We’re heading for a crash – unless we thrust forward


We’re heading for a crash – unless we thrust forward

South Africans cannot afford to hold back on the difficult stuff, so rev that throttle

Mark Barnes

In my not-so-youth I dabbled in a bit of off-road scrambling. You reach an age when you can afford the toys, even though you don’t have the physical strength and skills of the youngsters, who shake their heads as they watch you offload bikes they’d love to ride and do a much better job than you can. So what?
I bought my first off-on road motorbike about 30 years ago (yes, I know) in Cape Town. It was a Honda 600R – a real thumper that you have to kickstart (electric starts are for sissies), but it can just about scale up a cliff face and it’s not scared of rocks that other, lesser bikes fall over.
The reason is quite simple. The Honda 600R has serious forward thrust.
I’ve still got it. It lives on a farm and although it takes a few more kicks to get going nowadays, it eventually starts. It’s never been for a service and it doesn’t have a battery that can go flat. We’re friends; it’ll live longer than I will. I have friends with similar attributes.
The power-to-weight ratio of scramblers is phenomenal. I had a KTM540 once that, with fingertip control, could be made to take off over the top of an old mine dump and only land some 20 metres later. (Landing requires more skill and technology than taking off, believe me.)
In all sports, and all endeavours, for that matter, there are some basic rules you break at your peril.
If you’re going around a corner on loose gravel on a scrambler and you start sliding, you’ve got three choices.
You can simply hold on for dear life. Slide with the bike, and hope that you don’t hit anything too hard, too fast. If you’ve got enough protective clothing on (we wear serious stuff when we scramble – it’s part of the ride-fast-fall-often payoff profile) you’ll probably get away with only minor injuries – maybe just a torn cruciate ligament.
You could apply the brakes. You will crash, for sure. The injuries will be severe. Count on at least a broken collarbone, throw in a broken wrist or two, and probably a knee injury that will require so many wires and screws to fix that you’ll need X-rays and a medical certificate to get through airport security.
You could accelerate. Apply full throttle. Chances are that you’ll not only get through the corner unscathed, but you’ll end up shouting “Yee-ha!” and gain the respect of your scrambling peers.
It’s the only way out of trouble, and the logic is clear. Sufficient forward thrust will overcome the sideways momentum of the slide and propel you through the danger, to emerge upright and heading straightforward on the other side, back on course.
Overwhelming forward force is the only way out of falling sideways.
We’re slipping sideways, at best. We’re heading for a crash. Conventional wisdom would be to exercise caution, to stay in the middle of the populist current, to not attempt anything brave or different, just in case it fails. To hold on and hope, or worse still, to put on the brakes.
All of that would be wrong, a terrible mistake that would require serious surgery, if not leave us scarred, or even crippled, going into the future.
We cannot afford to hold back on the difficult stuff. We need to be bold and specific, we need full throttle, we need to leave the sceptics eating our dust.
It will neither require nor get consensus. It’ll require leadership, initiative and risk. The sense of it all will only become apparent once we reflect on the corner, looking back from the straight.
The ultimate beneficiaries will not feel the inclusion at first, but the powerful wave of success will carry us all forward, egged on by the prospect of universal economic prosperity.
My wish list for 2019 would include …
A mega state bank that redefines the credit model, away from asset-based finance, towards behavioural and technology oversight incremental lending; investment in the entire chain of the tourism economy; fix all the broken windows, fill the potholes, clear the litter; invest in enforceable crime prevention and consequence implementation, until zero-tolerance discipline becomes a national culture; and conclude huge and extensive public-private and local-international partnerships to leverage our natural competitive advantages.
Don’t worry about where the money will come from, just start doing it. Capital always finds its own way; in fact it rushes towards good ideas.
Mark Barnes is CEO of the Post Office.

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