South Africa – Seeing is Believing or Believing is Seeing?



It’s not easy being an optimist in these challenging times.  The forces of sadness and negativity are finding more and more evidence to justify their unhappy existence. The psychic vampires are conspiring to drain my positive energy.

Also, I am beginning to think we South Africans suffer from a form of collective national erectile dysfunction. Or at least a massive countrywide inferiority complex, with a smidgen of schizophrenia thrown in. It seems to me that many other countries believe in South Africa more than we believe in ourselves!

The Indian Premier League is a prime example. The people of India (who completely idolise their cricket players) were concerned about the IPL players’ safety due to possible unrest during their elections. So they sent them all to SA, in the midst of our elections, to play the IPL tournament here. They believed that their players would be safer here than back home in India. In addition, we were given only a few weeks to prepare for this massive event and, in true SA schtyle, we pulled it off magnificently!

We also seem to believe that we have the monopoly on dodgy politicians. Right now our old imperialist coloniser Grate Britain (yes spelled grate – because of their constant whingeing and complaining) are catching a major wake-up call. Many of their politicians are deeply embroiled in the current expenses scandal. Their justice Minister Shahid Malik recently resigned after being caught red handed. We had travelgate – they now have mastergate.

Many other countries regularly report highly questionable behaviour by their politicians. For example, click here to view a report on the top 5 most corrupt USA politicians of 2008. It may surprise you to learn that as a country, we only rank 46th in terms of corruption. Which means we are less corrupt than Greece, Brazil, Mexico, Thailand, China, Egypt and India to name but a few.  This statistic by no means justifies or minimises the actions of our businessmen or politicians who succumb to the massive temptations of position and power. It merely puts their behaviour into context.

As John Mayer sings: “We keep waiting, waiting for the world to change”  So we keep waiting for the policemen, politicians, councillors, trade unionists and others to effect the change we need in order for us to finally believe. We spread sad stories of inefficiency, corruption, poor leadership and incompetent civil servants. What is the point? It merely serves to perpetuate our lack of self belief. How long are we going to keep waiting for things to change? When are we, to quote Gandhi, going to become the change we want to see in our country?

There is an ongoing debate on whether seeing is believing, or believing is seeing. The USA is a prime example of the latter. They are technically a bankrupt nation, with a national deficit running into trillions of dollars. About half of their population is overweight and 30% of them obese. Nationmaster reported in a survey on crimes per capita that the USA has more crimes per capita than SA. (Unflippingbelievable!) All they seem to have going for them now are a likeable presidential couple, a thriving democracy and tons of self belief.

Having lived in the USA for 12 months, I was amazed to see their collective level of self belief and patriotism. They harness this collective energy and somehow manage to have the strongest economy on the planet, with less than a third of the population of India and a quarter of that of China! Why? Because they fly their flag and sing their anthem and speak one language and believe in themselves and support one another and work together to keep their dream alive! For them, believing is seeing. We really should learn from this.

As a motivational speaker, my strategy is to open my eyes, my mind and my heart and look out for what is going right. Then focus my attention on it, to keep my spirits high. Which is different to getting high on spirits!

So what do I see in SA, in order to help me believe?

  • I see massive roadworks, currently causing some major traffic problems. I believe however, that within 12 months they should be finished and we will have a vastly improved transportation infrastructure.
  • I see many people struggling financially in these awful economic times. Yet I also believe that we are not as badly affected as many other countries, partly due to the National Credit Act and Exchange Controls which we moaned about for so long.
  • I see layoffs and retrenchments and short time. Yet I also see many people restructuring their busy lives, reprioritising what is really important and starting to create more balance between their work, health and family life.
  • I see compassion and caring starting to replace greed and consumerism.
  • I see reports of many South African expatriates coming home, which I believe could alleviate the acute specialised skills shortage in some of our sectors.
  • I see doctors going on strike, demanding higher remuneration. I support them completely – doctors need to be paid well or they will simply seek work in other countries. Once again, other countries welcome our doctors with open arms, believing in them more than we do. We simply cannot afford to let them go. (By the way, have you ever wondered why doctors study for at least 7 years and then spend the rest of their life practising?)
  • I see my white children, schooling and playing and laughing with black and brown and even Asian kids. I believe this is our hope for the future. (I also had China’s in school, but they were from Jo’burg!)
  • I see cranes and stadiums and construction and housing projects for the poor and packed convention centres and busy shopping malls and an economy which continues to function, albeit in slow motion.
  • I see a photo of Africa, taken from outer space, showing visible evidence of why we are Africa’s largest economy. Africa believes in us – the bulk of the 9.5 million tourists we welcomed to SA last year were visitors from Africa.
  • I see a new minister of finance who has a truly remarkable track record, having vastly improved the efficiency and revenue collection of SARS. I believe he is a worthy successor to Clever Trevor.
  • I see SA companies like MTN and Shoprite expanding into Africa, making a difference and making a profit. Isn’t that what business is all about?
  • I see so much more, but don’t want to become a bore.

What do you see? What do you believe? If we open our eyes, our hearts and our minds, how much more can we achieve?

Henry Ford said: If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are right.




  1. simon
    Thursday, 4 June 2009 at 6:15 am

    From: Simon Davis []
    Sent: 03 June 2009 18:22 PM
    Subject: Re: South Africa – Seeing is Believing or Believing is seeing?

    Hi Mark,
    Once again, some good reading material.
    In these times we live in, it is important that we don’t become ostriches and deny ourselves of the reality that lies ahead. I find it important, that one surrounds themselves with optimists.
    These people, seem to have a knack of finding solutions to challenges, rather than capitulating before the dual has begun.
    I can see, you are one of these gallant soldiers.
    Keep the good work up.
    Simon Davis

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