personally, your personal feeling of happiness and well-being and for the country that you know from the bottom of your heart that you love, otherwise you wouldn’t be here.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I implore you, do not run down South Africa, neither at home nor overseas. Become ambassadors for your country. Welcome foreign guests and point out how far we have come and how far we’re going to go how they need to watch out for us on the world stage. And if you’re overseas on business or holiday (if you can afford it), tell people how much South Africa has going for it and invite them to come and see for themselves.

I have devised my own pledge of allegiance and I’d like to repeat it to you now : “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the Republic of South Africa and to the interesting people, places and idiosyncrasies for which it stands, one nation under several religions, languages and cultures, yet indivisible, with freedom, basic needs and progress for all.”

That is my pledge of allegiance to my home, our home. I pledge to help others see what is so good about it.
Our Beloved Country!!! South Africa, almost alone amongst emerging market economies, is set to escape virtually unscathed from the latest bout of investor panic sweeping the developing world’s fragile economies (The Times, London, August 2001)

The SA banking sector has been consistently ranked in the top 10 in terms of competitiveness (MD, Switzerland). When Nelson Mandela was inaugurated President in 1994, SA was insolvent (liabilities exceeded assets).

Today the Government’s deficit is negligible – one of only a handful of countries in this position. We’ve had single digit inflation since 1993 – following 20 years of double-digit inflation.

Mortgage rates are at their lowest level since 1988. South Africa is one of only 12 countries, where we can drink water from a tap. Our tap water was found to be the 3rd best quality in the entire world.

Remember 15 years ago, in 1986: A state of emergency was declared White men did two years compulsory military service * 64 184 black people were removed from “white areas” * 3989 people were detained without trial * Our economic growth rate was 0.7 percent – today it is 3% * 64 countries had sports boycotts against SA!!!

South African wines win international awards every year and we have the longest wine route in the world. Nelson Mandela, an international icon of forgiveness, tolerance, and humanity is our favourite son. The Kruger Park has the most innovative management of a national park anywhere in the world – and is the world’s most profitable game park. Eskom is the largest producer of coal-fired electricity in the world and South Africans pay the least for electricity in the world. South African Breweries is the 4th largest brewer in the world and produces over 50% of China’s beer!

Mercedes Benz C Class, BMW 3 Series and VW Golf/Jetta vehicles for all right-hand drive markets throughout the world are produced in South Africa. Didata grew from a local IT service provider into a huge, global networking company with branches in 30 countries. The Cape Peninsula has more species of plants here per hectare than any other area of the world.

Magnificent highways, warm, friendly, vibrant rainbow people! The world’s most progressive Constitution, Kreepy Kraulies – a South African invention – Mrs Ball’s chutney and biltong. The world’s best looking population.

“For every guy who holds up a gun, there are 99 who hold out a hand of friendship” – Dennis Beckett, journalist.

I always love optimism and I agree with much of what Guy says – else we wouldn’t have returned to SA after 8 years in the UK.

His site also has the original I Pledge Allegiance – speech.

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