Build a Nation: Choose one person

Reading time: 3.25 minutes

“If you are not good, we are not good” – Renias Mhlongo.

Most South Africans have little or no financial resilience. No savings that they can access.

To build a prosperous nation, individuals (citizens) need to improve their capacity to consider other people’s perspectives and circumstances. More actively.

Almost half the country’s households depend on some form of social grant. And we cannot rely on government to fill this gap. Even the wealthiest countries are under tremendous pressure.

Covid-19 has also had a polarising effect on most societies. Consequently, our relationships are more frequently defined by intolerance and mistrust.

We urgently need a unifying force.

Here’s a true story to illustrate the point…

I was 19 years old when I began working as a safari guide at a private game reserve.

Apart from being able to speak English, and a few basic bush skills taught to me by my grandfather, my ability to conduct a safe and entertaining wildlife safari experience was limited.

Given my lack of skills, my job was not safe.

The head guide had noticed my rawness and inexperience. So he paired me with one of the most competent animal trackers on the reserve.

Enter Renias Mhlongo.

This made all the difference.

Renias had twelve years of professional tracking experience. He’d also spent a lifetime immersed in the wilds of the South African Lowveld.

The two of us were like comparing AB de Villiers (a top international cricket player) with a kid who plays club cricket.

Renias decided to teach me about the bushveld – the birds, tracks, plants and the subtleties of animal behaviour. Every single game drive was an education. More importantly, his lessons were delivered with a spirit of generosity.

One afternoon I asked him why he thought he needed to constantly teach me.

‘Because if you’re not good, we are not good,’ he quipped.

For the first time, I saw us as a partnership, a unit that I could be proud of. I realised that Renias wasn’t going to settle for mediocrity. He wanted us to be excellent.

Over time we developed a shared sense of purpose. My skills improved and before long we were inundated with requests to take people tracking.

He taught me his language and in so doing revealed his essential self. Learning to speak Shangaan is unquestionably one of the most enlightening things I’ve done.

A deeper connection formed when I could converse with Renias in his language.

He needn’t have expended all that energy, but he felt compelled to travel outside his comfort zone to help me.

Twenty-five years later we still work together, thriving from a life based on wildlife tracking.

So, what’s my point?

There are many stories of hope emanating from the Covid-induced financial disaster. Generous accounts of NGO’s providing lifesaving resources for vulnerable people.

But there’s another possibility awaiting us; one that lies beyond conventional philanthropy. One that connects us individually and energetically.

It fosters inclusiveness. It provides one with an opportunity to take part in a transformative relationship – a rarity in a world currently afflicted by intolerance and indifference.

Renias and I believe it’s time we start to meaningfully engage our less privileged countrymen.

What does this mean?

There are somewhere between 7.5 to 20 million working-class people in South Africa. If just ten percent committed to sharing a skill or knowledge to enhance another person’s life – ordinary citizens could play a significant role in curtailing poverty and facilitating wellbeing.

Choose one person. Someone whose life may be materially improved by an ongoing learning intervention. Undertake to teach something.

Whether it be an art, science, leadership, sport, technology, trade, language, gastronomy, or a culture. Mentor someone.

This is a long-term investment in another human being. Where payback is realised through shared identity, deepened relationships, and earning potential for the mentee. In a land that needs it desperately.

We’d like to invite all those with the means to share value. To actively participate in nation-building.

The result?

A country with a chance to develop greater levels of tolerance and inclusiveness. And perhaps even economic self-sufficiency for a few desperate people.

If you are good, we are all good.

Choose one person.

Book Alex and Renias’s keynote presentation called the Power of Relationships. It provides the keys to unlock the latent potential in diverse working relationships.


“In an extremely entertaining presentation Alex and Renias tell how people from vastly different backgrounds, cultures and beliefs can forge powerful relationships. Crucially, they demonstrate how cohesion, and pure bottom line profit flow from the quality of the relationships within any team, organisation, and country.”
Ian Thomas, South African Hall of Fame Speaker






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