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How To Be A Political Optimist

5 Tips from Max du Preez for looking at the bright side of South African politics.

Hanfred Rauch



Max du Preez

Max du Preez is a rare breed. Somehow he has managed to remain one of South Africa’s most influential political voices for the last three decades – during the country’s most dramatic political, economic and cultural transformation.

What has kept him at the top of his game for so long?

“To be truthful,” he says, “To speak truth to power, to be fair and balanced, to give all sides a voice, and to be entertaining, informative and accessible enough so people listen to me and read what I write.”

One of the most fascinating aspects of du Preez’s approach to journalism is his level of optimism, despite having been an observer of a country on the brink of anarchy for so long. So, what is his method for maintaining a silver-linings approach to his work?

Related: 10 Young Entrepreneurs Under 30 Share Their Start-Up Secrets

Here are 5 lessons in optimism from Max du Preez:

1. When you find yourself surrounded by ignorance, rise above it

“I grew up in an Afrikaner nationalist home in the rural Free State,” he says to put things into perspective. “It was a highly politicised environment, but it was only when I went to University and became a journalist that I realised that the world I grew up in was isolated, prejudiced, small-minded and racist. The only way for me to deal with this dichotomy was to dig myself into politics.”

Du Preez graduated in Political Science at the University of Stellenbosch in 1973. He went on to become a political correspondent for the Financial Mail, Sunday Times and Business Day.

In 1987, he was a member of the Frederik van Zyl Slabbert group that held talks with the ANC’s exiled leadership in Dakar, Senegal. His most pivotal move at the time, however, came in 1988 when he founded and edited the anti-apartheid weekly, Vrye Weekblad.

2. When the tide turns, stand fast (and adapt)

Staying relevant throughout the shift from the old South Africa to the new has turned Max du Preez into a journalistic icon, but over and above his challenges in the political arena, he has also had to adapt to the changing face of journalism.

“Mainstream media has shrunk because of the internet and social media,” he admits, “but it is still the most reliable source of information and insights. More than ever before, it is the media – rather than parliament or the opposition parties – that keeps government honest,” adding, “Well, kind of.”

At the first sign of pessimism, the cogs of optimism slip right back into gear: “But we wouldn’t even know about Nkandla and the Gupta family if we hadn’t had a free and independent media.”

Rather than treating new technology as the enemy, du Preez has embraced it – boasting over 126 000 followers on Twitter and over 24 000 likes on Facebook. And while he is not (yet) in the habit of posting selfies on Instagram of his new specs, he has managed to make himself relevant to a younger generation of South Africans that is also trying to make sense of their country’s often confusing political state.

3. When your society is falling apart, give them hope

“I believe that, if a society has no hope and optimism about the future, it becomes paralysed – passive,” he says philosophically, but there is a sharp ring of truth behind his words – especially when considering the precarious circumstances in which today’s youth find themselves.

The developing world’s circumstances aside, a whole generation of British and American twenty-to-thirty-somethings find themselves at risk of never gaining financial independence or, indeed, having a home of their own – but worse yet – feel powerless to do anything about it. Looking at the recent outbreak of student riots in South Africa, discontentedness amongst the youth is starting to seem universal.

“South Africa is in a very depressed cycle right now,” says du Preez, “and most citizens talk themselves further into depression. It helps to put the other side of the picture to people and inspire them to work for change rather than to accept that we’re on a slippery slope to a failed state.”

Related: 10 Inspirational African Entrepreneurs

4. When all you can see are the negatives, side-step them

Rule number one in the Max du Preez handbook of credible journalism is to consider all sides of the story, which means you cannot ignore unpleasantness. But allowing yourself to give up on the good news behind the bad is too easy in du Preez’s opinion.

To use an example of the optimist’s mind in action, “When Zuma fired finance minister, Nhlanhla Nene in December last year, our economy and national optimism took a huge knock,” says du Preez, “Yet it signalled a good day for democracy, accountability and a heightened understanding of the real economic powers at play.”

5. When everyone tells you otherwise, mix business with politics

“The most critical component of our democracy is the treasury. Without it, everything else fails,” du Preez states. In his mind, when President Jacob Zuma initiated an action that impacted the treasury, the business world got a much-needed wake-up call.

“Business has played virtually no role in the South African political arena since 1994,” says du Preez, “but since December last year, it has played a vital part in supporting Pravin Gordhan’s efforts to tell the ratings agencies a good story.”

Looking at an even more pressing matter, “Business should get more involved in fixing the rotten education system that is failing our youth so dramatically,” du Preez says. “It should show society what good leadership can achieve.”

But even Max du Preez must have an Achilles heel when it comes to maintaining his levels of optimism. “I struggle to depict the upside to corruption, state capture, tenderpreneurship and President Zuma’s antics,” he admits.

Max du Preez will be speaking at nlighten’s business leadership event, Exec Think Tank, on 11 August 2016 – a week after municipal elections. The event will be hosted at Equinox, Alice Lane, Sandton. To find out more about Exec Think Tank, visit or contact Nicola on 021 794 7533 or email


25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa

Find out who’s making waves in numerous industries and how they managed to differentiate themselves in local and international industries.

Nicole Crampton



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“Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there,” says Richard Branson.

South Africa has its fair share of innovative and disruptive businesses taking both local and international industries by storm. From cutting edge space technology to reimagined logistics, and innovative business models, here are 25 of the most successful business ideas in South Africa:

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Colin Timmis Says ‘Position Yourself For Success By Starting With The Numbers’

People pay first who they feel pressure from, so people will pay you when they feel pressure from you.






Entrepreneur Colin Timmis founded South Africa’s first cloud accounting practice in 2011, Real Time Accounting. Then, a few years after being appointed as South Africa’s first Xero partner Colin became Xero Country Manager South Africa. Xero is the emerging global leader of online accounting software that connects small businesses to their advisors and other services.

Related: Pat Pillai On How He’s Helped Over 5000 Entrepreneurs Using 3 Key Steps

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Company Posts

Two 20 Year Olds Reshape Entrepreneur Landscape With New Social Investment Platform

The Merge vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

Merge Connect




Vital Stats

It’s no secret that finding the right investor for your venture is a challenge that most entrepreneurs face. The current process of finding investment is one that is outdated, and limits entrepreneurs due to a lack of time, and network that is needed to find the right investor. But, this doesn’t have to be the case in today’s digital society, says Zander Matthee and Brandon Bate, co-founders of Merge.

“By making the Internet the middleman, we are able to connect with each other much simpler and faster than before” was Zander’s response. “We have taken advantage of this, and have created a digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors” added Brandon.

Merge is a social platform that connects entrepreneurs and investors. It aims to simplify, refine and accelerate the process of finding investment for entrepreneurs, and the process of finding investment opportunities for investors. From idea to developed, the platform allows entrepreneurs to present a brief outline of their venture to a network of all investor types. While doing this, entrepreneurs are able to browse through, and connect with investor profiles that suit their requirements.

Related: 8 Codes Of Success That Helped Priven Reddy of Kagiso Interactive Media Achieve A Networth Of Over R4 Billion

From Private Investors to Venture Capital, and everything in between, Merge allows all investor types to join. Investors have the opportunity to personalise their feed to suit their investment preferences, and will be able to connect with innovative businesses – that are looking for investment – at their fingertips. Only once there is a mutual interest in each other, are users able to enter a secure private chat where they can discuss further and share documents under the protection of a digital NDA.

The two boys became good friends during their time in high school at St Stithians Boys College. However, it was only in their last year, 2016, that they decided to pursue their dreams and create the platform. They didn’t know how to code, so rather ironically, they needed some form of investment to get the platform off the ground.


“We knew we had a mountain to climb, but we believed in our vision and that we were really trying to make a difference, and if we could get others to see that, they would be onboard.” said Zander.

Related: Lessons From The Rich And Famous: Manage Your Money Like Oprah To Avoid Going Into Debt Like Nicholas Cage

Chris Peters is one of these individuals that bought into their vision, and became Merge’s first investor. As a successful entrepreneur and part time investor , Chris saw how much value the platform could bring to all entrepreneurs and investors alike. His marketing and strategic background gave him insight into how Merge could play a vital role in a lucrative space, Brand involvement.

“Entrepreneurship and SME development are two key factors that drive economic growth in developing countries like South Africa. That is why brands are currently getting involved, and looking to support entrepreneurs through various means. We have built a platform that allows these brands to successfully market, and execute on the programmes they have created to assist entrepreneurs.” said Chris

Merge was created to assist all entrepreneurs and investors in finding exactly what they are looking for, regardless of age, race, sex, financial position or social status. That is why anybody can sign-up as an entrepreneur. As long as you are determined and willing to work for your dreams. For too long has the investor space been seen as an “elite club for the select few”, and Merge is here to change that. Whether you’ve gotten your bonus at the end of the year and looking for new investment opportunities, or are an active investor, you can sign-up. Whether you’re currently working, or a retired industry leader, you can join as a mentor.

Their vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

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