Given Mkhari: Media power-player, ‘Coward with Conviction’

Change is a given in the fast-moving world of modern media, where traditional platforms are battling for relevance and commercial survival against the relentless onslaught of the Internet and mobile technology. In such a world, who would dare to build an empire in radio, the original theatre-of-the-mind medium? The answer, too, is Given.

As in Given Mkhari, the ever-ambitious, ever-upbeat CEO of MSG Afrika Investment Holdings, whose portfolio of media interests includes radio stations Capricorn and PowerFM. With new regional licenses and bold plans to strengthen its position as the biggest radio network in the country, after the SABC, the company is hoping to win hearts and minds and transform the industry in the post- Rainbow era.

It sounds like risky business, but Given, a former teacher, ad industry executive, and talkshow host, doesn’t think of himself as a risk-taker. “I’m a coward with conviction,” he tells Ruda.

Or watch the interview on Youtube.

 


 

R: Our guest today on the Change Exchange, Given Mkhari. How should I describe you? Media entrepreneur, maybe? Does that work?

G: Partially South African.

R: Passionate South African?

G: Ja. Who happens to practice a passion in media.

R: Okay, great.

G: How are you?

R: Very well.

G: Good. Good to see you. You still look fresh and sexy.

R: Thank you. You grew up in Limpopo? Tell me about that?

G: I grew up in the most beautiful part up the world, and I get to appreciate it more now that I have grown up and not spending much time at home. When you drive to Limpopo there’s a place called Duiwelskloof.

R: Okay. It’s between Tzaneen and Polokwane.

G: Yes, very beautiful vegetation. When I get there, I open the windows in Magoebaskloof and you just smell God’s presence. So that’s where I come from, and as I pass the town more towards the villages you still see some parts of the Drakensberg. I grew up South of the mountains, and a lot of sounds of livestock and music and…

R: Rural, rural…

G: Proper rural. I wouldn’t say I’m a farm boy, but I’m a rural boy and I grew up in a very honest environment. When people are unhappy, they let you know and everybody knows and when they embrace you, they embrace you fully.

R: And then you ended up in advertising?

G: Ja, transitionally. I’m a teacher by profession.

R: Okay, did you teach?

G: For 30 days, yes. As part of my practicals for me to get my degree. But I love teaching. I grew up being surrounded… most of the people when I grew up in my environment were teachers, policemen and one or two doctors here and there. Teachers were the most visible, most accessible who you could interact with at school, and my favourite people who also gave me a lot of confidence when I was younger were teachers, so I loved teaching and that’s what I wanted to do for most part of my life.

R: And… but straight after university in South Africa you went to New York. What was that like? Getting to New York from rural Limpopo? How did you experience it?

G: It was affirming. So I grew up in Tzaneen, going to Turfloop, while you’re at university you still do a bit of work in Jozi – I worked for SAA and the City of Johannesburg as an intern and go back to varsity, so I wasn’t that green in a rural nature, as opposed to the Big City, so to speak. But arriving in that environment as a student was amazing. One thing I noticed, certainly from an academic point of view, was that our, my level, vis a vis students that I was in the same lecture rooms with, we actually had a much decent education in terms of exposure, a world outlook, and so I didn’t arrive in a place that was very intimidating from an academic point of view. But I was very much in a hurry to work, so I got in there, and within the first month or two had negotiated with my lecturers to allow me to cut down on my days in class, so that I can be in the city working.

R: Working at what? What did you do?

G: Broadcasting media. I worked for a company called Inner City Broadcasting, which had two radio stations. One called WBLS and one called LAB, and then within a bit of time I enjoyed solely entertainment in the artist management division and then during fall I would go down to the West Coast and work for a movie house. So I got a nice exposure to the overall media space, beyond radio.

R: Chinua Achebe was a mentor. What are your memories of him?

G: Grace, patience – an amazing listener. Humility. He never behaved like Chinua Achebe. He was a father of a young African son, he’s an African from Nigeria, he lived in the US for quite a while and was my lecturer as well in African literature but adopted me and my other colleague who was from South Africa as well and treated us as his sons. And him and his wife gave us a home away from home and a lot of wisdom.

R: What an amazing experience for a young man. But I’m sitting here thinking so many young people say: “I don’t know where to start. I don’t know how to get that first-in.” How did you manage that? What kind of advice can you give?

G: I guess it will depend on what the start means. As I grew up I asked myself if one or two define a turning point in one’s life, what will that be? And what I find is there is every year, every month,

quite frankly every day, is an opportunity, it’s a legacy creation opportunity and the question is what stage of your life are you at? So if you talk to me about where do you start believing you are worthy of something, there is a moment I’m sitting on my mother’s lap – I’m probably about 10 – and I sneeze like crazy in Tzaneen – I think 1984 and she says to me: “Are you going to sneeze like that in parliament?” Now this is apartheid South Africa days. My mother went up to standard two, so today grade four. We had no sense of parliament other than the homeland parliament. And somehow this woman treats me as a parliamentarian and tells me how to behave in preparation to lead. So that would have been a turning point where someone instilled confidence. And it’s unbelievable, subconsciously you start behaving like the person you are told you are supposed to become, so it builds confidence. Coming to varsity, coming from Tzaneen, interacting with guys from Jo’burg, Cape Town and Durban and you’re a rural boy, you walk in there as an equal, and anybody who comes from those places, you can easily be intimidated by these urban boys. But I walked in to Turfloop like a leader, because my mother told me I was worthy of and it just grows from that. So for me the starting point in a moment is just checking in any moment of affirmation. When someone says: “Ruda, you are beautiful.” Take it in! Because you start experiencing that beauty and you start expanding it and you start living it. So some people are very dismissive of compliments – they go: “Oh, come on, you’re just being nice to me.” Very sceptical. I take it in.

R: And you use it, you build on it.

G: It builds you! You take it in. If you take it in, if you internalise it, it becomes a part of you. What you put stuff, you put in, you get out. So if the moments that make you feel good – there’s a lot of crap in this world, so much rubbish and so much pain – and if your mind-set is able to internalise the pain and the negativity it becomes very difficult to take in the positive stuff. So you’ve got to conscious take that good day, that good conversation, that good cheque and that good experience and own it.

R: Decide what you focus on. So advertising? You were a director of the Jupiter Drawing Room and one of the founders of The Communications Firm? How did that happen and what did that mean in your life?

G: The aim for us had always been to be media owners.

R: Us being?

G: Myself and my business partner. The owning media in this country – as the matter of fact in almost any other part of the world – media assets are regulated assets. So if somebody gave me lots of money to go and buy media, media owners do not sell, because assets in media – particularly regulated assets – are hard to come by. Advertising was the most, the closest space we could be in while we were waiting for change to happen at a regulatory level.  So we’ve been clear from the onset – to get into advertising and getting closer to the space – it drives a commercial aspect of media, but also done correctly, it’s a very good cash-generating business if done correctly, and on the back of that build an asset base which at a good time when South Africa was ready for us we could apply to media, and that’s exactly what happened. And it’s precisely for that reason that, having built now South Africa’s second largest radio network after the SABC we’re able to say we’re exiting advertising, and we’re out of advertising.

R: You were always – you always had your eye on the bigger picture?

G: Ja. First was to be a teacher, and when the whole teaching thing didn’t work out and the media bug hit, that’s always been the thing that I wanted to do.

R: How did you experience the country changing, almost under your feet? I always have this picture of you on a ball and it was rolling, but you were up there and staying up and going?

G: You get inspiration from that as a black business person – there are a lot of black people who have done amazing things in business, so at a broader commercial level at least you’ve got some people to look at and like: “Wow, it is possible!”

R: When did you start?

G: I started working as a student, but in terms of incorporating our business, when I came back from the States, I worked for Kaya for six months as a full time employee, and I resigned six months later and started a media consultancy, PR business.

R: When are we talking about? Early 90s?

G: No, I graduated in 1997, so started a business in 1998. So four years after post-democracy. And by that time guys had done some great work in many aspects of our industry. So you had role models you could look at and just get inspired by them.

R: But the advertising space in South Africa has changed so dramatically. If you look at advertising now, it’s aimed at the black middle class to a very large extent. If I think of 20 years ago, everyone in the ads were white.

G: Yes.

R: So you were part of that?

G: I want to believe we played a role – we certainly were not the first. Guys like Happy Ntshingila and a whole lot of other guys who stated Headboys would have certainly been the pioneers of, Mpahlele and them, would have been the pioneers of advertising. As the matter of fact when we moved onto advertising, all the other major advertising agencies had partnered with some black professionals.

The Jupiter Room was probably one of the last ones to do an equity deal. The difference was most major agencies had partnered with very established, well-known, bigger business people. The Jupiter Room surprised everybody because they were young at that time, and partnered with some of these young – too young – black boys with no track record in advertising, who were business people at the back of our communications business that we had built. And I think in partnering with us, what was even bolder, is that while everybody was doing the typical, a little gooi die’tjies 25% thing, Jupiter Room was bold enough to do a bigger deal. We… 57% of the Jupiter Drawing Room within the space of eight months, and were able to turn that around. It was a small, little-famous agency, but small in terms of size and business, and within the six months that we took control of the agency our major clients… SAA, MTN, Absa, Sasol… about R1.3 billion of billings in six months from something that used to turnover a good R30, R40 million. So that got the industry to pay attention. By the way a billion in spendings – not revenue – so I’m not saying R1.3 billion – I don’t have that type of money. But the most important part of it was that it didn’t do a BEEE deal with darkies sitting in the corner… it sold and pay for it to black people who took over management and some of the founders continued as employees and minority shareholders in our business and we worked as partners, and I think that’s what worked amazingly for the business.

R: And then the shift into radio? Capricorn was the first one?

G: Yes. Capricorn was an amazing story. Coming for Limpopo, having started Radio Turf, which was the first campus radio station in South Africa to be licenced by the then IBA, we knew the market of Limpopo. We understood radio like crazy, and when Icasa decided for the first time that there was a licence for a commercial radio station in Limpopo we were firmly focused on it. And we put in a lot of effort, a lot of time and a lot of money to prepare for the application and we were blessed in 2006 to win the license and we launched it in November 2007.

R: And what’s the secret of the success? Do you know the market?

G: Yes, I think it’s insight. As is the case with every business. I mean, look at the people behind BrightRock – these are practitioners in this space. I don’t think that you can build a sustainable business if you don’t surround yourself, if it’s not led by people who are very passionate about it, but separately who understand the drivers of that makes that business work. But also the trade, the macroeconomic environment that will determine whether the business works or not. And so

Capricorn is based on one simple insight – it’s so easy it’s not funny. Limpopo is one of the few provinces that still has a larger spread, after Gauteng, various language groups. So you’ve got

Sepedi-speaking people, Venda-speaking people, Shangaan-speaking people, a few Afrikaners and a few Ndebele-speaking people in Limpopo. And if you look at the geography of the province, all of

these language groups are sitting in some corner of the province. And the major radio stations in that place, are also according to language – African language stations. So for Pedi’s Thobela, for Shangaans, this. And Capricorn’s proposition was South Africa has moved forward. While it is important to celebrate and highlight our languages, there’s a certain tertiary level at which the black middle-class relate to, and that is beyond the language. It’s aspirational, it’s about self-development, it’s about living your life. You want a medium that unites people at that level – beyond just language –  and beyond the core of the region. So all we did was to give the people of the province something that they could collectively and individually own, irrespective of which corner of the province they come from, and what language they speak.

R: And now you have started Power FM in Johannesburg against the Big Boys.

G: And you know, they’re not taking kindly.

R: I’m sure.

G: The Big Boys are harder work, but that inspires us. You know that you are up to something when the establishment moves and responds and reacts. Power has been subjected to a whole lot of nonsense, literally. In the media, operationally in terms of signal, everything you can think of has been thrown into us, and the passionate people that work in our organisation and keeps it going – the proposition as well is not too different from Capricorn – it looked at South Africa and it says that if you look at – once again – I’m in the core of our business. The offering, targeting the market of the future, which is the black middle class, unapologetically so. Our view is that if you look at the transitional story of South Africa, a lot of it has been very Kumbaja-based. I mean Honeymoon based, Rainbow Nation, we all love each other, let’s hug. And it was necessary at the time of transition. It’s been 20 years now. Certain truths are starting to come out. We’ve got the fact that the economy is still dominated by a few people who happen to be of a similar skin colour. Accident, hello?! Two, that the politicians – there’s a growing level… people are becoming vocal about: “That’s not what I voted for. These are not my expectations.” Three, more and more individuals are realising the role of the individual, to do something about their lives, to change one, the status quo of their families. And as they gain power in an individual basis, they will become more confident to pronounce how they feel about, how they want to be treated, how they want to be treated at the schools, at the hospital – even by government. Those people, we believe, are the people who need to be aggregated into a Power Group that can transform society. Not just for the sake of this town, but also for the rest of the continent.

So Power believes that the black middleclass has got a lot to say, but the bulk of the media platforms in this country are not meant for them. They’re not designed for them. On the music front there’s this perception that if you’re young and you’re a black professional, you just want to dance. So black people are being given music stations. The other extreme, those one or two talk platforms that are there accordates for that audience. They want to decide for them. Ruda, you know it’s not the main focus. You and I know, when I come to your house tomorrow, you will decide what time I will eat, what will I eat, what kind of music, what time the party starts, and when the party ends. So you will treat me beautifully, like a guest, but I know it’s on your terms. And we took a view that there’s not a platform in this country that is deliberately designed for this market of the future, who are going to determine what happens to the rest of the African continent. But also realise that their quest is not just to be entertained. But they have a lot to say. So what we’re trying to do is to create a platform to hear what the ultimate influencer of South Africa in years to come has got to say. But also to get them to be accountable, that instead of sitting back as recipients of policies or as a recipient of racism, or as recipients of circumstances to challenge and to say you are the leader, you are looking for… So Power is about creating a platform primarily for the black middle class, in Gauteng – the biggest economy in South Africa and therefore but an extent the continent, to get these people to understand that wherever this country goes, it’s going to be on their terms. So they have to take responsibility and lead.

R: So you’re going to make it? We cheer you on, because all you’re saying sounds perfect.

G: Listen to the radio station. People ask me: “Have you manufactured these people? Where have these people been?” And I say: “No, they’ve been around! All they needed was a platform that treats them with respect that assumes that they’re smart, and that black people have been told that they suffer from a culture of entitlement. But these people are still carrying a lot of pain! And yet in spite of that pain they wake up every day, they go to work, they create businesses, they run, they’re in strategic roles in the public services and private sector, everywhere else. And somebody just needs to say you are worthy and here’s a platform. Say how you feel and what do you think. And that’s what Power’s about and that’s what it does every day.

R: You have now also acquired commercial licenses in the Eastern Cape and in Free State. Those markets… are they big enough? Are they rich enough?

G: No, they are called secondary markets. Certainly, the economy of this country as you know fall very much in the metros. The primary regions of Gauteng, Western Cape and KZN – just the size of industry in those places. But there are people in the Free State, in the Eastern Cape, in Limpopo and the North West who consume products every day, who spend. So relative to the major towns – not that they’re as big – but anchored by a major asset like Power and the track record of Capricorn as a combination, it’s a lethal combination. So when you look at the footprint of all of our stations, we essentially will be in seven of the nine provinces of South Africa. So we will actually be the second largest radio network after the SABC post the launch. And all of them looking at stimulating those people that I described in the past, and they are in all those regions. They’re not as big as Gauteng, but certainly, I mean, when I buy for Capricorn, industry said it’s a small little town and now it’s become one of the most successful commercial radio stations in South Africa. So it’s an exercise of aggregation. It’s the power of one type of a proposition.

R: How important is it? Because what you’re saying is so striking for me. How important is it for an organisation to have that kind of vision that you are formulating? That everyone must follow the same star?

G: It’s critical for a country. It’s critical for a family. It’s critical everywhere. And it shouldn’t be as difficult, because as human beings we are motivated by similar things, no matter if you’re male, female, black or white. The expression of the emphasis may vary from one community to another, but we want the same things. So it’s about understanding – one – as an organisation our reason for being is if you’re a trucking business or a broadcasting business… but also understanding how you’re going to do it differently from others. But ultimately I think if it’s done from a place of honesty and truth, it tends to align you with your overall calling and purpose and reason for being. If you believe in that stuff, and I certainly do, and certainly most of the people that I work with believe in alignment and in a thread and having a reason to work beyond just money and understanding if it’s

done properly the results is money and as the money comes in hopefully reinvest into growing it. And if that’s the language that you speak, certainly for us it works. And I can’t speak on behalf of everyone else, but I believe in that.

R: I spoke to this amazing doctor in Port Elizabeth, who works in one of the townships there, and he said you point your heart in the right direction and everything follows.

G: I have to agree with that.

R: In being a serial entrepreneur, as you’ve been, does one have to be a kind-of risk-taker? You have to have the ability to step off the edge?

G: Ja. You know I move… the definition of risk sometimes quite worries me. I don’t know if I’m a risk- taker. I doubt I’m a risk taker.

R: Because you believe so firmly that it will work?

G: Ja! I invest a lot of time and effort before I do stuff. So I possibly am a coward with conviction. No, I don’t take risks, funnily enough. Once I believe though, I go the whole nine yards. And maybe that’s what people’s definition of risk is. I think also the other definition of risk for other people is to what extent you back yourself. And I do, and I’m surrounded by people that do as well.

R: What do you mean, back yourself?

G: Back yourself I mean to go against the grain, to go against what popular view is on something. And just gooi it!

R: And to put everything on the line.

G: Ja, that’s how I do that. So if that’s risk, it’s critical. But for me at the back of risk is going to be a lot of homework, because it’s a thin line between risk and being irresponsible. Being naive and stupid. So you do your homework until you believe in the core of you, all things considered, that if it doesn’t, that you will be able to reconcile it with you and try again.

R: Yes.

G: And so, I think risk… it’s a judgement call. It must be a consideration that must be applied with a lot of thought. And yes – here’s a funny thing about conviction and belief – it’s that even when everything else would point out and suggest to it not happening, there’s still that deep thing in you that says: “No, it’s worth it. Let’s go for it. And just pray to God with all the effort that things go according to plan.” So for me it’s about believing. It’s about believing, but belief must be invoked by something. And if you ask people: “Why do you believe in Jesus?” And they say: “He died for us on the cross.” That, for them, is a reference point. If you ask someone from another religion why do they believe, they are able to give you a reason why that is the case. So in order to believe, there’s got to be something that you can substantiate that makes sense to you. It doesn’t follow though, that those that you are preaching to will buy… the same way in any religion. It doesn’t follow that you tell them that – allow Jehovah, whatever – that there will be… but those that believe will do everything that they believe in. So vision for me has got to be centred on something that is believable from a place of authenticity. And hopefully with a much bigger cause that you have in mind.

R: When you start that political party, I’ll sign up.

G: What! What shall we call it? The I Believe Party?

R: Let’s change the subject slightly. Tell me about your wife? How did you meet her? Why did you decide she was the right one?

G: I was told that men don’t choose women – they get chosen.

R: You’re lucky.

G: You’re chosen! No, but my wife is a funny story. I used to be a talk show host at Kaya, and my producer suggested this young lady for me to interview. So she gave me the profile of this young lady and I was like: “Nah, too light. Not interested.” And I had this big business figure that I was meant to interview during the day, and at about 16:00, 17:00 that person doesn’t show up. Now we’re desperate. And I said to my producer: “Where’s that young alternative – you know this as a broadcaster.” So I ended up with this young lady that in my view was not worthy of an interview in my studio. And it was a one-hour show. The first 30 minutes was a proper business interview, and the last half-an-hour I was interviewing for a wife.

R: So you decided there and then?

G: Yeah, I was like into her, seriously. And when I knocked off, I got a call from an uncle of mine who said: “Who is that young lady you were talking to? She sounds very interesting!” My business partner called me immediately after that and said: “That woman who was in the studio sounds like your wife.” And then a few weeks later I invited her to my office and she was at reception and my business partner came back to me and said: “Do you remember the other night when  you were on radio and I said that was your wife?” I said yes. And he said: “I was wrong – your wife is at reception.” And it was the same person.

R: How did she feel?

G: So she tells me a few weeks later that – now this time we’re dating now – that the same night her best friend called her to say: “I wish I could have told Given to please date my friend.” And a few months later she says to her father: “There’s a friend I want to introduce you to.” And her father says: “Let me take a guess. It’s the guy on the radio?” So it seems that those who are closer to us…

R: You must have been flirting…

G: Like crazy!

R: On air. In public!

G: Oh yes. One of the questions I asked was if she had any pets, any dogs, any children…. I was literally… she hit me literally in that studio.

R: But she’s a businesswoman in her own right, how do you make time for each other? How do you find the time to build a relationship?

G: Ja, it’s not easy. She’s gotten much better than I’ve been in it. She spends a lot of time at home with the kids, she challenges me in many respects to do fun stuff. I come from Tzaneen. Things like movies, going to the beach and holidays – that’s like a lot of work, right? She’s taught me as well, the good life. But on a serious note, one thing that brings us together is that we’re both very intense family people, so in my family I’m the person that brings everybody together.

R: Your birth family?

G: Yes. And on her family’s side as well she’s the one who brings it together. So that’s one thing that we share very tightly, and now she’s also taken over that role in my family’s side. She’s the one who brings everybody together. When something good or bad happens, we probably would be the first people to know on all sides of the family. So we’re very intense family people. The truth is, I’m not a street person and neither is she. So yes, we spend a lot of time at work, but outside work we’re family people. We have beautiful girls that are highly opinionated, that are…

R: There are four of them, hey?

G: Ja. I’ve got three from my wife, and one daughter from a previous relationship. I’m surrounded by women. I was told it takes a man to make a woman, so I’m spoilt. I’m surrounded by all this beautiful feminine energy.

R: Is your parenting style different from how your parents treated you?

G: I was brought up by women in the main, so I’ve had very few male figures in my life – never really got to live with my father, so… I spent a bit of time with uncles, but on the periphery, young man this and not that… My mothers, my aunts, all of them –  I was brought up by a lot of other women. They shaped me in many respects – they were disciplinarians, proper. But lots of love. I grew up with a lot of love. So that makes a big difference.

R: You know, this country, I think has problem with absent fathers. How do you see the role of the dad?

G: It’s a big challenge, particularly as a father of girls. I’m challenged. My eldest daughter doesn’t know, but my wife challenges me all the time in terms of presence. I’m still an under-achiever in that respect. It’s a big challenge, and you can see women who grew up with a male figure in their lives, and those who didn’t. Big difference. I think as men we have a lot of work to do in that respect.

R: What do you mean?

G: Women who grew up with father figures – whether it’s biological or not – I find them they turn out to be a little more confident and in their ability to relate to men. So that gap – a lot of us as men still have a massive job to play. I however see though, that the mother stamp – like I spoke about myself – you just can’t forget Verbatim, things that your mother has said or how she has done things or how she used to do things and you check yourself as well. Now as a parent, to what extent are you either expanding or continuing to apply those things that you’ve learnt… then the question becomes how applicable are they in today’s world. And I think particularly today’s generation, it’s a very challenging space to navigate. Very competitive in the workplace, we all want to achieve, we all want to build, and yet we still want the same things. You want a warm home, you want to be a great father, you want to be all those kind of things – that transitional space is a challenging one for a lot of us.

R: And how do you see the future for your daughters in South Africa? I mean, many people are so negative about this country – white and black, I think?

G: I believe that my kids have an amazing future in this country – it’s not just going to come. I have to ensure that it happens.

R: So take responsibility, both you and them?

G: Absolutely? So people who have a negative outlook about this country, turn out to be people who have done a lot of good in getting their lives in a good space. They fear because they’ve got something to protect…

R: Too much to lose?

G: Ja. They’ve got too much to lose. Then I ask a question: If you really feel like you have got too much to lose, what are you doing to ensure that you don’t lose? So let’s stop outsourcing the future of this country to a few supposedly powerful people – let’s engage constructively, let’s be exemplary, and let’s not assume that the people who spent all their lives, fighting one of the worst systems of governance in this world – these people sacrificed their own families and relatives. Went into exile, went to prison – come back and now have to run a country? One, give them bloody credit for the sacrifices that they made in their lives. Two, understand that they will not master everything.

But the more we create a distance between the rulers of this country and ourselves, the more we’re waiting like spectators that knew they were going to fail. We say: “I knew it, like the rest of them on the continent!” So my challenge is for every leader, whether it’s at a school or government, there’s some change that can happen at St. Stithians – which is where my kids go to – I have a role to play there, but I’m not as active, right. A church, and the workplace – because in this country there is going to be change at every level. It’s about what we do as a society. I find I struggle, for example, with guys who treat me – particularly my fellow white counterparts – who treat me differently by virtue of who I am – and I watch them when I visit them in their homes, how they treat their helpers.

And I see it! And trust me, every black person sees it. We can jol and have a drink – I’m watching you. So it’s about practicing this change that we preach in our own small environments. At home, at work, and it does affect the country. And as it relates to government – senior business leaders and civil society – we have a role to engage, to question, to advise – we have a role. So yes, the country’s going to go to the dogs if we remain passive, and this country is going place if those of us who are blessed with resources or influence – irrespective of how that space is – can play our role. And in the bigger scheme of things I just believe we’re going places. I mean, we’ve got massive challenges – there are worrying signs here and there – as with the case when there were worrying signs back then.

R: Ja, imagine living in America at the moment.

G: First the weather!

R: Look, on a much lighter note. Your home… part of what insurance does is to look after one’s home. So tell me about that. How did you buy your present home? How did you decide on it? Why?

G: Why? I was late for a meeting with a CEO of a bank – I used to live across the freeway on the other side. And I was stuck in traffic for an hour and half on that particular day, and the CEO waited for me in our lobby, so everyone was waiting to see who this big person was waiting for. And then comes Given late! So I was very embarrassed, I cancelled my appointments for that day and I looked for a house on the other side of the freeway. Simple reason! I was happy to settle for anything, as long as it was on the other side. And I was blessed enough at the time, two years later, that I was able to – we, as a family – we were able to… after having moved, after the birth of our third daughter… second daughter… she was starting to be able to handle it, so we moved houses, we moer’ed the older structure and we started from scratch and we built ourselves a decent home.

R: And what was the most important thing that you wanted? A study with big windows? Very nice kitchen if you cook? What’s the one thing you want in a house?

G: She wanted a huge kitchen and fancy bathrooms. I wanted an amazing, huge garden! I’m a rural boy, so my favourite place…

R: Do you garden yourself?

G: Nah! Time. I supervise very actively, but I don’t do it myself – at least occasionally.

R: But you plan it.

G: I clean the pool! My favourite place is sitting on our patio, overlooking the pool, and then it drops and there’s this splash of greenery and all the flowers around it. That’s what I love the most about my home – it’s the garden. I’m invested in the garden, but it’s a very open space. Lovely home.

R: Given, thank you so very much and I hope you sit on your stoep for many hours and dream up new stuff and – as I say – when you start that party, phone me. Because don’t you think he’s tomorrow’s politician to save us all?

G: Thank you very much Ruda, I truly appreciate it.

 This article first appeared on the Change Exchange, an online platform by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes.

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