Alan Knott-Craig: Getting Your Mind Around Why it IS Possible to be Optimistic about South Africa

By Alan Knott-Craig on BizNews

Every now and again I ask my pal Alan Knott-Craig to apply his fertile mind to reasons why fellow SA-optimists shouldn’t be sent to the booby-hatch… writes BizNews founder Alec Hogg. He responded today with some practical reasons why those of us in this tiny camp should be committed, in a positive way of course. And as he has done before, this young father of three girls, a CA who returned home from New York in 2003 to follow his entrepreneurial path, has delivered a piece guaranteed to uplift even the most cynical of his fellows. Have a read. And a smile.

Alan Knott-Craig
Alan Knott-Craig

Getting Your Mind around why it’s possible to be optimistic about SA

By Alan Knott-Craig*

South Africa’s vibes are pretty negative at the moment.

Eskom (still). ANC factions. Zondo Commission. Baddies not in jail. Army in Cape Flats. Crime.


Everyone seems to know someone who’s leaving Joburg for Sydney, without passing Cape Town or Durban.

Depressing stuff. Makes you think whether it’s time to consider Plan B’s.

Maybe it’s time to leave the country.

There are plenty of good reasons to throw in the towel.

Crime. Crooks. Corruption.

There are also plenty of good reasons to eat anchovies. At the end of the day, what you do is up to you.

But before packing your bags, you need to find reasons to NOT panic. You need rational arguments for why SA is not heading for economic (and social) chaos.

Unfortunately, there are no rational arguments.

All the evidence points towards doom. The only hope we can cling to is that we’ve been in the same situation on several previous occasions, and the country somehow confounded the doomsayers.

But hope is not a strategy.

Neither is a non-SA passport.

It’s nice to think you can hop on a plane if things get really real, but in truth most of us are economic prisoners.

We can’t leave SA because we can’t afford to live anywhere else and have the same quality of life.

London, Tel Aviv, Singapore and Tokyo are awesome. Absolutely stunning cities, great food, trains on time. A beer costs R100. A house costs $5m.

Nairobi is a lot cheaper. Beer costs R35, but it takes 90min to travel 10km through gridlocked traffic, all day every day.

The trouble is South Africa is the only country in the world where we can be happy.

We can’t braai in England (it’s illegal to burn wood), or visit family in Australia (no family in Oz), or live in a decent house in New Zealand (too expensive), or drive to work in Hong Kong (permanent traffic jams), or breathe in Beijing (permanent smog), or be proud of your president in America (imagine having The Donald as your chief ambassador?)

It is possible to live elsewhere.

It’s just not possible to be as happy elsewhere.

Only South Africa has our families, our culture, or boerewors, our humour, our weather, our chutney.

Only South Africa has the Karoo AND the Transkei AND Golf Reef City.

Only South Africa lets you see the stars at night AND buy a decent cappuccino.

Only South Africa gives you opportunities to help other people, to pay their school fees, to give them a job, to give you purpose.

In South Africa you can make a difference in other people’s lives.

The trick is to realise there is no happy alternative.

Once you’ve come to terms with not having a Plan B, it’s a lot easier to commit.

And that’s what we all need to do: Commit.

Because if we don’t commit, we’ll definitely be unhappy, and we’ll probably fail.

The next few years in SA will not be easy. Which is great news.

Good times are not really useful for getting ahead.

As Petyr Baelish said in Game of Thrones (a few hours before having his throat slit), “Chaos is a ladder”.

True opportunity only arises when everyone is heading for the exits.

Right now, everyone is heading for the exits.

Which means there’s never been a better time to be optimistic.

We’re South Africans. We’re used to tough times. Zuma has trained us well.

You can’t do anything about Zondo, you can’t put Markus in jail, you can’t change interest rates, you can’t leave the country.

As long as you’re not leaving, you’re staying.

If you’re staying, you may as well commit.

To commit 100%, there’s no room for doubt and pessimism. You need optimism in the front seat.

Here are four tips for being optimistic about South Africa:

  1. Travel internationally. It’s only when you see the other side that you appreciate that the grass isn’t greener.
  2. Invest in Rand hedge shares on the JSE: ABI, BAT, Richemont, Naspers, Anglo, Glencore. That way if the Rand crashes, your investments will go up. If the Rand strengthens, great news for you because you’re living and earning in Rands.
  3. Don’t read the newspapers. Firstly, they’re biased towards bad news because bad news sells. Secondly, you can’t influence 99.9% of the stuff you read about. If you can’t influence it, ignore it. It’s just wasted energy. Save all your attention for stuff you can influence.
  4. Make sure you have a purpose other than just making bucks. Orphans, or cancer patients, or rhinos, or whatever. Unlike Switzerland, South Africa is a country with lots of injustice. Lots of opportunities to make a difference and have purpose in life.

Think of it this way: If SA’s future is bad, it doesn’t matter what you do, you’re screwed.

If SA’s future is great, and you spent ten years worrying about the future, then you’ll be kicking yourself ten years from now for having needlessly spent all that time stressing and worrying.

Everything will be ok in the end. If it’s not ok, it’s not the end.

* Alan Knott-Craig is the chairman of Herotel

This article first appeared on BizNews and is republished with Alec Hoggs’ kind permission.