Saturday, November 24, 2007

To Manage a Message. The 2010 Soccer World Cup. South Africa is NOT safe.

I haven't written about it yet because it felt too personal. But because of football (soccer) last weekend I decided a more personal post wouldn't hurt the Impactroom blog. The thought chain started somewhere last week when Belgium lost from Poland with a smashing o to 2. Poland qualified for the first time in its history for the European Championship. Bear in mind that the coach of Poland is actually a Dutch guy, Mr. Leo Beenhakker. Believe it or not but Mr. Beenhakker is my...neighbor (living across the Dutch border in Belgium, profiting from a friendly tax-on-wealth law in Belgium). But this is not about him. I was looking after some more info about the European Championship when I accidentally read and realized that the 2010 Soccer World Cup will be organized in South Africa. And that brought me to my brother... and this where the story starts...
My brother Jan and family (wife and 2 children, 7 and 6) moved to South Africa 9 months ago. It is a non typical case of emigration in which the husband follows his wife, supporting her carrier in a multinational environment (DuPont). My brother ran a communication lab, Ad! in Belgium, before they left. Because of the fact Addictlabs' prime asset consists of an international database of creative minds and because his clients operate primarily transnational, he managed to keep the business alive, steering the company out of Johannesburg.
A small team of dedicated employees still operate from their exiting warehouse-design like office in Brussels. My brother is a visionary; he is an expert on 'creativity', making him more famous in Australia than in Belgium. Lately he tours the world giving speeches about industry and creativity. My brother is also a man who consistently believes in art, commercial creativity and in the intrinsic good of human mankind. I've read some newsletters about his whereabouts in SA, written by other expats, who ask themselves out loud who this Belgium man is that dares to leave the compounds and visit streets and city parts in Johannesburg where a normal expat wouldn't dare to be seen. In this so called 'dangerous' places my brother looks for and links with the local creative scenes. After 9 months in SA the stories about my brother sounded warm, colorful, exiting and caring. If he had been a priest I could have sworn he was converting SA into a better place single handedly and more importantly without him noticing it himself. Vanity trickles down from this man as oil of a salad. Until 2 weeks ago. In the sanctity of their compound, in their own house, my brother and his family, as well as his mother in law who just happened to be visiting, became victim of a hold up at gun point. 3 young black men broke into their house around midnight, after having tricked the alarm system of the compound and having passed a barbed wire defense barrier. Via the master bedroom they forced their way into the house, brutally waking up parents and children, waving guns, shouting, ordering to cooperate. All grown ups were tied down; hands tied behind their backs with shoe laces while threatened to be shot and killed if they didn't obey. They were ordered to point out all the cash in house as well as to reveal where the vault was hidden (they have no vault, and had very little cash in house). The men, an important detail, didn't carry masks, so my brother, himself an artist by education, knew he would be able to draw their faces as if pictures were taken from them. Robbers not wearing masks are the worst. Or they are professionals knowing upfront nobody will live to reveal their identity after the facts, or they are the worst kind of amateurs, most of the time operating on drugs to overcome their own fears, not realizing their own stupidity, suppressing whatever form of empathy they might know when not on drugs. After one hour of antagonizing fear the men found car keys and remote controls to open the gates of the compound from the inside out. They took all the money they could find, all the electronically equipment they could carry (6.0000 digital pictures on my brothers laptop) they took the Mercedes of my brothers wife and forced them to explain exactly how the remote and security devices worked. They left my brother and his family behind, tied down, in another bedroom that could be locked from the outside. They left the house and the compound with the Mercedes which enabled them to pass the gates of the compound without questions asked. I can assure you that time stood still when my brother called in at a family party we had in Belgium the day after the event. I can imagine that what happened to them comes close to the worst nightmare of expats in countries with a higher security risk. I don't think my brother revealed all details to us, as to protect our parents. Between the lines however I understood there had also been some rough physical contacts, although and thank-god-for-that the women in house were not violated. After the men had left my brother managed to bring his hands in front of him, and cut his ropes with a razor blade. After having freed his family he alarmed the compound. Heavy armed private security officers responded immediately. A wave of sympathy has engulfed his family since then. Security experts told them they have been very lucky.
Ironically my brother's wife is in South Africa with a DuPont team to teach their client, the biggest SA energy company, about the famous security ethics of DuPont. DuPont is known throughout the world for its achievements on the field of safety management, ethics and secure controlled processing environments. DuPont built a commercial model around these achievements and started to export their 'safety' knowledge to other companies and continents.

On a more elevated political level, the impact of this incident is enormous for a country as South Africa. You might laugh with this conclusion, but the circle wherein my brother lives and works is the circle of the pioneering minds and bodies. (Where do creative hotspots invariable pop up? Exactly, the downtown area's of city towns) (What triggers exponential value in property development? Exactly, downtown area's that become populated by free spirits building small companies, re-designing their turf, I would even say 'lofting' their venues, attracting little resto's and bistro's, until real estate prices become unaffordable for this kind of inspirational city developers). In the case of the hold up at my brothers house, and because of his network, thousands of these inspirational people have received 1 message, although not communicated with the purpose to hurt SA, that is not the way these creative minds work, but still, subconsciously the message sent was: South Africa is NOT safe. One sentence struck me when reading an article on the forum, it stated -and this concludes my thought chain- that the South Africa of today is NOT ready to host the 2010 Soccer World Cup.