Learned Helplessness | #eBizWires | Howard Feldman


South Africans do not need to be told that they are not happy. The only question is just how miserable they are. “Luckily” there is a way to determine just how bad this feeling is. At first glance, it is worse than one might have thought.

The Misery Index is an economic measure that looks at the relationship between unemployment and inflation. South Africa, sadly hovers between fifth and the second place as one of the world’s most miserable nations. Venezuela has beat us for the last few years and it would seem has secured the top spot for the foreseeable future.  The war in Yemen and the conflict and instability of the DRC, also help to keep us from achieving this dishonourable position.

But it’s not through lack of our trying.

It hasn’t been easy to achieve this accolade. Not with South Africa’s infrastructure, natural resources, beauteous country and mild climate. One had to get up very early (like 5am) each morning for 9 years in order to achieve the ‘success’ of taking the country down the path and to the destination at which the country now finds itself.

I am certain that we hardly needed a Misery Measure (Index) to tell us what South Africans are feeling. The anxiety, stress and general despondency caused by corruption is hard to understate. Rising costs and diminishing liquidity is a challenge for most. Add the Eskom debacle to the mix and what results is a lethal combination of helplessness and hopelessness.

But all the latest studies prove to us that helplessness is learned. This means that it can be unlearned.

Consider the following:

  • The new Eskom power shutdown followed suspiciously closely on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that he intends unbundling of the state utility.
  • It took only 3 days for the para-statal to implement stage 4 load shedding. Something that South Africans had not encountered or had to endure to date.

As unpleasant as this might be to live through, it is also the most tangible sign of a push back against Ramaphosa and his drive to rid the organisation of the corrupt elements. We need to recall that the  Zuma forces of a few years ago were intent on proving that the country needed to secure a Russian nuclear deal. As a strategy they ‘proved’ that they could not meet the demand that they (Eskom) could not  cope with the production of electricity in the country. Power outages were used then to “display” how important this deal was. It was a strategy they used then, and it is worth considering that they it is one that they would use again.

It is highly possible that once again this tactic is being deployed. Only this time it is push back against Ramaphosa and to show him that he and Pravin Gordhan will not be able to accomplish what they need to. It might be resistance to change (always hard), it might be the protection of dubious access to funds or might simply be about ego. But there is little doubt that the Gordhan-Ramaphosa combination does not sit well with many in the organisation.

We should consider this something positive. We should consider the fact that Ramaphosa’s SONA was about the economy and business and about practical solutions and that he didn’t  giggle his way through the numbers. It is positive that SONA wasn’t about Israel and Palestine and that it focussed on SA Inc. It was positive that the opposition parties recognised what the country needed to hear and that they too listened.

We have come a long way on the journey. We just need to ride through the turbulence.

The Misery Index speaks to reported numbers. It is a reflection on how seriously government takes the pressing issues of employment and inflation. We need to hold them to account. Call them out when we can. But we also need to keep perspective, try and be positive and then support the change.

About Howard Feldman

Howard Feldman is one of South Africa’s leading entrepreneurs. His experience is global and extensive, spanning more than 20 years of working as a business strategist, keynote speaker, published author, both locally and globally, social and political commentator, morning drive show host and philanthropist.

Feldman provides insights into strategic thinking, motivation, facilitating solutions and addressing organisational challenges.

Feldman has used his experience and innate understanding of markets and business to also take his career into the fields of writing and radio. He is the author of two successful books – Carry-on Baggage and Tightrope: Musings of Circus South Africa. His third book; Smile, dammit – is scheduled for release in March 2019.

He is also the Morning Mayhem host on ChaiFM from 6am-9am, Mondays to Fridays.

Part of Howard’s career includes a 15-year stint building a global commodity trading business. He found significant conventional success, but lost himself along the way. His journey is an exploration of authenticity and meaning. Armed with business and academic knowledge as well as a brave and unflinching sense of humour, Howard uses his personal experience to educate and entertain.

Howard Feldman works extensively in executive and corporate training. His delivery draws on real-world experience, recognising the value of people and relationships without compromising the energy of entrepreneurship and career growth, providing audiences with applicable wisdom and the tools needed to thrive within a mercurial and challenging business world. He has a unique, positive outlook and courageously engages in conversations that most would prefer not to have. Through humour, insight, and disruptive thinking, Howard unravels complexities, unlocks talent, and ignites potential.

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