Monday, June 2, 2008

SA Blook, Introduction


Welcome to the SA blook, a collaboration between South African bloggers with a strong belief in the future of our nation. Essentially, it is a book, originally published online and written by a diverse group of writers with strong views about our country and the reality South Africans find themselves living in.

There are countless books about South Africa’s history and how it developed, and there are bound to be many more. There is also an endless supply of daily news that reminds us about the real and difficult challenges that our country faces and has yet to overcome. While most South Africans understand and feel the pain of these challenges, we will never be able to move forward unless we lift our eyes to the horizon and step boldly forward, aiming to build a foundation for a better future for us all. This blook is about South Africa - a constructive look at our present, our future and the opportunities we have.

While this blook is admittedly an experiment in online writing, this fact should not detract from the importance of the topic at hand – something relevant to all South Africans. Every topic touched upon is intricately linked to South Africa’s present and future, and although we would not like to suggest that our present challenges are simply remedied by positive thinking, we hope to stimulate strong debate and new thinking around these topics. By doing so, the writers hope to contribute to a new perspective in this country, knowing that thinking is the precursor to action.

I trust you will enjoy reading this as much as we all enjoyed writing it, and that you’ll participate in a way that is impossible with traditional books – by leaving your comments, thoughts and ideas on the relevant online chapters as you read them.

Before you go on to read the rest of the blook, I would just like to extend a huge thank you to all the writers who were willing to take part in this blook. They have invested valuable time and thinking into this, and for that I am truly grateful!

[I also want to point out that each author is the owner of their respective chapter, so please do not reproduce, redistribute or alter it in any way without their consent]

South Africa. Actually.

With a GDP (in millions of US dollars) at least 50% higher than any other African country, South Africa is a critical component of the African continent, and possibly even a key to economic and social revival in Africa. Yet, in spite of this success, we find ourselves trailing global leaders by quite a large margin in so many ways.

It’s plain for everyone to see that South Africa has a lot of problems, but its important to remember that we are not alone. Every country has its own struggles, and considering where we’ve come from and the changes that have taken place here over the past 15 or so years, it’s not surprising that we find ourselves here.

As far as challenges go, you name it and we’ve probably had it at some point. Crime, financial crises, unemployment, illiteracy, poverty, droughts… and the list goes on. What surprises me is that we fail to realise that so many [although not all] of these are merely symptoms of a greater problem rather than the cause itself, and we don’t get to the real issues behind the problems we face each day. We often hear the problem of skills shortages mentioned, but if you ask me, our real problem is not a shortage of skills, but rather a shortage of people who really care! Skills can be taught [over time, I admit]. Caring cannot be taught – it’s a conscious decision each of us has to make. And its not an easy decision to make either, as evidenced by the fact that so many people find it easier to move to a different country overseas than to change their attitude and remain here.

It is immensely important that South Africa positions itself to take advantage of the windows of opportunity that are flying at us at staggering speed, even if we don’t yet understand exactly what they are. That responsibility cannot be delegated to a select few political or business leaders within the country, no matter how capable they may be. A leader’s job is to envision those that they influence. Each of us is a leader in some respect, and we all have a circle of influence, no matter how large or small. It is up to each of us to take responsibility for this if we truly want to build this nation.

South Africa reloaded

So, Leader, let me ask you - is it time for us to reload?

In his State of the Nation address on 8 February 2008, while referring to Eskom’s plight at the time, President Thabo Mbeki said “We are a minerals resource economy. We must therefore continue to support the mining industry. It is inevitable that if we are to continue on our growth path as a manufacturing country, we will also have to continue supporting the processing industry.”

There’s no denying the importance of resources to South Africa, and indeed to Africa, but surely there is life after gold? After all, if there’s one thing that history has taught us, it is that stagnation has been the downfall of many an empire – both in terms of countries and businesses.

We have seen that the success of much of the western world, and the United States of America in particular, has been in becoming a post-industrial society, represented by a shift from provision of goods to services and an increased reliance on white-collar as opposed to blue-collar work. It’s true that this does not come without its own problems, and I’m not suggesting this as an end to itself, but rather that we need to take the lessons out of these changes that contributed to those nations’ economic and social successes and implement them here to the extent they are relevant.

We cannot continue to rely on those things that we have always done to take us where we want to go.

“Business Unusual”? No, this is not a reference to corruption or to accounting scandals. In fact, this is our government’s approach to improving the quality of life of every South African. Surely it also means a commitment to developing our South African levels of creativity and knowledge… and therefore our [potentially highly valuable] intellectual capital?

As I said earlier, perhaps it’s time for us to reload, in two senses of the meaning:
Reloading often refers to getting a fresh supply of ammunition ready for use in a weapon. Just like a bee without its sting is harmless, a weapon without ammunition is also harmless, and if South Africa is to play a significant role in the new global community [and economy], we are going to need some new ammunition, in the form of new ideas, new approaches and a strong emphasis on the importance of creating and increasing the value of our intangible assets [our intellectual capital] as opposed to our tangible assets.
Applied to technology, when something is reloaded it generally means overwriting what was originally in memory with new information. We have a history full of painful lessons, so how do we learn the lessons from this history without living and remaining in the past? For if we forget these lessons, we are no wiser now than we were when we made the mistakes, and if we keep living in the past, it becomes impossible for us to move into the future.

With the advent of a global technology revolution, we are watching history unfold and realities change as a global community increasingly becomes a reality.

With this in mind, I trust that this blook will stimulate our approach to handling these issues, as we learn to better appreciate South Africa’s amazing opportunities and better understand our role in envisioning and creating a planet-rocking, mouth-dropping, awe-inspiring future.

When the opportunities present themselves, let us be ready!

Copyright Darren Gorton 2008. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No-derivatives 2.5 ZA license.

This post is a chapter of the SA Blook: A Piece of Significance, an online book written by a diverse group of writers with strong views of our country and the reality we find ourselves living in. The other chapters in the Blook are here:

1. The new South Africa - is it real?
2. Is SA rich or poor?
3. What the world thinks of South Africa and what our global opportunities are
4. The importance of each individual's contribution collectively
5. SA Inc and the business of doing business in SA
6. The beauty and grandeur that surrounds us
7. The importance of technology in SA's global emergence
8. Building brand South Africa
9. Making the most of SA's creative talents and abilities
10. Innovate for a better South Africa
11. The role of the younger generation in SA, and what we need to do to support them
12. Connecting South Africa - Communities that transcend technology
13. We are African - the role of collaboration in South Africa's growth


Anonymous said...

Well done on a great project, thanks so much for enabling me to be involved.

Andy Hadfield said...

Excellent idea Darren. Let's see where we can take it now... I wonder if we can get some Analytics code on each post to track in and out traffic?

Anonymous said...

Someone needs to tip Thabo off that we aren't a minerals based economy anymore.

I love the idea and look forward to reading all the blogs. May it make a difference!

Unknown said...

I wish more people were so forward thinking!! Everyone needs to take this to heart. WE ARE ALL LEADERS!! We all DO have a sphere of influence - big or small. Even stay-at-home moms like me! My attitude towards this country will definately influence my children - they will either stay and build SA or run for the hills!! So let's change our attitudes, our thought patterns and the way we have been doing things - so that there will be LIFE AFTER GOLD for future generations!!

Darren said...

Mandy and Andy, thank you both for your fantastic chapters. Its been fun so far, and will be interesting to see where it heads next.

Dave A, glad you like the idea, and I trust you enjoyed reading through the chapters.

Rozanne, well said. Thanks for the support through putting this together!