South African Positive Power

Marcella Bremer Reflection 2 Comments

m_SA VillageI spent two weeks in South Africa where I was invited to provide my Culture Change Leadership Workshop to South African consultants and HR managers. When I watched the movie “Long walk to freedom” about Nelson Mandela, I realized that it had been only 26 years ago that apartheid was abolished. Such a short time! In spite of all their challenges, I was impressed with their diversity, resilience and their positive power. Let me share some of my observations to inspire you to think positive as well.

South Africa is a beautiful “rainbow” nation: a fascinating mixture of people with 11 different languages, many beliefs, cultures and different recipes. It’s like a patchwork blanket: they are English, Afrikaans, Xhosa, Zul, Venda, Tswana, Tsonga, Swazi, South- and North Sotho and South Ndebele. How’s that for diversity?

Diverse cultures and languages

Though people speak their mother tongue, English is the language of the future that connects everyone (Afrikaans is still associated with the oppressing system of apartheid).

English is the language of making money, of organizations and the white elite. Even though everyone is equal regarding rights and duties, this equality has not spread yet to material wealth and education. On South African highways I saw expensive, large cars racing past poor people walking alongside the
road, on their way to self-constructed sheds in townships. The country is working hard to change that – but it’s a huge effort to develop the masses who were left behind for decades.

South Africa also attracts many people from other African countries because its economy is doing well compared to the continent. People are competing for jobs, and middle-class neighborhoods are turned into gated communities because of high criminality. Let’s not talk politics and corruption – but that’s another issue that South Africa has to deal with.

m_african graphicStaying positive

Challenges enough – but no one I met seemed too depressed. On the contrary: if there’s one thing that I took back home, it’s their power of positive thinking. I’ve seen so much resilience, entrepreneurship and belief in the future that I am impressed. There’s the artist from Uganda who started selling paintings and the waiter from Zimbabwe who is learning how to run a restaurant – eager to return home once they’ve learned more skills and made more money.

Being kind is easy when life is going your way. Click To Tweet

I also met Samantha Mtinini who was born in a small village but moved to the Langa township like so many others do – attracted by the opportunities that a city like Cape Town offers. Though townships alongside the highway are being developed as we speak, this is still where the less fortunate are living. This is where it could be easy to give up or to lapse into harsh “survival of the fittest”.

Of course, that happens – given drug abuse and crime rates. But the power of positive thinking blooms in townships, too. The people who spread love, kindness, generosity, hope and encouragement in these townships are true heroes to me. Being kind is easy when life is going your way. But giving to others when you don’t have much to share, is another league of greatness.m_samantha

Township Tourism

Samantha finished her studies in Tourism while doing several jobs, and next, founded a company with her husband, Khonaye Tuswa. She drives tourists to the townships to give them a chance to talk with its people instead of talk about them and judge. Samantha not only makes a living but is also giving back. She ensures that the township benefits from the tourist visits.

She supports several initiatives by sharing part of her revenue. Some people in the township have started bed & breakfast lodging (!) and there is a kitchen garden with free lunches that was set up by a few “granny’s” like Ma Cindy. Ma Cindy works the garden every day, showing how to grow healthy vegetables and cooking free lunch to feed those who can’t afford food. Ma Cindy is radiant with energy because this is her purpose – though now and then she feels it’s only a drop in the ocean.

Entrepreneurship

Some people in the township have started bed & breakfast lodging (!) and there is a kitchen garden with free lunches that was set up by a few “granny’s” like Ma Cindy. Ma Cindy works the garden every day, showing how to grow healthy vegetables and cooking free lunch to feed those who can’t afford food. Ma Cindy is radiant with energy because this is her purpose – though every now and then she feels it’s only a drop in the ocean. But then, she tells herself, one good meal a day is better than nothing. She’s thankful to be able to do this.

Samantha also supports Leanne who just started a child day care in an old building. This allows Moms to go to work and make money – the kids being educated while they play. They speak Xhosa and Leanne is practicing English with them – to improve their chances of a better life. Leanne made a leap of faith: she has a bank loan to pay back while not all the Moms can pay her. But she believes she can do it. “I’m sure it will work out. When you do something good, God will help you.” By the way, the bank loan was arranged with the help of Lisa, a white teacher – because banks don’t like to lend money to a black township woman.

Giving to others when you don't have much to share is true kindness. Click To Tweet

Look forward, and look up

Zingi is trained by Samantha to do guided tours in his township. He’s proud and he emphasizes that they look at the future, and don’t look back in anger, fear or grieve. “We are taught to look forward because we have to leave our past of apartheid behind.” The people I met in the township all seem to derive their strength from the future (that’s interesting because the traditional African cultures value the ancestors and the past). Envisioning a positive future is a feature of Positive Leadership.

Back in my workshop, I noticed that this diversity and entrepreneurship is not naturally incorporated in South African organizations. It’s just like everywhere else: clients and organizations are used to the “Western” industrial age mindset of top-down thinking with – rough generalization – white male CEOs at the top telling the others what to do (instead of asking, listening and engaging). This mindset and the hierarchical structures are hampering diversity and entrepreneurship in many organizations. Some of the workshop attendees lived in stifling organizations – waiting for permission, attending countless meetings, being kept in the dark about future plans, staying “in the box” according to their position. Of course, this happens in all Western old-fashioned organizations – so it’s not a feature of the South-African corporate world per se.

Mindset and hierarchical structures are hampering diversity and entrepreneurship. Click To Tweet

In my workshop, we practiced Culture Change Circles based on dialogue – circles that include everyone and thrive on the information and energy of all. Just like the African Ubuntu meeting method that I explained in an earlier blog post: you include as many perspectives as possible – to finally see “group will” emerge – thus the team will decide and act together. That’s empowerment. Let’s incorporate this way of “thinking together” in our organizations to be better equipped for the future.

Copyright © Marcella Bremer 2016. All rights reserved.

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Comments 2

  1. Marcella; I am so pleased to read your assessments. I’m glad that the forward/upward looking attitudes are contagious, and that African people share a desire to develop and promulgate “can do spirits and approaches.” The POWER (the Resources may be there in place), but the RESPONSIBILITIES for realizing and actualizing the potentials reside among the people. I think perhaps that such attitudes are more widespread among the peoples of the World. Perhaps, too much, Leadership individuals think there need to be Change Efforts and Strategizing for “how”, when simple social and physical observations can (and do) release enormous potentials towards moving events along for progress and happiness.

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      Author

      I agree with you, Bill :) Self-organization can flow naturally as soon as management steps back and people are ready, willing and able to take initiatives that they see necessary. Informal leaders will rise and inspire others around them. People will gravitate toward a shared purpose. Yes, this is beautiful to see.

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