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10th Province is Newly Energized and set to Connect SA with Global Partners | SABLE Accelerator Network

10th Province is Newly Energized and set to Connect SA with Global Partners

By Rowan Philp

The “10th Province”—which describes the loyal South African diaspora—is positioned to tip the scales for a positive South African future, and is already being referenced by its finance minister as a strategic asset. Just last week, one of the brightest of the expat community’s galaxy of business stars, Roelof Botha, was elevated to the helm of the world’s most famous venture capital firm, Sequoia Capital, and immediately named as a new “flagbearer for . . . the Tenth Province” by BizNews. While some traditional overseas chambers and clubs have seen their advocacy weaken, organizations that are actively leveraging the contact books and influence of the diaspora include Brand South Africa, the Global South Africans movement, and networks like the SABLE Accelerator.

Influential immigrant businesspeople who actively promote South Africa’s interests include leaders from a wide variety of sectors, from Pieter de Villiers, founder of Clickatell, to Larraine Segil, past chair of the Committee of 200 Foundation, and Neil Turok, who is at the forefront of the future quantum technologies revolution. The man who coined “The 10th Province” concept—Geoff Johnson—says he has lobbied South African government officials and civil society leaders to leverage this reality: “South Africa has millions of “sales people” overseas who cost nothing, and who are exactly where we need them.”

“While I appreciate the efforts of the Homecoming Revolution to attract South Africans back home, I honestly believe the Government should turn this around and concentrate on the ‘10th Province Revolution,’ to embrace, recognize and gain support from a multitude of highly successful and skilled South African born entrepreneurs all around the Globe,” Johnson says.

Despite his decades in the UK, Johnson has retained a deep fondness for the US, as well as its South African-born business community, having lived in New York in the mid 1970’s. Johnson revealed to Sable that he was deployed by South African billionaire Natie Kirsh to assist Malcolm Elvey in setting up Jetro Cash and Carry, now one of the jewels in the Kirsh international empire. Entrepreneur Elvey still lives in New York and is also an ardent South African ambassador developing new ventures. Meanwhile, Johnson, a Senior Partner at St James’ Place Wealth Management Group in London, is also Founder of the Nedbank South African Charity Golf Day, which is now the largest golf day of its kind in Europe. Now celebrating its 20th anniversary year, the Nedbank South African Charity Golf Day has raised over 2.25 million dollars for South African charities, served as a catalyst for several entrepreneurial businesses, and connected key civil society and business leaders in new relationships with boundless potential. 

Triggered by the assassination of liberation icon David Webster, Johnson left South Africa as an ANC member in 1990, and began an effort to support the development of a democratic South Africa from afar that has never flagged. The Golf Day and its allied charities support education, health, and nutrition for children and the disabled. In 2001, it secured as its patron former President FW De Klerk, whose Foundation is dedicated to defend both Constitutional values as well as the chief beneficiaries of those values: its youth, and its most vulnerable. Other charities supported last year include Starfish, FoodForward South Africa, The Thuthuka Bursary Fund, Warwick-in-Africa Education Program, and Afrika Tikkun. Johnson notes that, “Participants see real impact; the schools we have supported have seen pass rates jump by 64 percent, and we’ve started The Health Wagon in KZN, reaching out to communities who had no health care at all and have generally looked at the ‘cradle to career’ period in the life of young South Africans.”

Interestingly, the Nedbank South African Charity Golf Day’s fortunes over the past year closely echo those of South Africa itself—which emerged from one of its worst years in 2016, following the finance minister firing fiasco, to sudden new optimism in 2017, after its best showing at the World Economic Forum in years. The Nedbank South African Charity Golf Day, which attracts around 550 people to its gala dinner following the day’s golf, suffered a very tough 2016 because of the withdrawal of several key sponsors, including SABMiller (sponsors since 1998) following the Inbev takeover, who Johnson says have “shown no interest” in continuing support of this South African fundraising initiative. However, since its historic 20th year, the event has received unprecedented new support that could make it even bigger.

“The fantastic news is that the European Tour is now going to officially support us, because of the work we’ve done, and because of their support of communities in South Africa where they are now also running professional golf events, including the Nedbank Golf Challenge,” he says. “Yes, we were under threat after last year’s event, but this year we’re hopefully attracting new sponsors following the support of The European Tour, which will do all they can to introduce us to other new sponsors which lifts the Golf Day to a new level. I’m confident about the future for many years to come. I’m very proud of what the golf day has achieved—this year is our 20th anniversary, and we’ve already raised over 1.8 million pounds (2.25 million US dollars) and our target for 2017 is over £150,000 (200,000 US dollars).” 

Johnson says the potential of the 10th Province is built on a unique characteristic among South African expats: “There is something about South Africans that they keep that green blood,” he says. “For example, the Nedbank South African Golf Day is run entirely by South African volunteers living and working around London.”

He says the business diaspora also now has greater potential for influencing growth at home due to a change in business philosophy. “The adage that the business of business is business no longer applies,” Johnson says. “I think the role of business is increasingly to serve the community, but part of that role also means to run a business at a profit. The 10th province is a concept I’ve been raising with various members of government since the State visit to London by President Nelson Mandela in July 1996, whenever I can, and there is a growing recognition that South African born business leaders abroad are willing and eager to engage, particularly in a truly ‘new’ South Africa.”

Johnson expects the new prominence of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa—together with the new cohesion seen at Davos between anti-corruption elements in government with business and labor— to be hugely energizing for expats who maintain a love for their homeland. “What started the turning of the tide were the local elections in August 206, when the DA took Pretoria, Joburg and PE, and kept Cape Town,” he says. “This is hugely energizing for us overseas, particularly after several visits to London by DA Leader Mmusi Maimane who received enormous support and encouragement from South African business leaders in London. Those mayors are putting in accountable governance of the people: exposing the corruption they found, and moving toward prosecution of the crooks. That is a huge wake-up call for Zuma. Ramaphosa has now seen the opportunity, and if he can take people like Zweli Mkhize with him as well, that will add to the confidence. I think (Pravin) Gordhan is doing great also.”

Other positive developments include the leadership of Kingsley Makhubela at Brand South Africa, who, he says, made a strong impact at Davos, and recognizes the potential of the 10th Province. Pumela Salela now Heads Brand South Africa in the UK, “showing leadership and support for many South African initiatives emanating in the UK”.  A recipient of the Nelson Mandela Scholarship to study for an MBA, Salela has experience of working at The World Bank in Washington and a former Director within the Department of Trade and Industry. “The fact is: If South Africa was run as a company, and they realized they had around 4 to 5 million unpaid ‘sales’ representatives in the field already, who are prepared to sell their product for zero commission, any company would be crazy to ignore that sales force,” Johnson says. 

However, he warns that calls for their involvement in supporting South African development should not begin with money. “The government would be flabbergasted at what they could get out of this offshore 10th province, in terms of information, assistance, networking, tourism promotion, as well as investment in education and sustainable environmental energy—where South Africans abroad are world leaders,” he says. “But if South Africa seeks to tap its 10th Province only from an investment point of view, it won’t work. Expats will think that you only want them for their money. They need to be wanted for their South Africanness and the true support they can give. Just think about tourism, and its fantastic potential, and the power of word-of-mouth. I’ve never ever heard a bad report from a returning tourist: Brits, Germans, Japanese, or Americans. We could be reaching a tipping point on tourism, and the diaspora could be part of that push. This is despite the debacle within the management of the national air carrier, but fortunately other carriers are doing a good job—particularly the Middle Eastern airlines.”

Johnson’s told Sable that his next initiative is working with BizNews publisher Alec Hogg to develop the BizNews London Forum, giving an opportunity for South Africa’s business leaders and politicians to address an international audience—including members of the 10th Province—on strategic topics.

To read more about how South Africa going to make a huge comeback, visit this blog also written by Rowan Philp.