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SONA, The Long View and Keeping Your Promises

February is generally a challenge for Capetonians. We, the lucky citizens of arguably the most awesome city on earth, face multiple threats to our general zen. Now, as someone in tourism, I am always grateful for the multitude of visitors that keep jetting in on the various airlines to eat in our restaurants, shop in our stores and stay in our hotels. They help to create jobs, so I am usually happy about the increase in traffic on the roads and busy beaches and restaurants.   


I am also, as a rule, a fan of summer. Summer is when the sun comes up before six, when I get to cycle in the early mornings, when the evenings are gorgeous and the temptation to fire up the braai is real every single day.   


But, as my grandma used to say, there is also something like too much.  


Like a houseguest that overstays their welcome, February taxes us a little bit. The powers that be typically choose the hottest week of the year to host the mining Indaba (a global gathering of resource players and a brutal reminder, on an annual basis, that South Africa’s political framework hampers our growth potential). And, while the hotels are already full and the roads congested, we also get the State of the Nation address at Parliament. This is the annual opportunity for our exalted leader to make promises he won’t keep, celebrate wins he is not responsible for, and remind us how low our expectations have fallen.   


I am particularly vulnerable to a sense of humour failure on SONA day. I live up the road from Parliament, and the blocked roads to accommodate the visiting dignitaries have a real effect on our lives. One year, my heavily pregnant wife had to walk up the hill in the sweltering heat because the Uber just couldn’t get to us. This year, we gave our domestic staff the day off, knowing that they would also take hours to get home, and we shifted work schedules to accommodate. These, are, admittedly, minor inconveniences. And I wouldn’t mind them if the president gave us something real to work with. But, unfortunately, this is an event where the president will promise high and low to fix our energy problems – even as our power cuts off for four hours a day on the hottest day of the year.  


We want something real. Real promises. Real focus. And then, the following year, report back on the progress made on those promises. I know the government does macro things and they take time… but man, you can’t use that excuse forever. When do we see some SMART goals, and a solid report back on them? Instead, the president, as ever politically astute, did a reflection on 30 years of ANC rule in South Africa, and the wins over that time. Which, arguably, are many. Under Nelson Mandela, South Africa became a symbol of inclusivity and peaceful transition. His predecessor Thabo Mbeki presided over almost a decade of reasonable growth and prosperity. Then the rot started, and a decade of corrupt government has left us with a machine that is still stuttering.   

I’m a big fan of big-picture thinking. Peeking over the horizon into the future, and then figuring out the smaller steps in the present to get there. I’m also prone to over-indulging in reflection and looking back at the past to make me feel better in the present. Feeling down and out stuck in traffic today? Escape into happy memories of hiking in Peru 20 years ago, sure. But the present needs a lot of attention too. The problems in front of us – in front of me – here today, they need our full trust and respect.   

I’m reading Elon Musk’s autobiography. It’s hectic. And I wouldn’t, in a million years, want to be inside of that guy’s head. But the richest man in the world will still sleep on factory floors, ask tough questions of his team and unapologetically speak truth to power in his quest to change our reality. I wouldn’t want to work with him. He sounds like Steve Jobs on steroids, and there is no process, no inefficiency, no bloated cost structure that escapes his attention. His dream of space tourism or a better environment through cleaner energy is laudable, but the feverish commitment to focus on the present and its problems is what will get us there.   


We can all learn something from that.   

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