Clem Sunter

Cool Namibia

2013-06-28 08:30

Clem Sunter

Last week I flew to Windhoek to be a guest speaker at an awards dinner arranged for the first time by the Namibian Manufacturers Association. I felt quite chuffed because the other South African performing at the same function was Khaya Mthetwa, our 2012 winner of Idols. We had a chat before the dinner and it was clear that one of the reasons he won the title was the age-old formula of passion plus homework to succeed in your occupation. He really sweated the small stuff to stay ahead of his competitors - and he has a great voice too.

However, the reason for this article is that whenever I go to Namibia, I come back with a mixture of tranquillity, joy and renewed hope that we in South Africa can get it right too. Black Namibian citizens get on with German citizens who get on with Afrikaans citizens and everybody else comes along for the ride. Namibia gained independence only a few years ahead of us and yet they seem to have settled down to getting on with life and hopefully raising the quality of it for all their citizenry.

Yes, it is a small country with only 2.3 million inhabitants and yes it has the same level of youth unemployment of just over 50% that we have. But somehow people are not nearly as angry and combative as they are here. Quite a few senior South African business executives seconded to posts in their companies in Namibia privately expressed their wish to stay beyond their period of secondment. Their stated reason was that people are so nice and friendly, everybody works as a team, the media does not offer a daily dose of hate stories, the violent crime rate is much lower and even the SWAPO youth wing leader apologised publicly for some of the comments he had made.

Now I know that some of you reading this article will say that Windhoek does not represent the country. I fully understand that as I did a roadshow around the entire country for a bank several years ago and there are deep pockets of poverty as you go to the extreme north. Yet a peacefulness reigns towards which we are still aspiring. Namibians may be poorer than us, have less mineral riches and have a sparse natural environment but they probably rank higher on the happiness index. Moreover, Namibia's economic GDP growth rate in 2012 was 5%, exactly double our figure of 2.5%.

David Moseley's excellent article last week on the ugly conduct of South Africans towards parking officials and students selling match programmes is not evident on the streets of Windhoek where courteous behaviour is shown even to the humblest individual trying to ply his or her trade. At the awards dinner, the final speaker was the Honourable Calle Schlettwein, Minister of Trade and Industry. He outlined the "growth at home" programme which has objectives broadly in line with our National Development Plan, namely to accelerate economic growth, reduce income inequality and increase employment. Good luck to him. He quoted Henry Ford: "Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success."

Consistent with this theme, Khaya sang a song in his cabaret with all the verve of the original artist, Otis Redding. It is entitled "Try a little tenderness" and includes the lines "Hey, Hey you gotta know what to do, don't be a fool, you need to try it now." Maybe, we have got to try a bit harder in South Africa to replicate the coolness of Namibians. We must chill out a bit and get on with it.

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