Alan Knott-Craig: Hope is a Strategy

By Alan Knott-Craig

Alan-Knott-Craig-Jnr

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting worried… writes Alan Knott-Craig.

The Corona-virus lockdown is getting me down.

It’s getting me depressed.

It’s making me a bit scared.


It’s not the curfew, or the lack of exercise, or too much time in a confined space with my family, or the alcohol & cigarette ban, or not being able to visit my parents, or not being able to go to work.

It’s that I’m receiving increasingly desperate calls for help from people from all walks of life.

Restaurant owners and golf caddies.

Tour operators and waitresses.

Professional sportsmen and domestic helpers.

In the townships there are long queues of people waiting for food hand-outs.

The situation is not getting desperate. The situation is already desperate.

Desperate and stressful and scary and nerve-wracking.

If I’m nervous, I know that some of you must be nervous too.

So I thought I’d share with you how I’m personally dealing with my anxieties and fears in the face of the massive social, health and economic challenges that have been created by the Corona Crisis that is engulfing South Africa.

Before I go on, let me unequivocally state I am no irrational optimist, nor do I in any way pretend to truly understand the suffering of most South Africans.

I merely speak as a father, a brother, a son, a husband, a friend, and a colleague.

I speak as someone who grew up in a face-brick house in Pretoria, studied to be an accountant in Port Elizabeth, started his first job in Cape Town, worked in New York City to get a taste for the world, moved to Johannesburg to become an entrepreneur, and settled in Stellenbosch to live near my mother & father in-law.

I speak as a South African.

First, let’s face the facts.

Institutions are going bankrupt. Edgars, Associated Magazines, restaurants, airlines, hotels, cinemas.

It seems a true injustice than a well-run business like Safair is in danger of bankruptcy through no fault of it’s own.

And yet, that’s just how it is.

Companies are going out of business.

Workers are losing jobs.

Uber drivers are idling on the pavements.

Children are going hungry.

People are running out of money.

Families are staring destitution in the face.

Starvation used to be a dilemma exclusively reserved for truly poor countries like Ethiopia in the 1980’s, but it is becoming a plausible scenario for many South Africans.

Not a day goes past where there is not news of some new tragedy.

Some new economic blight.

Some new story of a family in dire straits.

Not a day goes past where family and friends do not speak to one another in a sombre tone, prophesying millions of deaths from the Corona-virus, overwhelmed hospitals, mass unemployment, a multitude of desperate young South Africans out in the streets.

A future where South Africa possibly follows in the footsteps of Zimbabwe. A failed state.

A land of misery and poverty.

A land where the leaders are consumed by unbridled greed.

Where citizens live in fear of the army.

And where young men and women have no choice but to leave their children in the care of their grandparents whilst they walk across the border in search of economic opportunity.

There is one big difference between Zimbabwe and South Africa.

If that dystopian future were to come true for our country, there is nowhere for South Africans to walk.

We cannot walk south, east, or west. That way lies the ocean.

And we cannot walk north, for that way is clogged with refugees from Africa looking for a better life and a brighter future.

We cannot fly to the United Kingdom, to Australia, to America.

All the borders are closed. And even if you could, would you really want to?

In the USA alone, jobless claims increased from 225,000 in February, to 3,8million at the end of April, a 13-fold increase.

If you’re lucky enough to have a British passport, you probably don’t have enough money anymore.

Australia has adopted the strategy of never letting the Corona virus get traction, which implies they’ll never let anyone in from a country that has the virus.

Countries around the world are closing their borders to protect against the virus, and will keep them closed so as to protect local jobs.

South Africa is our only option, and hope is our only strategy.

Hope that the virus does not ravage our country.

Hope that children can return to school.

Hope that the economy recovers.

Hope that everything will be ok.

Hope, as a strategy, is not a new thing in our history.

Since the arrival of the Khoisan 2,000 years ago, there have been many crises in South Africa.

From 1815 and the onslaught of Shaka Zulu’s raging impis that resulted in the deaths of between and 1 and 2 million people and scattered tribes across the whole of southern Africa;

To the Second Boer War in 1899, which saw the introduction of the world’s first concentration camps, in which 28,000 Afrikaner women and children died of disease and hunger, 10% of the population at the time;

To World War One in 1914 during which South Africa’s Prime Minister, Louis Botha, was forced to suppress a mutiny of one of his generals who wanted to support Germany;

To the arrival of the National Party in 1948, the evil stupidity of Apartheid and the imprisonment of freedom fighters like Robert Sobukwe in 1960 and Nelson Mandela in 1964 for the crime of demanding a democratic government;

To PW Botha’s “Rubicon” speech in 1985 and South Africa’s subsequent default on all international debt. Yes, South Africa defaulted on all it’s debt.

To the run-up to the first democratic elections in 1993 when the “Fifth Column” of die-hard right-wingers, both white and black, waged war on innocents and many South Africans thought the country would plunge into an anarchy of blood, revenge and rampage;

To the emerging markets crisis of 1998, when interest rates hit 25% and many citizens and businesses couldn’t afford their debt and lost all their possessions;

To the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, when everyone (including me) thought that the world was ending, followed by a decade of Jacob Zuma’s incompetence and corruption and state capture by the Gupta family;

To the Cape Town water crisis of 2018 when Day Zero was only days away and people were queuing for water in Newlands, the wettest suburb in South Africa;

To today:

Millions of South Africans not allowed to work, or travel or go to school.

Millions of children deprived of an education.

Millions of adults deprived of income.

Millions of families deprived of food.

Hope is indeed our only strategy.

What other strategy can there be in times like these?

And these are dark times indeed. Times of adversity.

Fortunately, living in South Africa has taught me, and you, how to overcome adversity.

Living in South Africa has trained me, and you, how to be resilient.

Living in South Africa has shown me that, somehow, we always prevail.

The trouble, as always, is that it’s pretty damn hard to have hope when there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

The good news is that a study of our history does give reason for hope.

It turns out there have been very few times in South Africa’s history where there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

There have been very few times where there was a factual argument for a brighter future.

There have been very few times where there has been a clear path to victory.

And yet here we are.

Still kicking. Still moving. Still alive. Still hoping.

For hundreds of years South Africa’s people have faced seemingly insurmountable challenges. And yet we have somehow surmounted them, and here we stand.

Facing yet another insurmountable challenge.

In my opinion, the secret to our past successes is our never-say-die attitude.

Our ability to believe in ourselves and our country.

Our ability to have faith in the unseen.

Our ability to hold onto hope, even in the darkest of times.

Everyone know it’s is not easy to hold onto hope.

But there are some ways to make it less difficult.

To start with, you must realise you have no option. The boats have been burnt. There is no going back.

There is no option other than to stick it out.

You can’t bail on the country. The borders are closed. The fact that you didn’t leave in 1993, or 1999, or 2008, or 2019, means that you made a conscious decision to stay. Remember why? Hold that thought.

You can’t bail on the well-being of your greater community. There’s nothing wrong with living in a gated estate with your own borehole, security guard & solar farm, but it’s not a long term solution.

400 years ago, John Donne wrote a poem:

No man is an island entire of itself;

any man’s death diminishes me,

because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

it tolls for thee.

No man is an island.

I am not an island. Neither are you.

I can’t run away. Neither can you.

I can’t give up. Neither can you.

Giving up is not an option.

But just because there’s no Plan B, doesn’t mean there’s no Plan A.

“What is Plan A?” you ask.

Plan A is cutting your living costs. Buy locally. Grow your own veggies. Make WhatsApp calls.

Whilst you’re thinking of ways to spend less, don’t forget to help others who are less fortunate.

Do everything you need in order to survive, but don’t forget to be a good person.

And, never give up HOPE.

Hope, that’s the key.

It’s when you have hope that you can find the hidden power inside your soul to be optimistic, to believe in a brighter tomorrow emerging from the gloom of today.

To be clear, I’m not saying that you need only to rely on the intangible lodestone of hope.

I’m not saying that you need only to depend on the blind faith that is demanded by all religions.

I’m not saying that you need only hang on to on the unquestioning belief in the unseen and untouched and unproven.

We will have to work hard to survive. It will be tough.

But we do, in fact, have some tangible evidence that when the dust settles, South Africa will not only still be standing, but she will emerge stronger than many other countries.

We may just be positioned to reap the rewards of being one of the few survivors of a global economic catastrophe.

To start with, South Africa has a diversified economy.

Banking, healthcare, retail, telecoms, mining, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, farming… we have it all.

We are not Saudi Arabia or Venezuela or Russia or Nigeria.

Countries like Nigeria rely entirely on oil revenues to pay their bills.

The Nigerian government doesn’t care for its citizens because it doesn’t rely on their taxes. That is one of the reasons why Nigeria cannot realise the glorious potential of its enormous population of energetic, intelligent and creative entrepreneurs.

The president of Nigeria doesn’t care for his citizens because his citizens don’t pay his salary. Oil money pays his salary.

Not so South Africa.

South Africa does not rely on oil. Or gold. Or foreign aid.

South Africa is not nakedly exposed to the whims of the OPEC oil cartel, nor the political vagaries of the European Union, China and the USA.

South Africa relies on the taxes paid by its citizens and companies.

Without taxes, there would be no dams, no schools, no hospitals.

Without taxes there would be no trains, no busses, no roads.

Without taxes, there would be no salaries for municipal managers, rubbish-removers, or cabinet ministers.

Our government needs it taxes. Which means our government needs its people.

And that’s why our government listens to its people.

We are not America: the lone preserve of capitalists.

We are not China: the lone preserve of communists.

We have a government of capitalists AND communists.

We are economically conservative and socially liberal.

We understand that the market economy creates the profits that pay the taxes that fund the government. But we also understand the state has a responsibility to provide healthcare, roads and education to ALL South Africans, not just to those who have a job.

We have loyal, God-fearing citizens. Not for us the reputation of exporting drug-lords, prostitution ring-leaders and scam-artists. Our exports are Elon Musk and Desmond Tutu. Visionaries & icons.

We have a democracy with a free and independent media.

Gone are the days where a knock on the door in the middle of the night meant a loved one would be arrested by the security forces and never be heard of again. The Daily Maverick will tell the world.

Gone are the days of secretly sending our young men to die in wars in Angola and Mozambique, fighting other people’s battles for other people’s ideologies. The Daily Maverick will tell the world.

Most impressively, we have a sound fiscal policy. Countries like Japan have negative interest rates, which means the longer you leave your money in the bank, the less it gets. For example, if you deposit R1,000 today, it is worth R999 next year.

The USA is considering introducing the same policy.

Imagine living in a country that is so badly managed that leaving your cash under your mattress is more profitable than depositing it in the bank?

Our Reserve Bank has ensured you still earn interest on your cash savings.

Our private sector banking system is world-class. Whilst China has urged it’s state banks to recklessly lend money to all and sundry, our big banks, Nedbank, ABSA, Standard Bank, FNB, Capitec, Investec, are all responsibly run, liquid and solvent.

We have a dignified, caring and intelligent president. One that is not prone to daily tweets and pronouncements that injecting disinfectant is a possible cure for the Coronavirus.

In short, we have all the right ingredients to survive and thrive in the coming decade.

This is what I say to myself, and this is what I say to you:

Don’t let yourself be consumed by despair and fear.

Mitchell’s Plain will get through this.

Thembisa will get through this.

Bellville will get through this.

WE will get through this.

Have hope.

Our country will once again prove the critics wrong

This is no time for quitting and pessimism.

This is no country for moaning and whining.

There is nothing to be gained by doing nothing.

There is no advantage in being frozen.

There is no profit in being afraid.

Cast aside fear. Unfreeze. Keep moving forward.

We are all in this together. Not because we have an enemy. We’ve always had enemies.

This time we have the SAME enemy.

Our enemy is the Corona Crisis.

Our enemy is killing people in vulnerable communities.

Our enemy is killing the future of children that can’t go to school.

Our enemy is killing the livelihoods of parents trying to put food on the table for their families.

Yes, our government has made some mistakes, as has every government across the world.

In March, the prime minister of the United Kingdom publicly vowed to keep shaking hands. Five weeks later he was in ICU, fighting for his life.

If we open up a debate between the past and the present, we will lose the future.

The time has come to let go of our petty vendettas.

Let go of our racial baggage.

Let go of our demands for justice for the Gupta’s and prison for Marcus Jooste.

Let go of Steve Hofmeyr.

They will all still be there when the crisis is finished.

But for now, we must win. To win, we must survive.

To survive we must focus.

Focus on the enemy before us: the Corona Crisis.

In which direction do we move?

We move forward, even though we can’t see far ahead.

We take every day as it comes.

We take every step as it reveals itself.

We do not give in to fear.

We do not lose hope.

We do not give up.

We help the government by being patient and following the rules, as much as we can.

We help struggling businesses by buying vouchers and ordering home deliveries, as much as we can.

We help our fellow South Africans by making sandwiches for the hungry and giving donations to the desperate, as much as we can.

We keep moving forward. Together. As a family, as a community, as a country.

That is the only way we can win.

Hope is a strategy.

This article first appeared on BigAlmanack.com and is republished with Alan Knott-Craig’s kind permission.

Alan Knott-Craig is a successful entrepreneur and best-selling author. Currently chairman of HeroTel, in 2013 he founded Project Isizwe, an NGO rolling out free WiFi in poor communities across South Africa.

Also Read: Getting your mind around why it is possible to be optimistic about South Africa – by Alan Knott-Craig.