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The African maxim  “Umntu ngumntu ngabantu” is one that people usually bandy about casually without fully realising its meaning.

The proverb basically highlights the fact that in African culture (or at least most African cultures and ethnicities), community and communalism is valued far above individualism. But the more I look around at my African brothers and sisters, the more I see a pervasive culture of is individualism and self-centredness becoming the trend – much to our peril.

In African culture, you are born into 3 families: your immediate and extended family, the community in which you live and the family of ancestors – an inseparable tripartite alliance that is the cornerstone of one’s identity and should never be broken.  African spirituality and Christianity dictates that one’s spirit is never born or dies, but simply that it chooses an earthly body to live in and fulfil its purpose. Or God chooses the earthly body and family for you. Either way, the human journey of a human being or a soul is not designed to be a solitary one. The fact that we are born into a family and live amongst people is in itself an indication of the interdependency that is required for navigating through life. One may say ‘Yes, I was born into a family of interdependence, but my parents raised me to become an independent adult fit to navigate life’s triumphs and challenges.” The bird nurses it’s young so they are fit to leave the nest, build their own nests and fend for themselves in the big, bad world.isiko

In many ways, humans and our life cycles are similar to animals, but we are in many ways different. The first is that we are spirit. As Creflo Dollar once described it “I am a spirit, I possess a soul and live in a body”. Humans are the only species that God declared to be created in his image. He created the heavens, the earth, sun, moon, starts and animals but it was only when he made man that he said “Let us create man in our own image”. My interpretation of this is simply that man, like God, is spirit. This means that one never ever dies, but undertakes the journey of life which is one endless continuum. A continuum that is merely divided into stages marked by different rites of passage such as birth, childhood, manhood, marriage, death. And at every stage, one does not journey alone, but with the three families that one is born into. That is why every marriage in African culture, is never between two people, but between two families. The union is between me, my family, my ancestors and my spouse, my spouse’s family and ancestors. My partner and I cannot consider ourselves engaged until he comes forward and pays lobola to my family which is a custom observed to merge our two families. Anything else, even the biggest diamond ring, is not recognised in African culture.

Sadly, Westernisation and modernisation has gradually moved us away from our traditions and continuously threatens to alienate us from the tripartite relationship of family, community and ancestors – which is the cornerstone of our identity. The most dangerous part is that we don’t realise how our minds are being colonized. Bantu Biko and Bob Marley spoke about mental slavery and how Black people are subtly programme to hate themselves. One may say ‘hate’ is a strong word, maybe one should say ‘look down on himself’. That is African people’s biggest weakness – they have allowed themselves to look down on their traditions and cultural practices in the name of Christianity and modernization. They say “we should move with the times” at the expense of having their identity eclipsed, stripped and fragmented. Every time I meet a Christian who says that ancestral ceremonies are demonic and traditional ceremonies are a sign of being a slave of the past I cringe because Jesus Christ himself underwent all his Jewish traditional ceremonies like circumcision and bar mitzvah (a coming of age ceremony). Jesus never separated his faith and connection with God from his culture and traditions. But somehow when Africans come to Christ, they choose to do exactly that and completely turn their backs on tradition and culture.

 

Back to my point about the importance of the 3 families one is born into. Shula Mukoko recently wrote a very satirical article titled “16 Things Black people wish they could explain to their white friends”. One of the points she made was: “I’m an only child but I have many siblings.  Also, I have many mothers and fathers. What you call first, second and third cousins are just brothers and sisters to me. What you call extended family is just my family.” This drives home the point that family, in an African sense, is not merely limited to immediately family. And with the broad extension of the definition of family, comes the broad extension of responsibility and duty of care towards one’s family. This is a concept that Western culture battles to fully embrace.

I remember telling one of my bosses that I had to move back home to take care of my mother and help with renovating and extending my home, she thought it was the most absurd thing and told me if it was her mother she’d ship her off to an old age home and tell her to “bloody fend for herself”. She explained that in white culture, the only family you are obligated to look after is your immediate nuclear family (husband, wife and kids). In African one’s duty of care extends to cousins, nephews and nieces and even more distantly-related family members, because truly “umntu ngumntu ngabantu”.

In my family, there are very few male elders and many of my aunts are widowed, which has rendered most of the children fatherless. My uncle, one of the few male adults once told me that he will always, whether invited or not, assume a fatherly role (which means disciplining, advising, encouraging and helping) to any child whom he even remotely considers family when he sees  the gap of a father being left void or when he sees any child in the family go astray. He explained that this is not only natural and understood in African culture, but is vital and a matter of conscience.

As a young person living in an urban setting, I see such ideals being quickly eroded amongst Black Africans. I see the culture of self and individualism rising way above community – self-actualisation, self-help, selfies!! Come, on now, there’s always time for a selfie! J The selfie culture which has taken over social networking platforms, to me is merely a manifestation of the narcissism (self-worship) which is replacing Ubuntu and subtly promoting individualism (being overly focused on the self). Closely linked to this narcissism is the pursuit of accumulating quick wealth and fame. “If I have all the money that I need and want to pleasure myself, then in essence I am self-sufficient. I am the architect and master of my own destiny. And therefore my need to rely on other people becomes is eliminated. I am thee epitome of achievement and self-actualisation, right?” Wrong! You can have all the money in the world, but that money cannot hold you close at night, nurse you when you are ill or comfort you in your darkest moment.

Money can buy you the best healthcare but it cannot buy you personalised and dignified care. It can buy you the best bottle of wine to drown your sorrows, but it cannot buy you a caring shoulder to cry on, it can buy you success, but it cannot buy divine favour and blessings. Honouring God, your parents, your family, your ancestors brings favour and blessings. Truly recognising that “umntu ngumntu ngabantu” and adopting it as way of not only looking at the world but as the basis of all human relationships will radically change our generation and future generations to come.

Kwande!

It’s been exactly one week since the final curtain was drawn at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Many saw the event as an awesome display of sportsmanship; others will breathe a sigh of relief as normal programming resumes on their TV screens. Some athletes are still basking in the glory of laurels of their victories whilst others sit in the dust of defeat.

As much as sportsmanship is part of the games, the Olympics are ultimately about winning – collecting the medals, the bling, the silverware, the brass.

Accolades and opportunities only follow hard work

As with any sport, being an armchair referee is easy. Only those who have trained long, hard hours to be even qualify to compete know what the game is really like. Caster Semenya received some criticism for only managing to secure a silver medal for her 800 metre race. Some say that she left her attack too late, others felt that her performance was ‘good enough’ in light of the fact London was her debut Olympic appearance.  One @missgambu on Twitter hit the nail on the head when she tweeted “It is very easy for us to say what is best or appropriate. #Caster did not get voted into the Olympics. She worked for it. She qualified.”

In industry, it is no different. It’s very seldom that a company will win as “Best XYZ” without having put in the long hours and the hard work.  The PR agencies who flaunt the silverware and accolades have worked for them. Talent will get you noticed, luck may get you ahead, but there is no substitute for good old hard work.

Train at the level you want to compete at  

Cameron van den Burgh clinched South Africa’s first medal in the London Olympics when he won gold in the men’s 100m breaststroke in a world record time of 58.46 seconds. A little known fact is that until recently trained in a 25 metre pool in his local gym and he has resisted the temptation to train in the United States as is the trend with many international swimmers.

In the build up to 2012, he tightened up his training by moving to an Olympic-size pool of 50 metres and improving his nutrition. One could say that training in a 25-metre would not have put him at a disadvantage to compete at the Olympics as he could just do two laps when doing his time trial, it’s mainly about his speed. I beg to differ. From my perspective, is about the mental shift in his training and preparation. When working towards any goal, it’s important to have a visual simulation of the conditions in which you will be competing. The concept of a dress rehearsal allows you to prepare your mind and your body for the final run as though you are performing in the real event. There will be a few variables that one will have no control over, but why not perfect and pre-empt the variables that you know are constant.

In PR, if you’re competing for a certain accolade you have to work to deliver against the set judging criteria or metric for that award. Why chase “creativity” when reach and volume are what you will be measured on? Why celebrate regional success if the campaign will be measured on a national scale? That is simply an exercise in futility. As Stephen Covey says in his best-selling book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Begin with the end in mind”. This will ensure that all your efforts and how you work eventually measures up to a set standard and not the elusive “do your best” which may not even qualify you to compete against your competitors.

It’s a Team Sport

Our national rowing team; which came back with a gold medal from London, is probably the most  comparable to the PR game. Although every team sport has a captain, it is ultimately the collective effort of the team that will win or lose the game. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Similarly in PR, you may have one sterling performer or creative, but ultimately the team’s contribution and efforts are what will set one agency or one campaign a cut above the rest.

PRISA has 27 award categories that are applicable to an agency and only 2 that are dedicated to an individual. This bears testimony to the fact that in our profession; very seldom does the success or failure of any endeavour lie with one individual. There certainly are great leaders and ‘star players’ who are the driving force behind the team, but when we collect the accolades and celebrate our victory, the team is glorified above the individual. In the Olympic history books 100 metre relay winners will go down as “Jamaica”, not as Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake, Nesta Carter and Michael Frater.

David can beat Goliath

Gorgeous gold medallist, Chad le Clois showed us all that David can beat Goliath when he beat world champion for the 100 metre butterfly, Michael Phelphs.  Michael Phelphs has 18 medals, 14 gold, two silvers and two bronze medals under his belt. London was Le Clos’s Olympic debut. Despite being determined to put on his best performance, he did not think that he would beat his long time hero. But upsets are what make sport such a beautiful thing. The underdog winning the game is what makes it so exciting.

How many times have small, seemingly insignificant PR agencies dethrone the well-known big names with quirky and effective PR campaigns at annual award ceremonies? How many times has the ‘new kid on the block’ sweeped up awards and recognition much to the disgruntlement of the old boys who’ve been in the PR game for years?  Size and stature will stand you in good stead to compete, but it does not guarantee winning. Hard work; solid, consistent performance, results, creativity, innovation are the common denominators that almost all competitors boast of, but sometimes it really boils down to luck and who “pushed” a little harder in the final leg of the race.

 

You’re only as good as your last performance  

It’s one thing to be the world champion, it’s another to defend and maintain your title. If you hold, the challenge is to match it and beat it, because you’re only as good as your last performance. Resting on your laurels not only creates stagnancy but may open the gap for your competitors to “catch up” and beat you.

The same applies with in the media and PR industry; you are only as good as your last campaign or achievements. The maximum standard you delivered last year is next year’s minimum benchmark.  It’s all about breaking records and setting new ones for others to follow. Similarly, industry is about innovation and being ahead of the trend and adoption curve with your competitors.

In conclusion, both sport and industry and life in general are essentially about survival of the fittest and most adaptable. The rules of the game do sometimes change and keeping up with the change will ensure you stay in the game.

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Ramblings of an Idle Busy Mind

Posted: February 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

Arrogance sunk the Titanic, not an iceberg. Its engineers said that not even God could sink the ship. When you start thinking you’re infallible, you’ve already self-destructed. Its just a matter of time

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