What will it take so Africa can fulfill her true potential? Embark on a transformative journey with Anne Pratt on Leading Boldly into the Future as she welcomes Mr. Frik Landman, a distinguished figure from the southern tip of Africa. In this episode, Mr. Landman, a seasoned businessman and academic, passionately shares insights on why ‘Africa is Too Rich to be Poor.’ Drawing parallels between the quality of Nelson Mandela’s leadership and the current global need for a super-cognitive revolution, he challenges the status quo and urges us to rethink our paradigms for true progress. Explore the concept of paradigms, their impact on beliefs and actions, and why they must evolve for Africa to become what it its destined to become. With anecdotes from Mandela’s transformative era, Mr. Landman inspires thoughtful, bold action, emphasizing that small steps lead to giant leaps for humanity. Join the movement towards revolutionary thinking, where each conversation is a call to challenge the current norms and pave the way for a brighter, more prosperous Africa and a world united in thoughtful boldness. Tune in!
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“Africa is Too Rich to Be Poor” with Leading Businessman and Academic Mr. Frik Landman in South Africa
Radical New Thinking to Change a Continent and Change the World
Greetings to all of you future bold leaders. Thank you for joining us from around the world. I’m formerly from South Africa. I am Anne Pratt and I relocated abroad to attend a Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative Fellowship in beautiful Boston in the United States of America. Our thoughtful, bold leader joins us from the southern tip of Africa in Stellenbosch, South Africa, home to some of the world’s finest vineyards and international award-winning wines. He is a well-seasoned businessman, consultant, and academic who turned his passion towards academia in 2005.
He has served on company boards, on the Southern African and Canadian Chamber of Commerce boards, and academic boards, including international advisory boards for the Institute of Business Studies in Moscow and the Vlerick Management School in Brussels, Belgium. He is the former Chief Executive Officer of Executive Development and a member of the management committee of the world-class University of Stellenbosch Business School.
He is the Director of Strategy and Governance for NetEd, Chairman of NetEd’s Da Vinci Institute, and a Director of NetEd’s Eduvos. That is one of South Africa’s largest independent and privately owned higher Ed institutions with twelve campuses across the country. He has bachelor’s degrees in Hebrew, Psychology, Philosophy, and Theology and a Master’s degree in Theology and Ethics from the University of Stellenbosch. Stay with us as he passionately shares why ‘Africa is Too Rich to be Poor, the double bind of culture wars, and the gift of and the pushback against Nelson Mandela. We warmly welcome my friend, Mr. Frik Landman, and welcome to the show.
Frik, it’s always wonderful to see you. I’m happy to see you in good health. Thank you for being part of this message and this movement.
Thank you. Thank you for inviting me.
That’s wonderful. You live in the beautiful part of Stellenbosch in the Western Cape. I have to tell you. I miss being there. I miss being in that wonderful area with the beautiful mountains, the wonderful wine farms, and the people with big hearts and generous souls. You are a very proud African. What is it about Africa that captures your head, heart, and soul?
It’s very difficult to pinpoint that, but I would say the absolute potential that sits on this continent. A number of years ago, I went to Kenya, and then I took a short flight in one of these suspicious little airplanes towards the center of Kenya to a little town called Eldoret. It is where all of these Kenyan athletes practice, run, etc. (Editor’s Note: Kenya is a country in East Africa with its’ coastline on the Indian Ocean. Known for its’ vast landscape beauty, it encompasses savannah, lake lands, the dramatic Great Rift Valley and mountain highlands.)
I stood there. Eldoret is built on the escarpment of the Rift Valley, where, allegedly, my forefathers left the continent many years ago. I’m standing there and I have this almost spiritual sense that I have completed a circle if I look up that valley because it’s massive. If I look at the continent and the people living on it, the resources we have, and the absolute potential, I can’t find a better mantra to live with than that ‘Africa is Too rich to be Poor.’ The potential in everything that’s on this continent is immense.
I know this is such a deep passion of yours. When you say Africa is ‘too rich,’ how do you define rich? People define that in different ways. You are a smart businessman as well. Often, people bring that down to transactional values of money, equity, assets, cashflow, and all of those good things. How do you define rich, and in what way do you think Africa lives up to the potential of this richness and the potential that you see in it?
Let’s start with those normal material things. The continent has about 42% of the world’s natural resources. It has more than 65% of the world’s arable land. Of more than 1 billion people on the continent, 64% of them are youth. In other words, between the ages of 15 and 24. We have an immense youth possible dividend that, if not correctly handled, will be a disaster.
We have, on the continent, about 1,600 or so languages. If you take Nigeria only, Nigeria consists of about 250 clans, each of them with their own language. Some of them are so different they don’t understand each other. That’s why I jokingly said in the past, “If you want to be a president of Nigeria, you must be called Good Luck Jonathan because you need a lot of luck and chutzpah to handle a country like that.” (Editor’s note: Goodluck Jonathon is a Nigerian politician who served as the president of Nigeria from 2010 to 2015. Chutzpah is a Yiddish word meaning ‘impudence or gall; extreme self-confidence or audacity.)
The diversity that we sit with, the type of landscapes that we sit with, and the richness of wildlife that we sit with on this continent is beyond comprehension. What is even more beyond comprehension is that in spite of all of this endowment that we have, we are the poorest continent in the world. Something is amiss.
When you say poorest, are you talking about financially? Are you talking per capita GDPs?
We are rich in our experiences of diversity. We are rich in our experiences of the wildlife or the landscapes that we have and the enormous space that we have. In the end, you can’t eat that. You can’t dress with that. You can’t send your children to school or universities because you live in a global world where you need money to do things like that. You need money to get educated, travel, build houses, etc. That’s why you have this richness, which you can indulge in on one side, but on the other hand, you have these natural resources that are not turned into wealth for all on this continent. That is a massive contradiction.
It is a big contradiction and a big question. It’s played us over not only in recent decades but centuries of time. We know that the colonization of Africa comes with a whole lot of complexity and controversy. As we stand, in your mind, what are the big issues that you think still create this gap between being the richest and the poorest? What are the big things for you that need to be addressed from a leadership point of view?
No Silver Bullet
There are no pennies here. There is no silver bullet. It’s like a bowl of fish hooks. If you pull on one, the whole bowl moves in that process, or you try to solve this one, and then the rest are entangled with that. If I can mention a few of the things, if I look at Africa as a system with different variables or with all of this potential that we have mentioned, one of the levers that need to be pulled to have a big effect on Africa is the quality of leadership, especially amongst our political leaders.One of the levers that need to be pulled to have a big effect on Africa is the quality of leadership. Click To Tweet
We may talk about leadership a bit later in more common or broader terms, but the leadership on our continent is not good. I don’t see it better anywhere else in the world, to be fair, in terms of comparing the continent, but if I focus here, I don’t think our political leaders are the kind of quality leaders that you require to satisfy the needs of the people that they are supposed to serve. That’s one of the things. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have good leaders on this continent. I have traveled across a lot of countries here and there are a number of good leaders. They do an exceptional job, even ones that may be viewed as controversial, like Paul Kagame from Rwanda. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Rwanda or last you were there. (Editor’s note: Paul Kagame is a Rwandan politician and former military officer. 0. He was previously a commander of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a rebel armed force which invaded Rwanda in 1990. His is the fourth President of Rwanda since 2000.)
The Jewell of Africa – A Rhythm of Discipline
Rwanda is the jewel of Africa. The thing about Rwanda is if you go there and observe the streets, you can see the people are poor. These are not the kind of streets and highways that you will find in Korea and America. This is the thing. Even if the bricks on the road are old, they are neatly packed. There are no weeds among them. You won’t find the size of my nail or a piece of paper lying around in Rwanda. It’s clean. The middle part of the roads is grass. They are all well-kept.
If you look in other African countries, you find these thousands of little motorbikes that come from somewhere in China, which is the transport thing. You have them in Rwanda as well and in Kigali. This main difference is: Each one of them has got two helmets, one on the head of the driver and one on the seat. If there’s a passenger, he or she will wear that.
There are actual what we call robots in South Africa, known elsewhere as traffic lights. There are traffic lights. When they’re red, people stop. They don’t take that as a hint for stopping. They stop. Once a month, on a Saturday from 8:00 to 12:00, everybody stops, even the president. They clean in front of their houses. They clean in front of their streets. The police are all over Kigali. If they find you driving around there, they stop you and ask you, “Where are you going? Why are you not cleaning? Either wait here until 12:00 or go back and go and clean.” That is a rhythm of discipline that’s built into that country. We have good leaders on this continent. Leadership development is where we are involved.
The second lever one can pull to make a difference in terms of the challenges of the continent is that of education, particularly higher education. There were times when all of the FDI (foreign direct investment) and all of the grants that came in promoted a lot of primary school and maybe secondary school education but not that much tertiary education.
The foreign direct investment that came into the country?
Yes. What we need here is education in very broad terms. All of this wealth that we’ve mentioned on a daily basis is in the hands of about 11 to 12 million managers on the continent. In spite of pockets of excellence, the sum total of their effort is we are the poorest continent. Somehow, we must get to a point where these managers are equipped with the skills, abilities, competence, and, most importantly, the will to make this a better place and utilize these resources better to benefit all the people. Hence, our effort and focus on higher education, management education, and leadership education on the continent.
Those would be the two important levers, the quality of leadership and higher education. What would the third lever be if you had to prioritize in your mind the strategic importance of how one can close that gap?
The other side of the coin of leadership is management. It is the ability to transform a resource into something that can be utilized, sold, and generate revenue for the continent in that space.
A Circular vs. Extractive Economy
There’s maybe a fourth thing, and this is taking it a bit wide. The Intra-Africa trade was around 12% or 13% the last time I looked. We trade with the rest of the world but don’t trade with ourselves. There is a lot to be traded amongst ourselves on this continent.
We trade with the rest of the world. What we do in that process is we have extractive economies. We take our raw materials and sell them to somebody else. They make the pots and pans on the other side, the jewelry, the rings, etc. They bring it back to us and come and sell it to this poor continent again at high margins and profits. We don’t take the raw materials ourselves and start generating and creating jobs, factories, etc., to benefit that which we have here and turn it into products for ourselves. We sell the raw material products to the outside. It’s a very simplistic way of saying it but much more complex. Those are the things that we need to focus on if we want to start changing this continent.
You raised such an important point. I don’t know if you know, but I did a major in Economics. Going back quite a few years, I remember one of our professors in Development Economics talking about this very point of how South Africa and Africa have failed to maximize the benefit from exporting these raw materials and not getting the additional value in terms of transforming these raw materials into value-added products. This has been a problem for a long time. What do you think will shift the mindset around transforming the kind of economies that we see across the continent?
I’m not going to delve too deep into it. Intuitively, the transformation of Africa will happen at the hands of women and not men.The transformation of Africa will happen at the hands of women, not men. Click To Tweet
Without digging too deep, let me ask this question this way. What is it that you think women bring in terms of exercising leadership and being good executives and managers that are unique to women and add value in a way that you are imagining?
My sense is that they are more caring for others and caring for the continent. My sense is that they are less on power trips than men tend to be. They’ve got a better ability to balance power with what needs to be done. There are exceptions everywhere. This is my observation of moving among people. I didn’t do a survey or research on this. This is my observation when working with people, especially with women on this continent. It is almost as if they put their power to better use and did not use their power to demonstrate dominance. We can have another episode on that one.
We can do a separate one on that. When I was still running one of the top internationally aligned executive search companies in South Africa, my good friend Totsie Memela and I did the first qualitative research on Women on Boards to ask the question of whether there is a business case. If there is, what is unique about the qualities women bring to boards? What are the strategies for women and boards? That’s a different conversation. It’s interesting you raise that issue of having gender diversity and bringing more of those feminine qualities, if you like, to complement what men are doing at the rockface.
Maybe I can soften my position a bit by saying it’s not either-or. It’s both-and. We need much more feminine leadership.
You make some very valid points, and quite a lot of the research supports that. That’s a deeper conversation for a different day. It’s a different topic but an interesting perspective in terms of how we create this transformation for Africa. We’ve spoken about people in power. We’ve spoken about managers. We’ve mentioned leadership. You have had remarkable positions not only as a business person but you used to head up the very well-known Stellenbosch Business School and CEO of the Stellenbosch Graduate Institute. In your mind, what is your definition of leadership? What are your thoughts on the future of leadership?
That’s a touchy point in the sense that I try to stay away from defining leadership as far as possible. If you look at Stockdale’s book on leadership, there are almost 3,000 definitions of leadership. People are running out of definitions and they start adding adjectives like ethical leadership or transformational leadership as if leadership is not enough. (Editor’s note: Jim Collins best-selling book Good to Great, identified good-to-great companies. Collins recorded that every good-to-great company embraced what he called the “Stockdale Paradox”: you must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time, have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.)
We will maybe get to that point irrespective of people’s view of President Nelson Mandela. One of the things that was because of a story that one of the young guys in prison at the time that President Mandela was in prison told me. To cut a long story short, when he was released, they gathered in Cape Town at a meeting. There were a number of people sitting around the table.
Your friend or President Mandela? I want to clarify.
President Mandela. My friend, Mpho, joined the table. He was young, so he was the voice of the youth around the table. Everybody at the table had something to say. When it was his turn, he said to President Mandela, “We, as the youth, want you to do this, that, and the other.” President Mandela nodded his head. After everyone spoke, he then spoke. Part of his speech was, “Earlier this evening, one of these young people around the table said you, the youth, want me to do this, that, and the other.” President Mandela replied: “Let me tell you. You will not tell me what to do. The people of South Africa will tell me what to do.” Mpho said he almost slipped under the table because of that response.
You could see it in the behavior afterward. At that moment, you saw somebody who stepped away from the political mindset to a statesman’s mindset. In the political mindset, it is like, “I still love my ANC party, but my love for my country is of a higher order than my love for my party. When these two are in conflict, my love for the country will guide me where to go in that process.”
If we return to some of your previous questions, and I don’t know if this is a clumsy effort to define leadership, if you look at that, that is one of the key ingredients missing in leadership in our continent and in the world. When somebody is elected and they become the president or the leader, they take up that statesman’s mindset. It is that love for the whole, not just the love for the part. It doesn’t mean to cancel another out, but one is of a higher priority in that space.
Peter Koestenbaum lives in America. I don’t know if he’s still there. He’s a leadership philosopher. He says the first thing you do as a leader is you go and sit on a rock somewhere and take an oath of greatness. That oath of greatness that you take is an oath to relinquish mediocrity forever. You start thinking in a different domain and start acting in a different domain.
Hence, President Mandela could go and shake the hands of the prison wardens who looked after him. He could go to people that you would normally see as their enemy. He embraced them because they are part of the bigger whole that he cares for in the process. That type of emotional intelligence is beyond what you normally see. That doesn’t mean he’s mushy or a softie. You would remember even in those times that he shook the hands of F. W. de Klerk, etc. When he had a different point of view, he would express it boldly in that process, but he wasn’t hitting on the individual. He was hitting on the issue. He was addressing the issue still in the context of the country.
If you ask me about the history of South Africa before him and after him, I cannot think of someone who had that statesman mindset. Maybe the closest one would come is Jan Smuts, but even there, there was a lot of bias in terms of what he represented or who he represented. That is maybe the sad part of President Mandela. He didn’t take up a second term of the presidency so that it could embed that kind of new culture that we are looking for in this country. I’m getting too philosophical.
You make a fantastic point. It touches on what we often call and live by and what we learn from Mandela or Madiba, as we love to call him. It is the whole notion of the African cultural concept of Ubuntu that we’re all interconnected. It takes an entire village. We cannot sustain success at the expense of another. It’s a higher-order interconnection. He lived that as you have so beautifully illustrated in so many different ways. It’s a very powerful definition in terms of the future of leadership. In terms of the future of leadership going forward, is that the mindset and philosophy that you think we need for the future? If so, why? If not, what is it that we need?
That would be an immensely important ingredient of that. I see this younger generation coming into play. After apartheid, the kids are together at school. They are together at universities. Sometimes, it is portrayed in the media as not holding up, but in most cases, it’s holding up. We have our flare ups here and there.
You mean the integration of all. The rainbow nation.
Yes. If I watch my own children and who their friends are, it’s so diverse. They go with it. It’s not something that they try and do. They do it. There’s a lot of hope in my heart, and I bet on this younger generation coming through to have this Madiba mindset of not looking at each other’s difference. We are human beings, all of us. From Ubuntu, they say, “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu.” I am a person because of persons. We simplified it. We say, “It takes a village,” which is the same thing. If you take it beyond a saying and reflect on what kind of mindset you need to live it, it is immense. If we can take our own philosophies embedded in that, we can cultivate people in our youth to live in that mindset.
Politicians are funny people. They cannot afford peace among people because their currency is votes. For them to get votes, they have to play power games and play people off against each other in that process. It’s part of the game. I understand, but somewhere, if that’s your only game, then you’ve got a problem. At some point, you must step out of that game and come into a statesman’s mindset where beyond the votes, you’re like, “What am I doing for the whole?”
To your point, President Mandela did that. His whole proposition was the whole. It was the South African rainbow nation. There were times when he disagreed with his opposition. We know that. His message was one of unity and supporting the whole.
If you think of the transformation that happened there, it’s incredible. This is someone in a certain era who fits the description of a terrorist in everybody’s vocabulary, whether right or wrong. He was imprisoned, and he sat there for 27 years. The prime of his life he spent in prison. He steps out of that and comes and presents himself as this statesman.
Some people didn’t and still don’t believe that. That’s why they will go back and say, “He did this and he did that.” That’s fine. Nobody’s perfect. There was nobody who could clearly bring South Africa together like him. You saw that with what happened at the 1995 World Cup. The people were one. We had all the makings there.
While we were talking about this, it’s a wonderful segue into asking you. There are so many moments I’m sure we could both talk about, but is there a specific Mandela Moment that you can recall? A particular event that you remember when you thought to yourself, “This is something that has shaped the way I want to be and do in the world?” Is there a particular moment for you?
There are a few, but in Cape Town at the marketplace on that little veranda when he stood. It was after he came out of prison. That whole plaza and that whole market place was full of people. He was standing with F. W. de Klerk on that balcony. Everybody was focusing on him. Everybody was shouting for him. He took F. W. de Klerk’s hand and also raised it with his hand. That was, for me, an exceptional message.
I feel emotional remembering.
At that moment, you either had to believe it and believe in what this promise offered with this gesture or you could be cynical and say, “Let’s see.”
How did you feel?
It felt inclusive and included. We felt part of this in this process. If he had stood there with his fist up and said, “Amandla,” and left it there, the moment would still be okay for those who were rejoicing because he was released from prison, but I don’t think the message would’ve been so strong. It covered a wider audience if he hadn’t taken the hand of F. W. de Klerk in spite of the sentiment of the majority of the people in front of him.
How do you think that moment of inclusivity of not capitalizing on the majority of sentiment that was there to applaud his release but being very mindful has shaped the way you think, act, and lead in the world?
It brought some clarity and a lot of contradiction within me.
Can you share more about that?
If you look at me, you can see my age. There is no way that I can say I wasn’t part of apartheid. I was born in 1953. I grew up in apartheid. If I look back on it, I cannot understand why I did not question it. It’s like osmosis. You are in this cultural thing. This is how things happen. When you go to university and you get a liberal education, you start questioning stuff. You sit with that double bind in you with this cultural background and critical mind that is starting to develop in this process. You somehow process that for yourself in how you want to live and how you want to do things. Yet, you are confronted with the realities of the society outside of you.
While I was at the university, there were still the South African border wars going on, military action, protests, and all of these things. Suddenly, there’s a change in 1994. Part of that critical thinking is coming into reality. At the same time, you still sit with this massive cultural heritage. It’s like two different worlds that are coming together. (The development psychologist), Piaget says a doll is a transitional object that helps the child to move into that space of caring for someone else in that space. For those who wanted a more equal South Africa, I couldn’t think of a better transitional individual than Mandela in that space. He almost facilitated us with his behavior into the possibilities of a new South Africa.
If you take that message seriously and look around you and at the possibilities, then you must be very hardened in yourself if you don’t follow a different route versus what you have followed in the past. Look at the potential around you and do things that could contribute not just to a better South Africa but to a better Africa and, eventually, to a better world.
Take us through the rest of your process. You went to university and you have this critical mind and this cultural heritage. You then witnessed that moment with Mandela and F. W. de Klerk. What do you think you did differently to help you transition out of this cultural heritage into this new way of being?
It is very difficult to answer because it was an observation. Much of what I’m sharing with you came after reflection. It’s not a conversion moment. If you reflect on yourself and you start making some serious effort in trying to be a good citizen in this process, you start asking yourself, “What was the contribution of those moments in what I’m thinking now and what I’m doing now?”
If I can cut through all of that, one of my almost driving intentions is to be in that statesman mindset. Even if I’m in an organization and I lead an organization, I want to look at the whole. I don’t want to look at the privileges of a few or of this group. I don’t want to be in a position where I am in a space where we discriminate between women and men. I don’t want to be in a space where we discriminate between a racist or noon racist in that space.
I want to be in a space where we operate on merit and use and utilize different people’s talents at different stages of their lives to benefit them and the whole. That was Mandela’s intent. He may not have achieved it in the way that he would want it to be. If you, for a moment, give him the benefit of the doubt and look at those moments of his, for me, it’s difficult to find a different explanation for that.
You’ve alluded to the fact that you are very mindfully conscious of having this statesman mindset that understands all stakeholders and not being prejudiced against any of them. Is there a very specific work-related example you can take us to or a particular event or something that created an inner conflict? What was it, when was it, and how did you feel at the time? What was your a-ha moment, and how did you navigate through that? I know you’ve had some tricky situations in your multiple positions, as most people in senior positions do. Is there a particular moment you can reference for us in your work life?
Yes. There was a company where a few things happened and I had to take up the leadership.
Can you tell us what industry?
In the education industry. It was a surprising moment that I had to step into. On Monday morning, you and I are still colleagues. We can gossip at the coffee table about the boss. The next morning, I am your boss. You gain insights into that company that you haven’t had before because you were not privy to that information. Cut short, you open up the books and see we are in deep trouble. As my mother said, fleeing is a good thing. You have to start on time. You must make a decision, “Will I leave this and go back to my consultancy where I was 7 or 8 months ago or do I bite the bullet and do this?” I decided with one of my colleagues the latter.
It’s the influences of what we spoke about. I decided that all of the theories about leadership I hold, need to be implemented and see if it works. If it doesn’t, there is no way we are going to get out of this. We involved everyone in that turnaround. It was people on all levels and people in all positions on different occasions. We all took ownership. That first year, for the first time in their existence, they made a profit. It was a mere $75,000 profit, but we made a profit in that year.
There is one thing I want to clarify. When you say they took ownership of that thing, was it ownership of the turnaround?
The turnaround because that was the first wave. That took about 2 to 3 years before it gained momentum. Then, it was time for the second wave. Why are we doing this? The company has turned around. It’s making a profit. We are getting our salaries. We are even getting a bonus, but to what purpose? From the ground, I’ve started building a vision for this organization. I was like, “Where do we take it? Do we remain a local player? It is not a problem, but if we think of the good stuff that we have, can we not scale this? Can we not share this with others more broadly in South Africa and into the rest of Africa?” The people took to that like wildfire.
The organization grew. We moved from the Western Cape into Gauteng. At some point, we operated in 11 or 13 different African countries with that same core of people and the absolute dedication of people because it was their vision. Although none of us had shares in the business, it was our business. We looked after it. It was like, “This is the well that we drink from. We are not going to allow anybody to poison this.” It is that kind of attitude. That is, on my side, the mirroring of what we spoke about, how Madiba harnessed all the talents and diversity in all people.This is our well. This is what we drinking from. We don’t want anybody to poison it. Click To Tweet
What was the final outcome? You turned around and made a profit. Did the profit grow?
Yes. The profit grew. I left them at a good stage. John Maxwell says, “One is the smaller number for greatness.” That propelled me into the space where I’m at. In the sense that if we want to make a difference on this continent with our education, we said to ourselves, “We cannot do this by growing organically. We have to do this by acquisitive growth. That’s the only way that we will get to scale and take good products onto the continent.”If we really want to make a difference on this continent, we cannot do this just by growing organically. We have to do this by acquisitive growth because that's the only way that we will get scale. Click To Tweet
It’s expensive to leave the African continent for Europe and America to go and study. It’s immensely expensive. It’s only some elite and very affluent people that can afford that. The majority of people on this continent need exceptionally good quality education. We can provide it not just at a better price than the rest of the world can offer it to them but also with a better understanding of their context and where they operate. We build our own case studies in Africa. There’s nothing wrong with studying Nestlé in Switzerland or Google somewhere else. It’s good. We’re part of a global world, but how do we solve business in Africa with African business cases or with themes that we can relate to in our different cultures and our different contexts?
That’s a very empowering vision. I know we’ve spoken a little more about that. I look forward to seeing how that unfolds with the different institutions that you’re involved in and that we’re joining together. I look forward to doing more of that together. You touched on your growing up in apartheid South Africa and this inner conflict, if you like, between your cultural heritage and this new message that Mandela brought to the nation. Can you take us back to a moment in your childhood that’s a very defining moment that stands out for you as being a difficult moment and a defining moment? What was that? When was that? How did you feel at the time? What was the difficulty of that moment?
It’s honestly difficult to think of something at the moment. I was born on the outskirts of Upington in a place called Sultana Oord (Sultana East). Sultana Oord is the name of one of the grapes that are growing there along the Orange River. You had the Orange River, the Lucerne or the lands that they worked in, and then the canal at the top.
We lived beyond the canal. They would call us, in Afrikaans (one of South Africa’s formal languages), kanaal ape. If I translate that directly into English, it is ‘canal apes.’ It was because there were a lot of apes or these blue velvet monkeys along the canal. They jokingly called us by the name of the animals where we lived and operated along the Orange River. The strange thing is, if you ask me to reflect on that, most of my friends at that time and even when we moved to Port Elizabeth as a young boy on the farm, (except for my brother,) were people of color, especially Xhosa (an African tribal) people. They were my friends.
Mixed race people.
We lived in peace together. I thought as a young boy. We hunted together. We caused mischief together. We did the most stupid things together as young boys. I got to know the culture of the Xhosa people so well, some of the language, and all the rituals the young men went through. There was no animosity whatsoever, and then suddenly, you are pulled into the Army. That is one of the difficult moments because when I come home from the Army, I began to suspiciously view my friends, “Are they informants? What are they doing when we are not together?”
I don’t want to call it brainwashing, but there’s a kind of an approach in the Army where they break you down and build you up as a soldier with a particular (racist, anti-black) mindset. When you return home, you almost live in this conflict of, “Three months ago, we were friends. Now, I view you very suspiciously.” Although you are asking me about a specific event, those were one of those kinds of moments where you start experiencing what’s almost like a cognitive dissonance. You are being pulled into a mindset that you’ve never had before.
It’s only when you get to university that you start studying philosophy and things like that. You look at what it means to be human. What does it mean to be alive? What’s the purpose of life? What is it? You start reflecting on these things, and you have to bring all of those together. Those are the milestone moments that eventually build you up to a point where you can’t say, “It was on this particular date that it happened.”
It was the process of different milestones that helped you shift along the way. It sounds as though in those moments of coming back from the army (military) with a different mindset, there were moments of inner conflict and suspicion. I don’t want to put words into your mouth. How did it make you feel?
It’s confusing. You also have to understand that when you read papers and listen to the news, whether this new information is coming in, this new mindset, or this new set of lenses that you are provided with, you listen differently to the news. You extract different things from the news. You extract different things from the papers and the conversations around parents and friends. It is as if they all confirm this message. At some point, as one matures, you have to step back from all of this noise and say, “What do I make of this?”
If we come back to where we started about this continent, that kind of backward reflection is complemented by a forward reflection of where this continent can be. You are, at that moment, saying to yourself, “Given the past, however well it went for certain groups, it can never ever bring us to that kind of future. We need a different mindset.”
I don’t propose what that mindset is. All I’m saying is I took a hint from President Mandela, who said, “Go and look in the domain of a statesman’s mindset. Go and look in the domain of doing things that are good for everyone or for most people. Go and play in the domain where you use your power to the benefit of other people. If it’s a power of your personality, the power of your knowledge, the power of your money, or whatever, go and use it in a mind space where you generate the best benefit for everyone.” I don’t know when that moment happened, but if you ask me where I am, that’s where I am.
Do you think, to that point, Mandela’s leadership is relevant for the world, and is it for the reasons you’ve shared?
Absolutely. Look at what’s happening in Ukraine and Russia. Have you ever watched the movie Pirates of the Caribbean?
A long time ago.
Who’s the main character there? What’s his name?
There’s a moment when they are in a cave where they have found this Holy Grail cup for longevity and the different parties end up there in conflict. They all pulled out their swords and wanted to kill each other. Johnny Depp said, “Let me understand this. He, the leader on that side, and he, the leader on this side, do not agree. We are all going to kill each other because they don’t agree. Let us go and drink and let the two of them fight.”
It’s so simple, but if you look at the quality of leadership decisions at that level, the higher up you are at that level and the more impactful your country’s decisions have on the world, the more you should apply your mind in, “How do I do it? What would be the consequences of this?” You have to curb your power. Is there a reason why we should have wars on this globe? It is the idealist in me speaking, but is there a reason for us to have wars? Do we subscribe to the notion, “It’s human nature. It will always be like that. There will always be war somewhere?”
It goes back to your earlier point that if we want to change the trajectory, there are a whole lot of things. If one does the reflection and thinks about a new, better, and bold way and then the will to execute that, history has shown us that’s how we bend the arc of change. It’s a choice.
You would remember shortly after President Mandela was released and we had the election, Chris Hani was shot (dead). (Editor’s note: Hani the leader of the South African Communist Party and chief of staff of uMkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress. A man of the people, was on 10 April 1993 Hani assassinated while stepping out of his car at his home in Dawn Park, Boksburg, by a radical right-wing Polish immigrant Janusz Waluś. Hani was shot at approximately 10:20am and died at the scene. Nelson Mandela was Hani’s mentor)
I remember that.
That was a horrible deed intending to disrupt and strike through all of the good Mandela was trying to do. It almost happened until President Mandela, consequently, with his statesman mindset, reminded those who were rightfully so furious about what happened there. It was a White woman.
An Afrikaans (conservative) White woman.
She saw what was happening. She took the number plate and told the police, which led to the particular individual’s arrest. It’s that consequent behavior of the leadership philosophy that you buy into that. It is that said consequent behavior that also carries you through moments of crisis like that.
100% right. It’s such a wonderful example. If Mandela were alive, what do you think he would say to the older generation and what do you think he would say to the youth?
If I were him, I would be so glad that I’m not alive in this country.
We need this example.
In the traditions of the Khoi people, he would bring the elders back to him and sit there and say, “I need you to return to our basic values.” His opening statement would be to them, “Ubuntu umuntu ngabantu.” He would drill that lesson into people and the implications of that lesson into people because we’ve lost that. We have lost that, but I don’t think it’s lost forever. I am extremely hopeful that our younger generation will pick up that message and continue with it.
What do you think he would say to the younger generation?
He would say, “Do better than us.” He would motivate them to see that picture (vision) that he had for South Africa. President Mbeki, at some point, had a speech that he recorded saying, “I’m an African.” That is such a beautiful piece of poetry. If we could only execute it and if we could only accept that as our canvas to work with.To the younger generation, do better than us. Click To Tweet
In fact, it became an advertising campaign. It was a very powerful message of inclusivity and ubuntu.
There are studies done in terms of our heritage. It says that if your family has been in South Africa for longer than 100 years, you have an exceptionally low chance of not being of mixed (race) blood. My family’s been here for over 300 years, so I’m an African. I have no other continent. I have no allegiance to anything else but in Africa. Interestingly enough, somebody did research on our heritage on my particular surname. I have slave grandparents from West Africa, and I’ve got slave grandparents from the center of India. Somewhere, I understand why I’ve got a cellular resonance with this continent.
Turning to a couple of fun facts, what is one of the most joyful moments of your youth that stands out for you and still brings you joy?
I was a young boy of 7, 8, or 9 years old along the Orange River with cattle or a sling. What do you call this in English?
It’s a catapult where you put in a rock (small stone), pull the elastic, and shoot it.
We are a whole cohort of young boys down there in the river and we are hunting like crazy. It was carefree. We were poor as hell, but we were as happy as can be. Those were great moments.
If your parents had to articulate how they see you as a human being, what is a word that comes to mind that you think your mother would use to describe you and what is a word do you think your father would use to describe you?
That is extremely difficult to answer. My dad had opposite views of what I had, but he was always engaging in conversations. If he looked at me and what I am doing, he would most probably think and say to me, “Tell me. How did you get to this point? Explain it to me.” My mother, if she heard him saying that, would say, “Leave him be, he is okay.”
What word do you think your father would use to describe you? Curious? Adapter?
The word would be curious or somebody that tests boundaries, especially boundaries of thinking. The late N. P. van Wyk Louw (an Afrikaans-language poet, playwright and scholar), spoke about worldviews. He says, “You have to live your life in your room but with a window that you can look through into the gardens of other people. Sometimes, you have to leave your room and walk with them in your garden. You can return to your room with your thinking, but you won’t return the same person when you’re back in that room.”
We cannot live without paradigms. It’s part of the human condition to have paradigms and worldviews, but we need them to be porous. You have to be sufficiently confident, not overconfident, to venture into other people’s lives. To go into a different religion, read their books. Understand that or a different philosophy. Have a conversation with somebody who has a different life orientation than you. Try and discover something there. Many times, you will find that we adhere to the same structure. It is like the wire structure of a cat, but there’s a different skin over this wire work. In terms of our humanness, we are the same.
Coming back to your mother where she’d say, “Leave him alone. He’s okay,” what word do you think your mother would use?
This is the third thing. You’re a high-profile guy. You’re known to a lot of people. You’ve dined with paupers and walked with kings. What is one thing few people know about you?
I love animated movies and fantasy movies like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. I find in them deep psychological human, almost artifacts of being human. It’s almost like you would find in children’s stories. Lord of the Rings is so directly linked to what you and I spoke about, especially around the concept of power and the effect it has even on good people.
That’s such a powerful point. Before we wind down, I do want to ask your thoughts. We know in South Africa, Mandela has played such a significant role in the transformation of the country. There is an incredible gratitude not only for his life but his leadership and his legacy. Yet, there are still pockets of the country that have pushed back. What are your thoughts in a nutshell around, firstly, why the pushback? Secondly, how does one help navigate through that pushback to take the goodness and the greatness of him and make sure it’s in our hands and the legacy lives on?
I will be coming to this answer from a different angle. There was a time when the church looked after the people until they ran out of resources and the state took over. The state is running out of resources. The third construct in the golden triangle is business. I’m seeing signs of that in South Africa, where business needs to step forward and do the things that need to be done to save this country and turn it around in that space. Remember. Politicians do not generate their own money. They are dependent on money that comes from businesses.
That can be abused, but at this point, businesses should say, “If we put our money here, it’s not for you to give us contracts like a lobbying effort or on a manipulative level. It’s to govern this country in a proper fashion.” You cannot mindlessly give money to political parties and you have this level of corruptness that you have. Unfortunately, good people get hurt in the crossfire.
I think of our President, Cyril Ramaphosa. He’s an exceptional individual, but he’s caught in a political structure, which leaves him very little maneuverability. Unfortunately, he’s at the spearpoint of the structure. All the negativity and whatever is directed at the individual, not the bigger structure and how the structure functions in a process. You will not be able to correct that. You need businesses to step forward and take up a much stronger role in our country.
With that said, I’m not saying that the work of the church is done by no means. It is in business where the stronger leverage and impetus would come from in our country. To put our hopes on politicians or a better political group, we can try, but I don’t think, even with the new coalitions, that could take us a bit forward. It’s still too early for us as a country to have that kind of mature political leadership that could take us forward as a whole.
Do you think part of the pain that the country is in is why there is this backlash towards Mandela?
Thomas Kuhn wrote about paradigms. He says, “When a paradigm shifts, everybody goes back to zero.” There was a massive paradigm shift that happened in 1994. Philosophically, if I stand away from all the rubbish out there, all of the noise I hear in the system are people looking for the rules of the new game. We haven’t clicked the new game yet. We are all trying to establish the rules of the new game. The next election and maybe the one after that, the rules of the new game would become clearer and the noise would subside in the social system.
When you say the rules of the new game, are you talking about the new game since 1994 and the transformation of South Africa? Are you talking about those rules?
How do we live together with the immense diversity that we have? We are a recipe for a civil war if you look at certain things, and yet it’s not happening. How do we live together with all of this diversity in a country where, with sign language, we have twelve official languages? What are the rules of this new game where we all live a good life in harmony and peace with one another with all of this diversity? What are those rules, and who will make those rules? How do we decide on them? How do we agree on them?
Where do you think the pushback came from and why? Is it related to what you said earlier where in your heart, you wished Mandela had served a second term to embed this new cultural philosophy?
The pushback is hard-driven by the absolute wave of corruption that we are experiencing. It’s almost as if corruption is institutionalized. The pushback is against this cancer that’s in the system. We need to find ways to kill these cancerous cells so that the body can heal.
Why do you think Mandela was blamed for the corruption?
I would like to know what the substance of such a blame would be. First of all, he had very little time to institutionalize that. If you look at everything here that got a lot of momentum under the presidency of President Zuma, if you look at the outcomes and the conclusions of the Zondo Commission. That is a sad period in our country’s history. It has consequences that will live for quite some time and the pushback is coming to rectify that.
Do you think that can carry on?
Business can play a significant role in that.
In your mind, do you think that when the pushback is effective in terms of killing off this corrupt endemic system, that is when people will better understand the legacy? It’s a small group. There are a lot of people who don’t feel this way. For those that have pushed back, do you think that when that endemic corruption shifts, the pushback amongst a group of people against Mandela will also shift? Is that your thought?
For those who have the mindset of reflecting on what is happening in our society, I also think to be fair to President Mandela so that not all the weight is on his shoulders. He was an exceptional ingredient in terms of what could be a wonderful story of South Africa. There are other good things and other good people that also played a role in this. His colleagues may not have become president, but they played a role in this. Even people like Chris Hani, Oliver Tambo, and those people. Also, there are people that you would associate with the Afrikaans people. There are people who had a critical mindset that influenced their own people and argued with their own people, saying, “This is not sustainable. You cannot sustain a world like this.”
There have been articles in leading publications across the USA and other places in the world. I was curious to hear from you and your perspective on what you think has triggered the pushback and what you think will cut through that for people to once again understand that the things that they’re upset about, in pain, and perhaps angry about may not be at the feet of President Mandela?
Mandela being the first president in the new dispensation, all of the hopes that people have had for so many years were almost all laid at his feet, which is an immense burden for somebody his age. He was almost the symbolic key to this new future. Hence, the immense disappointment that people are sitting with and saying, “What happened to the promise?”
That has a whole myriad of complexity about it.
All of what you and I are discussing in the specifics boils down to the quality of leadership in an organization, a country, a region, or whatever. What is the intent and the mindset of those who are taking up that position of leadership that put up a hand and say, “I want to lead.” Leadership is a choice, so it is, “I chose to lead.” If you say, “I choose to lead,” what mindset do you choose to lead with, where do you choose to lead people to, and in what way do you choose to lead people with?Leadership is a choice. Choose to lead. Click To Tweet
We are in our final few moments for any final thoughts around the potential and the richness of Africa and the potential and richness for the future of leadership.
I am exceptionally positive about this continent. I have traveled to a number of countries on this continent. I have met the most astute people I’ve ever met in my life. They’re not just astute but good and excellent business people. They are in the majority intuitively. It is for them to gain momentum on this continent. It’s coming. Africa’s time is coming. It will take up its rightful place. There are enough good people out there doing good things on this continent. At some point, it will come together. Africa will take up its rightful place on the world stage.Africa's time is coming and it will take up its rightful place in the world stage. Click To Tweet
For the future of leadership?
If you take the map of Africa and you put pins on it in terms of businesses, you will find a multitude of businesses. If you put pins on Africa where churches are, you won’t see the map. You will see the pins. Somehow, church leaders for whatever religion have a captive audience in front of them. They’ve got a heck of a responsibility to carry the message of a future prosperous Africa to those people, so when they leave that congregation and they take off their church clothes and put on their work clothes, they operate there with this influence that they have. Although I’m emphasizing business, there’s a big responsibility on church leaders and spiritual leaders on this continent to play a part in this. I’m seeing some of it.
That’s wonderful. On that note, I want to say to you baie dankie ek is so dankbaar (translated: ‘thank you, I am so grateful). I’m so grateful that we are working on this wonderful global Mandela Leadership Movement for Change together. I’m excited about the work we are going to be doing together not only across the African continent but elsewhere in the world. Thank you for caring and loving the continent and for being the wonderful human being that you are. Baie dankie meneer (translated: thank you, Sir)
Thank you for the opportunity. Bye.‐‐‐
Catching up with my good friend, Frik Landman, who passionately shares why Africa is too rich to be poor, reminds us that paradigms must and do change. In order to progress as individuals, as a country, as a continent, or world, we must revolutionize our current thinking. For Africa to realize its full potential and equally for humanity to rise to this moment and meet the current demands in the world, we must rethink our thinking and our current paradigms must change.
What is a paradigm? The origin of the word is Greek. It means a set of patterns, a framework or a blueprint. It is a deeply ingrained or a widely shared mental framework that influences our current thinking, beliefs, and actions. How do we change a paradigm? Frik references the work of Thomas Kuhn, a highly influential physicist, philosopher, and historian whose most famous work is called The Structure of the Scientific Revolution. Our scientific paradigms change.
What do we learn from Thomas Kuhn? Firstly, that progress is not random. It relies on current thinking. Secondly, that anomalies, deviations, or unexpected new discoveries challenge our current thinking patterns. Thirdly, when a paradigm shifts, everybody shifts back to ground zero. Finally, a paradigm shift is a revolutionary process. It is out with the old and in with the new.
Let me give you an example. When Nelson Mandela became the first democratically elected president of South Africa in 1994, he revolutionized the thinking and radically changed the rules of the game. South Africa was no longer a nation simply about black and white, rich or poor, or those who had won elections and those who had not. Instead, it was about the collective whole, the well-being of all South Africans, his friends and former foes alike.
He invited the former president of the old apartheid government, President F. W. de Klerk, to become one of his deputy presidents in his new government of national unity. He also invited opposition leaders to fulfill meaningful roles in a new government. He invited his former prison wardens to his presidential inauguration. Nelson Mandela’s leadership and revolutionary new thinking not only averted a civil war but radically changed how we think, act, and lead. It compels us in the world to challenge our current thinking.
When our current paradigms no longer serve us and hinder our growth, it is time for them to change. If Africa is to realize its full potential and humanity is to rise to the moment of these big challenges in our times, we need revolutionary new thinking, a super cognitive revolution, and a radical new way to think, act, and lead.
Remember that leading boldly is about making thoughtful, bold choices and bold leadership is about taking bold action one small step at a time. One step for you, but together, a giant step for humanity. Take care and take thoughtful, bold action.
- Da Vinci Institute
- The Structure of the Scientific Revolution
About Frik Landman
Frik Landman’s work to establish USB-ED as an advanced executive education institution on the continent involves the building of partnerships with international schools as The Centre for Creative Leadership [CCL], a consortium of international schools for the development of managers in the United Nations, global corporates such as Bosal International, SAS and other key agreements in the world of business. In the business world, he acted as advisor and designer of various strategic interventions and served as coach and confidante for a number of executives.
Frik is on the board of the Centre for Financial Regulation and Inclusion [CENFRI], the EPAS Accreditation Board of the European Foundation for Management Development [EFMD], and on the Academic Council of the Madinah Institute for Learning & Entrepreneurship in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Landman holds a BA in Hebrew, Philosophy and Psychology from the universities of Port Elizabeth and the University of Johannesburg and a BTh in Theology from the University of Stellenbosch. He earned his MTh in Theology and Ethics from the University of Stellenbosch and his MCert in Development from the University of Johannesburg. With a rich background spanning business, academia, and governance, Frik Landman continues to contribute significantly to the fields of leadership and executive education.