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A letter to a friendAuthor: Paul Harris | Monday, 29 October 2012There has been a lot of doom and gloom about SA around recently; the Economist says we are in ‘sad decline’;Clem Sunter says we have a 25% chance of becoming a ‘Failed State’; Moody’s and Standard and Poors havedowngraded us (before the heard Minister Gordhan’s medium term budget speech); ‘Arab Spring’ is bandiedabout with alacrity. It’s not that we don’t have significant challenges, we definitely do. But, sometimes we need alittle perspective. This letter from Paul Harris, a founder of First Rand, to a mate does just that.........Hi JeffHope all is well with you guys. I will drop you a line later with the family news but I would first like to respond to theemail you sent me attaching an article by Clem Sunter which seemed to concern you about us here in SouthAfrica. You also sent me an article last year by Moletsi Mbeki warning about the danger of an an "Arab Spring" inSouth Africa. I often get emails like this from "concerned friends" worried about us which is sweet of you guys. Ofcourse we are concerned. Some worrying things have happened but we have been through and survived muchworse in much more volatile environments. Including the Boer War, two World Wars, Apartheid, the Rindapest,GeKorsten and Die Antwoord !However for as long as I can remember there have always been people who think SA has 5 years left before wego over the cliff. No change from when I was at school in the sixties. The 5 years went down to a few months attimes in the eighties! But it seems the people who are the most worried live far from the cliff in places like Toronto,Auckland, London and other wet and cold places). Also from St Ives and Rose Bay in Sydney, Dallas and Europeand other "safe places" that are in the grips of the Global Financial Crisis, which by the way is quite scary. Manyof them have survived decades of rolling "5 years left" since they left South Africa. So maybe they will be right oneday!My message is, please dont stress about us in South Africa. We are fine. We are cool. We know we live in themost beautiful country in the world inhabited by the warm and vibrant people. There are more people here withsmiles on their faces than any country I have ever been to! Young people are returning in droves with skills and apositive attitude. Collectively we bumble along and stuff many things up while letting off a hell of a lot of steam(have you heard of a chap called Julius Malema?). Yet in between South Africans do some amazing things likewin a few gold medals, big golf tournaments and cricket and rugby matches. The South Africans I know get offtheir butts and do things to build our country rather than whinge from a position of comfort. We actively participatein projects that improve the lot of underprivileged communities. I would not trade for anything last Saturday in ahall full of 1500 African teachers singing at the top of their voices and demonstrating their commitment toimproving education in their communities.We have our challenges and surprises. The standard deviation of our emotions are set at MAX. You are neverjust a "little bit happy" or a "little bit sad". At one moment you can be "off the scale" pissed off or frustrated or sador worried or fearful or depressed . The next moment you "off the scale" exhilarated, or enchanted, or inspired, orhumbled by a kind deed, or surprised by something beautiful. It makes life interesting and worth living. After allwhy do we have emotions?
We also have passionate debates about the future of SA. Helped of course by red wine which you must tasteagain because it is getting better every year! Clem makes a great contribution to the debate as do others likeMoletsi Mbeki. Russell Loubser the ex head of the JSE made a feisty speech the other day that has whipped upemotions. Up to MAX on the emotions meter of the ANC Youth League whose campaign for nationalisation of themines was attributed to people who have IQ s equal to room temperature. South African politics has always beenvolatile, we have opinions that could not be further apart and it evokes emotion on a massive scale. Interestingand stimulating for those that want to take it seriously but noise in the system to me. Fortunately we are rid ofApartheid that would definitely have pushed us over the cliff. These are the birth pangs of a new andunpredictable democracy. So buckle up and enjoy the ride and contribute ! That is the message I convey to SouthAfricans.Sad as it is, it is true that the South African diaspora has a largely negative influence on confidence in SouthAfrica. It would not be a problem if their fretting about how long we will last before we go over the cliff was merelya reflection of their concern for us, their friends and family. The problem is that it does impact foreign investmentwhich is important for economic growth. A person that is thinking of coming to visit or investing is often put off bylistening wide eyed at the stories of people who have gapped it. As you know I own Ellerman House that hostsmany foreign visitors and I have never, EVER, met anyone who has visited for the first time without being blownaway by the beauty of the country and the warmth of the people. It is not for nothing that South Africa has thehighest ratio of repeat visitors of all long haul destinations.So, Jeff, how can I help you stop stressing out about us? Maybe best is that you get exposed to somearticles and web sites that give a more balanced and uplifting perspective of South Africa. I haveattached some links below that you may find interesting.The two websites www.sagoodnews.co.za and www.homecomingrevolution.co.za have stories thatwill make you feel better.I will sum up my feelings about South Africa with a quote from Joanne Fedler’s book ‘When Hungry – Eat’.Joanne emigrated to Australia in early 2000."South Africa is a place of spirit-distorting paradox, a land with abipolar disorder that swings you from joy to despair in the space of a heartbeat. It twists your arm behind yourback and ties your sanity in a knot. It bullies you until you’ve forged your opinion on politics, crime, AIDS, the stateof the roads, the economy or the politicians. It’s not for the wishy washy or the fence sitters. It demands you knowwho you are and what you stand for. It keeps you fit, on your toes and looking over your shoulder. It steals yourpurse and holds your soul ransom. As much as I was, at times, on the edge of sanity living there, I was alsostimulated, driven and felt bungy-jumpingly alive. The shades of happiness and fear mottled. I knew that leaving,like chemotherapy, would kill off the best things in my life as well as the worst."So please dont worry and if you get a chance put in a good word for us.All the bestPaul Harris