Daily Insider: Encountering that rare quality of the understatement

LATEST ON BIZNEWS RADIO iTunes: Meet polymath scientist Zeblon Vilakazi – the Katlehong kid who became Wits Vice Chancellor via a PhD, nuclear physics, CERN – and discipline. (Click here for Spotify)


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Living among them taught me that among the best qualities of British people is a deep affection for the understatement. Personal humility is a national obsession. Boasting an ostracisable offence. Self-created tall poppies get scythed with gay abandon. Many successful Brits take pride in driving old cars and living in homes needing licks of paint.

In a long career engaging with public persona, I’ve found understatement to be rare in South Africa. Many of our celebrated personalities – from business, the arts or politics – prefer the American approach. You know, the marketing-based idea that best you blow your own trumpet because nobody else will.

Occasionally, however, you come across local exceptions. Wits Vice-Chancellor Prof “call me Zeblon” Vilakazi, whom I spent time in-studio with yesterday, possesses refreshing humility. A role model for thousands this Katlehong-raised nuclear physicist who is fluent in nine languages gives all the credit to the teachers who paid attention to his pre-adolescent self. 

Ditto my ever-patient golf coach Leigh-Jane Middleton, an athlete-turned-entrepreneur who runs the Bryanston Country Club practice facility. Leigh, I’ve just discovered, also happens to be a national director of the PGA, SA golf’s umbrella body. Sufficiently understated to qualify as an honorary Brit. As would Zeblon. Nice.

“South Africa is at a turning point” – Q&A with RW Johnson
In this Q&A with RW Johnson after his “South Africa is at a turning point” speech he discusses the possibility of a repeat of July 2021’s civil unrest, where he gets his information, and where he sees South Africa in 5-10 years.

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