Friends & Friction: Doing time with Bra Peter

2013-11-13 10:00

In his brand-new book, Peter Vundla says I have an exaggerated opinion of him.

Well, he is probably right, I have an exaggerated opinion of black achievers – such as Garrett Morgan, who invented the traffic signal and later the gas mask. I hassled Bra Peter for years, pleading with him to write his story.

It took a few lunches and some time. I wanted him to tell his story because Africa needs every star she can get to help us navigate into the scary future.

Every time he refused but I understood why. “Iso aliziboni ubukhulu balo,” as we say, “The eye never sees its own greatness.”

I am glad he finally succumbed. In one meeting I had with him, I bumped into the then SA Reserve Bank governor, Tito Mboweni, who had just finished a meeting with him, as Bra Peter once owned a bank.

It is as if he is living Rudyard Kipling’s advice: “If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch?... yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, and – which is more –?you’ll be a man, my son!”

He is equally comfortable among the ordinary. The caddies at Parkview Golf Club where he once caddied love him. They even fight over his bag.

His book is aptly called Doing Time, because success is never overnight, except perhaps, for the winners of the lotto.

The title was inspired by David Ogilvy, who once asked Bra Peter how long he’d been at Ogilvy & Mather for. When the latter replied eight years, Ogilvy retorted: “Good heavens, Peter, you sound like you’re doing time here.”

I remember when Bra Peter finally agreed to writing the book. We were sitting in his lounge, and he’d just come back from the Aston Martin factory, where he had gone to see his car being built by hand. “I am going to tell it all,” he said animatedly.

“You know, Lunga Williams worked at Ogilvy & Mather, and he decided to get into the ‘whites only’ toilet. The financial director found him there, and reported him to the CEO. Williams was then called to the high office and asked about his disregard for the law.

“‘He is bloody mad!’ shouted Williams, ‘Does he think he shits ice cream? His shit smells just like ours.’ The CEO left Williams alone and soon thereafter the ‘whites only’ signs came down.”

It may look all so easy now, and probably will be mistaken for insignificant in these days of BEE, but Peter Vundla and his colleagues started Herdbuoys, a successful black advertising business in an industry that is still struggling with matters of race. They later sold it to a multinational.

“We never did bribes, ever!” Bra Peter swears in the book that bears his name.

One day in his office he told me how incensed he was with some young black men that he had seen hacking on the golf course around 3pm on a Friday. He asked himself: “If these guys, at this age, are here at this time, then who is minding the store? Who is warming the chair?”

Peter Vundla has given new meaning to an old saying: If you want success, then be prepared to do the time.

»?Kuzwayo is the mwalimu at Ignitive, an advertising agency

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