Thursday, April 16, 2009

Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika (Lord Protect Africa)

Next week, I'm going to South Africa to speak at the AdReview Awards and renew my relationship with a country that, like every New Zealand rugby fan, has a piece of my heart. The relationship between South Africa and New Zealand has been forged with blood, bone, muscle, and heart on the sports – and protest – field.

All Black legend Colin Meads summed up the rugby challenge: "If you're ever going to play good rugby, you'll play it in South Africa. The atmosphere demands it of you, the contest is hard physically, the sun throws its heat on to your shoulders and there is always that feeling inside you, as an All Black, that this is what it has all been about, that this is South Africa and these are the players you most want to beat..."

It's a country of hard won gains, a land of creativity, energy, music, and enthusiasm. Few other countries have been so full of dreams of freedom, renewal, and evolution. The African National Congress won their long fight against an evil system, Nelson Mandela became the inspiration of a generation, and the 'rainbow nation' was born. I'm arriving on Election Day, which has been declared a national holiday.

With the Football World Cup in South Africa just over a year away and Hollywood visiting (Morgan Freeman plays Nelson Mandela, Matt Damon plays Francois Pienaar, and Clint Eastwood directs in The Human Factor), South Africa's colors are starting to shine globally. My friend, hotelier extraordinaire Sol Kerzner, is back with another stunning property at One & Only Cape Town.

In South Africa, English is the most common language in business and government, but it's only the fifth most spoken home language. On my return, I'm hoping to find more of the diversity that gives the country its unique profile. Futurist Rolf Jensen says that the heroes of the 21st century will be the storytellers - so which of the 11 official languages in South Africa are they speaking in? Like the national anthem, alchemy can work magic.

Everybody knows the country's challenges. Infrastructure development needs further improvement, education and health (particularly HIV/AIDS) must benefit from aggressive funding and commitment, and the country's natural blessings must be conserved. Saatchi & Saatchi South Africa have just worked with WWF on Earth Hour and helped save 400 MW of electricity, 400 tonnes of carbon dioxide, 224 tonnes of coal, and about 576,000 litres of water. Taking an inclusive, 'we're all in this together' approach, is the way forward.

It's not always easy, but I'm optimistic. South Africa is a country full of inspirational players, on the field and off, and the world is about to find out how many there are in next year's World Cup. Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika!