Those who attended the Impumelelo Top Empowerment Summit in 2016 will remember a very interesting presentation on business transformation by Nedbank’s former Group Executive of Marketing, Communications and Corporate Affairs, Thulani Sibeko. He has since left Nedbank to pursue other career opportunities, but we managed to sit him down for a Q&A session to delve deeper into his thoughts and theories on transformation and empowerment in the workplace.

Q: In your presentation you used the old door at the Constitutional Court as a ‘palimpsest’ analogy for South Africa’s past and present. How does it relate, and what is the connection?
A ‘palimpsest’ is defined as a surface on which the original writing has been erased to make way for new writing, but upon which traces of the old writing remain visible. South Africa is like this door – the past and the present interact and impact on our view of what transformation is about. The presentation aimed to help us reflect on the lenses we wear and the social and structural levers we are using to create our future. People who are passionate about transformation often struggle to define what transformation is actually about. In this struggle we get caught trying to balance both memory and vision. The photograph of the back of a prison door at Constitutional Hill shows the writing of prisoners over the ages. Often newer writing sits on top of older writing, capturing the struggles of prisoners, past and present, in a moment of time. Our country is much like this – needing not to forget the past, but to bring it into the present. The balance between hindsight and foresight gives us an insight into how to create our country for future generations, a country where all our children can become the best they can be. This is at the heart of what defines transformation.

Q: In your opinion, what are some of the key elements in building a better South Africa for future generations?
Education is key, but what is equally important is improving the basic living standards for all our citizens. Other key elements include dealing with corruption and restoring the confidence in our country; displaying ethical and values-based leadership and holding our leaders to account; promoting inclusive, equitable and sustainable economic growth; transcending our thinking through leveraging ‘digital’ and hence building our capability and capacity to create a competitive future-fit South Africa; and basically we need to grow economic, social, environmental and cultural capital.

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