Tokyo Sexwale encouraged "excellence in a global context"

Business man and struggle icon, Tokyo Sexwale
Tokyo Sexwale

Tokyo Sexwale is a formidable businessman with some serious struggle credentials behind him whose heart  “will always beat black gold and green”. Amidst much hilarity, Sexwale managed to strike the right chord between delivering an entertaining speech with many a self depreciating 'insider joke' and a serious message for delegates and award winners at the gala event. 

First order of business was to set the tone with an emphatic “there is no substitute for hard work-- none whatsoever” and a pointed warning against the sycophantic practice of handing out awards  in the hope of garnering  donations and patronage: “It is not done. It is not done”. In addition, fairness amongst judges and a clear adversity to any form of favouritism or nepotism – “two things that can destroy this society” – were obviously something that he felt strongly about. Whilst applauding the Motlekar Holdings BBQ Awards, he billed the evening as one “where excellence is up against mediocrity; and that  is going to be my message tonight; only one thing. So if they say, 'What was he talking about?' Excellence versus mediocrity!”

Quoting educationalist John Gardener,  Sexwale stressed the importance of demanding excellence from all sectors of society, from engineers, lawyers and wood workers (the audience burst into laughter at this veiled reference to Julius Malema): “A nation that does not demand excellence from its philosophers as much as it does from its plumbers risks the danger of having bad philosophy and bad plumbing.” Referring to Michael Porter's book, The Competitive Advantage of Nations, which looks at why one county outperforms another, he mentioned a conversation he had once had with the Prime  Minister of Japan in which he asked him how, after being flattened by carpet bombs and  nuclear strikes, Japan had managed to become one of the world's largest economies. The answer he was given was “Our people”. Sexwale recalled that Barbara Masekela, when she was the South African ambassador to France,  had encouraged him to do exactly that: extol the virtues of South Africa “in terms of  things that we achieve in terms of production and manufacturing, that is, what our people can actually do rather than simply relying on our God-given natural resources.”

Saying that sub-standard education was  simply unacceptable in terms of competitive advantage, Sexwale strongly endorsed Minister Angie Motshegka's wish to review the policy of passing people from basic education into higher education with an aggregate mark of merely 30%. He believes this effectively passes the problem onto Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande as, according to government statistics, 50% of these students will then drop out in their first year. In addition, he identified the very real problem that students who graduate with such mediocre results will rapidly contribute to the 25% official unemployment level, or the total unemployment of 40%, which takes into account the apathetic 15% of people who have simply given up on looking for jobs. Sexwale further exhorted young South Africans to work hard so as  to compete with the technologically savvy children of the Far East.

Sexwale pointed out that it was not the role of government to create jobs but rather  to lead by creating the correct macro-economic environment in order to facilitate the business sector's endeavours to create jobs by investing in infrastructure, science, technology and engineering. However, he pointed out that even if the necessary macro-economic factors were  in place, job creation did  not automatically result: diverse business sectors do not have a cohesive “job creation strategy” since they all operate in very different spheres. Therefore he foresaw  that government could  play a crucial role by focussing on getting  various business sectors to buy intoits  major infrastructure projects (as previously mentioned by Minister Gigaba) in order to maximise profits, job creation and international competitiveness. This strategy, Sexwale said, would constitute “a way to give us an edge as South Africans”.

Stressing in no uncertain terms that itwas  the responsibility of South African citizens themselves to push for excellence in production and manufacturing,  Sexwale made it clear that, although we operate within a global context, there is no nation on earth whose national agenda is to “save South Africa”, since, “at the end of the day, every nation works with its own structure, developing people for its own success.” It was  incumbent upon South Africans to do the same.

With final words of wisdom to the BBQ Awards winners to “not sit on your laurels” and to refrain from flamboyant spending instead of  re-injecting capital into the economy as a way of making sure that both enterprises and people grow,  Sexwale left the audience with the clear impression that he believed that “the competitive advantage of nations is about the excellence of its own people.”


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Issue 83


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