Vusi Thembekwayo: Awareness is empowering because it brings about change

Real change will require assessing our often faulty beliefs - and a little bit of faith.

If we’re going to define what it means to be South Africa, we can’t keep creating belief systems that only affirm our own internal beliefs, said speaker Vusi Thembekwayo at the 2018 Finance Indaba.

South Africans needed to examine their own biases and question them, measure them against objective criteria, and remember that we all had agency to change.

Thembekwayo left no sacred cow unslaughtered, and had the audience in gales of laughter as he pointed out that the Marcus Jooste and Steinhoff had done the country a great service in dismantling the commonly held notion that corruption was the preserve of black people.

He said:

“There are those who believe there was no corruption under apartheid, when in fact it was far worse. It wasn’t even defined as such in 1968, but those matchbox houses in the township that robbed us of our identity didn’t go out on state tender, with fair process…”

He related a conversation he’d had on a plane with a South African who was delighted to be relocating to the US because he said there was “no future” for his children in South Africa.

“Do I need to tell you what race he was?” Thembekwayo asked the audience.

As the laughter died down, he reminded them that figures from Statistics South Africa indicates that young white males between 18 and 35 in the country’s southern provinces have eight times more probability of economic activity and employment than young black female in northern provinces.

“We have to look at the numbers, not the beliefs we have in our head,” he said.

“It’s similar to the people who moan about BEE. ‘You’ve had 24 years!’ they say. But have we? Have we really? The BEE Act was only promulgated 2006. So technically, we’ve not had 24 years. And most of us here know that it’s easy for corporates to thwart transformation, to mask it. To bring in technically qualified people, minimise their roles and responsibility and then amplify the situation for scorecard purposes.”

The good news, he said, was that once you were aware, you had agency, that awareness was empowering because it gave you opportunity to change things. “We can only be agents of change if we understand that single principle of change – that there will and must be resistance,” he said. “If there’s no resistance, you’re not doing anything meaningful or worthwhile.”

 

He said that as a young man he’d asked former president Nelson Mandela what his dream for South Africa was. And Madiba had answered that South Africa needs a little bit of faith. That faith was the ability to see the invisible, believe in the impossible and trust in the unknown.

There was no better time than now for South Africans to live by that principle, said Thembekwayo – have a little bit of faith.