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Do with less to make South Africa more, implores business winner

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The business community needs to drive transformation in South Africa, Absa Business Award winner Mike Abel insisted on receiving his award at the Jewish Achiever Awards ceremony last Sunday.
by MIRAH LANGER | Sep 06, 2018

“I truly believe… civil society and big business [collectively] is going to be the catalyst that changes society,” said Abel, the founding partner and Chief Executive of M&C Saatchi Abel.

“I believe that the power exists in this room to do something extraordinary in elevating ourselves beyond the challenges of politics, and to create what I believe is essential for South Africa,” he told those gathered.

Abel urged others to join him in his quest to “have a small part in something extraordinary rather than a large part of something ordinary”.

“If everybody in this room is happy with a little bit less, and actually focuses on how we use our massive creativity, intellect, and wisdom to uplift those in South Africa who have been excluded from society, we can make a massive and meaningful difference and have a sustainable future.

“What has frustrated me about South Africa is that I don’t believe we have a true, inclusive economy yet,” Abel said. This kind of shared financial freedom had not yet become a reality, “because we don’t have a proper sharing culture”.

Abel urged companies to commit themselves to transformation. He cited the fact that the majority of his company’s distributable shares were black owned, as well as the fact that his staff was 57% black, and more than 60% female. “It’s not a matter of whether or not you should do it; it is a matter of conscience, and we should all do it.”

Quipping that his intention had not been to use his platform at the awards evening to give a “big drosha”, nevertheless Abel said that he felt he had to use the opportunity to speak to some of the “most influential” people in the country.

It was clear that the country was going through a difficult time. “We understand that the machinations and the shenanigans that go on behind the scene makes what President Cyril Ramaphosa would love to do with this country very difficult, so we are in for interesting times as we head into the 2019 elections.”

Yet, said Abel, as he surveyed the glittering ballroom, “in a room like this, with this august audience, you can only feel a great sense of hope”.

Abel proclaimed how proud he felt to be a South African Jew in spite of the sense that Jews in the country were “under fire”.

“The government is talking about severing ties with Israel. I think it is reprehensible. We achieve good only through dialogue, not a lack of dialogue,” said Abel, ending his speech by declaring Am Yisrael Chai! (The nation of Israel lives!).

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