Ashraf Garda’s Drive to Build a Better SA

Ashraf Garda’s Drive to Build a Better SA


Growing up in Vrededorp, a historically mixed-race Johannesburg suburb that suffered the same fate as Sophiatown and District Six, really shaped my sense of justice and struggle. Even as a kid I had an acute sense that this was wrong.

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When I was around 14 years old it was my family’s turn and we were forcibly removed to Lenasia. One of the unintended benefits of the removals was The Oriental Plaza. Built as a white elephant it actually succeeded in spite of the circumstances and serves as testament to human endurance.

Around 1980 my school took part in a protest in solidarity of the 1976 Soweto youth riot.

The police took us to the station and I got the biggest klap of my life and the fear that was instilled in me kept me afraid at night for some time. But, like the bitterness I felt from the forced removals, instead of it holding me back, I believed in the Prophet Mohammed’s example, and it strengthened my resolve and commitment to oppose injustice and to one day play a part in serving my country and building a better South Africa.

Having been part of the old South Africa and now being in a position of leadership,

It’s critically important to me not to be a fence sitter in making the country work. If we could take the moral high ground and back the struggle, we must act as a collective now too. It’s one of the reasons I’ve launched a new campaign called Champion South Africa.

Everyone needs to be a champion, not just a select few like Desmond Tutu, Bruce Fordyce and Madiba. We need to grow a pool of champions, because champion people build champion nations.

To move forward you need the right kind of mind-set to rid yourself of attitudes and ideologies constraining you

To work towards those that will benefit everyone. For me I’m Asian and Muslim and some think I should speak on their behalf as an Asian and Muslim. But I’m first and foremost South African and put SA first. The whole country needs to think like that.

Take Germany for example. When they won the Soccer World Cup, the sense of German engineering and precision was strong because it’s an expectation of the German brand.

We need our own brand and the SAFM platform helps me interact with society at large and ask questions on their behalf, so it’s my responsibility to serve them. In everything we do, we should be thinking about how our vision, cause and actions align.

A sense of duty isn’t about voting every four years, but voting every single day through what you do.

When I took over the Sunday media and marketing show on SAFM from Jeremy Maggs, I asked him why he did it. Yes it was a pain to spend a Sunday morning working, but he said it was his baby. I feel the same way now.

The impact the show makes convinces me that it’s not just industry talk, but your free two-hour consultation in brand communication.

I think the biggest problem South Africa faces is not celebrating the meaningful achievements enough.

I don’t mean paying lip service on public holidays, but drawing on them daily for lessons. When dealing with a dispute, why not look to the miracle of 1990 when opposing parties who couldn’t be further apart were able to sit together and negotiate a better future.

My wife and I owned a luxury fabric shop at the Oriental Plaza for almost a decade.

We’d import upmarket fabrics and were successful. Unfortunately we started being undercut, made some bad decisions, and we ended up closing and losing money. Instead of being bitter, it became an unforeseen opportunity to pursue my love of media.

As a child, whenever my family went abroad I’d ask them to bring me back every English publication they could, and I loved reading news stories aloud. So when the shop closed and a community radio opened up, it was that one great moment that saw my whole life’s training set me on a different path.

I know one thing about myself: When I talk people listen,

But there’s also the responsibility to let others be heard, even if they’re wrong. I always listen because it’s linked to my sense of justice. You’ve got to know when it’s your turn to talk or listen – even if you don’t agree with what’s being said. How can you talk and say what you want to say, but disregard others?

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Tracy Lee Nicol
Tracy-Lee Nicol is an experienced business writer and magazine editor. She was awarded a Masters degree with distinction from Rhodes university in 2010, and in the time since has honed her business acumen and writing skills profiling some of South Africa's most successful entrepreneurs, CEOs, franchisees and franchisors.Find her on Google+.