5 December 2014, Regenesys Business School

Marius Meyer, CEO: SABPP

 On 5 December 2013 South Africa and the world have lost one of the greatest leaders of mankind, Nelson Mandela. On that day, after I left this very meeting to travel to Madiba’s home province the Eastern Cape, he passed away on that evening. The nation and the world were in shock. It is now one year later, and the question is whether the world is a better place today. We mourned his passing, but we continue to celebrate his legacy as we are reminded of his legacy today. Throughout South Africa and the rest of the world, people will honour his legacy by doing good deeds for their fellow human beings.  Recognised globally as an icon, no other South African has had more impact on so many people throughout the world than Nelson Mandela. He is the best example of true moral leadership in the most difficult of times. We have much to thank Tata Madiba for one of the most successful political transitions the world has ever seen. His biggest achievement was the eradication of apartheid, thereby helping the country to turn around from an oppressive regime to a fully-fledged modern democracy.

Since Mandela passed away last year, we have been reminded of his legacy. The SABPP Quality Assurance Manager, Naren Vassan decided to dedicate this annual event to Nelson Mandela as a reminder to all of us to continue keeping his legacy alive. That is the reason why we are celebrating today with our colleagues and children of the autism school. Moreover, we are celebrating with our learning providers and lifetime achievers for their active role in building a better South Africa. There can be no better way of building South Africa than active engagement in skills development.   Last week, we mobilised HR professionals to support 66 under-performing schools in Gauteng with proper HR management. We are overwhelmed by the positive response from the HR professional community, but we still need 9 more HR professionals to support this initiative, in particular in the Vaal region. Please contact us if you are interested to make a difference.

As the leader of the liberation struggle and later as first democratic president of South Africa, Mandela’s life provides us with a powerful legacy – and some profound lessons for human resource (HR) professionals:

  1. Humanity: Nelson Mandela epitomises what humanity is all about – the continuous pursuit of what humanity stands for – a world where human dignity is respected and valued. As HR professionals we are champions for humanity in the workplace. Mandela reminded us: “Our definition of the freedom of the individual must be instructed by the fundamental objective to restore the human dignity of each and every South African.”
  2. Diversity: No other leader taught us more about diversity than Nelson Mandela, his whole life was about creating and building respect for diversity, not only at a political level, but also in all spheres of society, including the workplace.   The biggest irony of Mandela’s legacy is that while he achieved freedom for blacks, he also realised freedom for whites – freeing them too from apartheid and the belief of white supremacy that dominated South Africa for many decades. He also warned against tribalism and xenophobia, two challenges that still need to be addressed in South Africa. HR professionals play a fundamental role to create diverse workplaces, and more focussed work still needs to be done to attain true inclusive workplaces.
  3. Accountability: Mandela was a strong believer in accountability in both the private and public sector. In particular, leaders should be held accountable. He said: “If you want to take an action and you are convinced that this is a correct action, you do so and confront that situation.”   HR professionals should be much stronger in striving towards accepting accountability for their work, and not blame line managers and other stakeholders when things go wrong.
  4. Adaptability: Mandela’s life is a wonderful example of adaptability. As he asserted: “Human beings have got the ability to adjust to anything.” He learned that throughout his life, and ultimately adapted from revolutionary to prisoner to politician to president. HR professionals should adapt to changing circumstances, and as business partners ensure that HR strategy and services are continuously adapted to the needs of organisations and the realities of the changing environment.
  5. Change: Mandela said that while it is difficult to change society, it is even more difficult to change yourself. While sticking to our values and principles as HR professionals, we need to build, develop and change ourselves every day if we want to become better at what we do.
  6. Conflict: The greatest part of Mandela’s life was about dealing with conflict. He learned and grown as an individual through these tough experiences, and was prepared to die for his convictions. Mandela expressed his view on conflict as follows: “One of the most important lessons I learnt in my life of struggle for freedom and peace is that in any conflict there comes a point when neither side can claim to be right and the other wrong, no matter how much that might have been the case at the start of a conflict.” HR and Employment Relations professionals specifically are facilitators of conflict resolution in the workplace, and their skills in dealing with conflict situations are of paramount importance.
  7. Integrity: In a country still plagued by fraud and corruption, Mandela’s example reminds us of the importance of integrity. He valued integrity throughout his life. Referring to corruption, he labelled South Africa as a “sick society.” HR professionals should be people of integrity and build ethical organisation cultures to create more ethical organisations and ultimately an ethical society.
  8. Relationships: Life is about relationships at the individual and collective level. As a strong supporter of worker rights, be believed in good relationships between employers and employees. Likewise, he established good relationships with the business community. HR managers are key builders of relationships in the workplace and broader society.
  9. Opportunity: Mandela said: “You pass through this world once and opportunities you miss will never be available to you again.” Every day HR professionals are faced with many opportunities of making a difference, we must seize these chances of having impact.
  10. Leadership: Mandela’s greatest legacy was his leadership during moments of suffering and opportunity. He excelled as a leader in the most challenging times. As HR professionals we have to show greater leadership in leading our HR functions and coaching managers in people skills.

This year SABPP continued on the National HR Standards journey. It has been a remarkable success reaching almost 3000 HR professionals face to face, attracting interest from 18 countries and getting the support of 21 universities and several learning providers. Maccauvlei was our greatest HR standards learning provider supporter this year. They attended all HR standards events, they exhibited at all our events, and they exposed their students to the HR standards. I urge all HR learning providers to join us on this journey towards empowering our learners with the HR standards as part of the national HR curriculum.   I invite you all to exhibit at the 3rd Annual HR Standards Conference on 17 September, it is going to be the biggest HR event in Africa in 2015.

I want to thank the SABPP Learning and Quality Assurance Committee under the leadership of Dr Linda Chipunza for their sterling work in championing high quality HR learning provision. Likewise, our Quality team members Naren Vassan and Kathleen Beckett did their best to provide you of the highest possible service. While they are inundated with enquiries from many learning providers in most provinces, please contact me directly if they do not meet your needs. Our commitment to service is of utmost importance.

I want to thank all learning providers for the active role they are playing to empower HR learners with knowledge and skills. I am also impressed to see that some learning providers have realised that they need to embrace social media if they want to remain relevant. Today the SABPP team will ensure that these learning providers who have made a conscious decision to be social and relevant will benefit instantly – we will tweet and retweet about your presence here today. The best learning providers on social media represented here today are as follows:

  • BMT College
  • Organisation Development International
  • LabourNet
  • Regenesys Business School
  • Boston City Campus
  • World View Academy
  • Global Business Solutions

In conclusion, the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela offers HR professionals with ample opportunities to live his legacy on a daily basis. Inequality and skills gaps can not be perpetuated. A few years back Mandela made this statement: “The future of South African businesses will be evaluated largely on its human resources development.” Skills development is at the centre of human resource management, and as a community of professionals it is our duty to society to rise to the occasion in developing the people of South Africa.

Likewise, Mandela labelled affirmative action “corrective action,” and twenty years after the birth of our democracy, we are still haunted by the reality of apartheid’s inequalities. Thus, HR professionals could play a key role in addressing the two national challenges of poor people development and inequality, given the fact that these two issues go hand in hand. Therefore, rectifying these gaps is not only key to sound people management, but also an imperative for nation-building and stability.

As a community of more than 120 000 HR professionals in South Africa, we are a strong group of change agents who can continue being the custodians of humanity in the workplace and socio-economic environments of employees. SABPP will continue to play our role in building the country Mandela was dreaming about.   As Nelson Mandela said: “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”


Marius Meyer is CEO of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP), the HR quality assurance and professional body. SABPP staff and learning providers will honour Nelson Mandela’s legacy on 5 December 2014 with its annual HRD Awards event at Regenesys Business School in Sandton. Follow SABPP on twitter @SABPP1

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