The silence is killing us, says Graham Fehrsen


The CFO SA MD talks about the dangers of not speaking up, being honest, and standing firm

“We need you to change the headline of your article – it’s sensationalist and incorrect.” This SMS request took me by surprise, as we’re not in the business of sensationalism or fake news. A follow up phone call lead to a firm exchange. When the complaining party was offered the opportunity to provide more information or context we received no response. The story was accurate and the real issue was that the “sensational” headline was causing a PR and reputational headache. The truth can be an uncomfortable bedfellow.

The 2017 South African story is dominated by the “captured” theme, but the real enemy among us is silence. Silence from those who know better, silence from those who are too afraid to speak up, and silence from an industry and its leaders where, for a very long time, decidedly poor corporate behaviour has been quietly ignored.

Only recently has some of this behaviour, exposed by relentless and unapologetic journalism, been corrected or kickstarted a variety of processes designed to right the wrong. Silence is truly our greatest enemy. Ask the women who suffered at the hands of Harvey Weinstein, ask the good people still working at KPMG or SAP, ask those dedicated members of the South African Police Service committed to reducing crime. South Africa’s current social ills have many causes but none, in my opinion, as deep and as destructive as our silence on our past and our ongoing silence around the huge economic inequality of today.

As a professional, each and every one of us has a responsibility to speak up, be honest and hold our ground. Anything else compromises not only your personal integrity, but the values and principles that underpin your profession and your hope for a better society. More importantly, if you are silenced, there is a very good chance that others will be too, and before you know it, your team, your organisation or your community will become victims of your inaction.

If you’re wondering – we kept the headline. We’ve made no friends but we did the right thing and weren’t silenced. We will continue to say the things others might not want to hear during our events in 2018 and we will continue to write in CFO Magazine and on about what really matters for a community of exceptional professionals – South African accountants.

Martin Luther King Jr’s words best convey why your voice is important: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”. Raise your voice, confront the truth and help make South Africa a better place for the next generation.

This article first appeared in CFO Magazine

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