(Cristina Gottardi/unsplash)

We are bombarded daily with absolute generalisations such as:

“It is very clear to me (and I am sure to the vast majority of people in this country) that we need Ramaphosa to lead South Africa for the foreseeable future. He is BY FAR (sic) the best we have in terms of leadership. “

“South Africa’s democracy depends on the DA succeeding…”

“Most problems South Africa face today are of such magnitude that – even if we had successive miracle worker governments from today onward – these problems will most likely still be with us in 20 years’ time.”

Reading these statements, I want to cry out in frustration and desperation: “says who?!”

“Says who?” – is a phrase I have often heard when I was young and so unintentionally inherited it from my grandmother. She would utter this phrase with resolute usually preceded by a disapproving tut-tut, to my great embarrassment.  She could say this about something the pastor said, or something the doctor claimed, or even about what the bank manager said when my grandfather went to ask for a loan in order to survive the drought.

Hierdie artikel het in Afrikaans op Maroela Media verskyn.

As a child, I often heard her brisk reaction, “says who?” and wished she wouldn’t object so loudly.

In the Afrikaner context (with reference to the poor Afrikaner phenomenon of the 1930s) my grandmother was from a more affluent family. Her father was in the position to bequeath a farm to each of his children. Her mother was related to the lawyer J.G. Strijdom, also known as the lion of the North.

My grandmother was the one in my family who was first baptised with the Holy Spirit. This happened notwithstanding a meeting between my grandparents and a church leader where he advised them that the baptism with the Holy Spirit was not relevant for today, but was a historical event related to the first church. He patiently explained to them the principle of a seasonality interpretation of the Bible (“streep teologie”); an orientation that views some of the things we read in the Bible as no longer applicable for today. Many of us used to think this way and some good Christians may still believe so, but today the lines are much more blurred. The fastest growing church grouping in the world today also differs from such an orientation.

After this event, my grandmother’s “favourable” background didn’t matter much. She and my family were now branded as a sect by the mainstream Afrikaner.  We were viewed as a group of people who should rather be marginalised by society.

I did not physically inherit anything from my grandmother. One thing I did however inherited from her was the phrase, “says who” (although without the preceding disapproving tut-tut).

Who says it will take 20 years to get out of the country’s mess? Who says a political party or leader is the only salvation we have? Who says our recovery should follow the path that the futurists set out? I’m not denying our problems, it’s probably bigger than we realise, but I have an issue with the answers offered.

An alternative scenario

There is another possibility. After World War II, Germany was so poor that their currency had almost no value. There is a picture of children building a tower with bundles and bundles of German money, as if they were wooden blocks. But then, apparently just as Nicholas van Rensburg foretold, a miracle happened. The Germans call it the Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle); an unexpected and unprecedented rapid rebuilding and transformation of West Germany’s economy.

The economic growth model that served as the basis for the economic miracle was created by Walter Eucken, a member of the “Freiburg circle”. Among other things, this group reflected on the Christian’s responsibility to fight tyranny. Also associated with the group was theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer asked Eucken to come up with a secret economic plan for Germany. This plan was part of a planned coup that was eventually sunk by the failed assassination attempt on Hitler. Yet the economic plan survived and in the end served its purpose!

Why can’t South Africa also dream and plan for our own “Wirtschaftswunder”? No futurist, politician or analyst I follow wants to predict something so unexpected and miraculous. Did van Rensburg not talk about a similar “Wirtschaftswunder” for South Africa? That is, if you want to think more broadly about van Rensburg and not limit himself to the sphere of Afrikaner nationalism.

Possible building blocks for a economic plan

There are two building blocks that I think can deliver unexpected and unprecedented results for economic growth. These two building blocks are actually much more interwoven than one might think and lie within the hands of the man in the street, rather than the government or politicians. The two building blocks are the Christian network and entrepreneurs.

The Christian network

The Christian network is, in a highly diverse South Africa, the largest common denominator and the fastest growing network we have. The network transcends race, economic, social and educational differences. In the 2001 census, 79% of South Africans identified themselves as Christians. That this network has major shortcomings is true, but the fact remains, there is a huge community, a surprising sphere of influence. It will certainly take skill to approach, motivate and empower it. But to borrow an expression from our children: “use it or lose it”.

A similar situation is described in the documentary program “The Afrikaner”. During the Kruger government in the Transvaal, Britain put great pressure on the government to give voting rights to foreigners working in the mines. President Kruger did not want to do this because there were too many foreigners and if they got the right to vote, Britain could take control of the Republic of Transvaal. This pressure increased and eventually led to the Anglo Boer War. The comment was made in the documentary that if President Kruger had given women the right to vote, he could have overcome this problem. An unexpected resolution for his predicament laid dormant – he just didn’t see it, or saw it, but didn’t use it.


The second building block is entrepreneurs. Clem Sunter has been saying this for years, Ann Bernstein has been saying this, and years ago Prof Sadie identified it as one of the major factors that elevated the Afrikaner from the deep poverty of 1939. Thus, entrepreneurs as building block is not really something new. However, I want to highlight a more unfamiliar aspect that I believe has the potential to broaden our understanding and give unexpected dynamics. It is the fact that economic growth and entrepreneurs have been found to be the unplanned “by-product” of a personal encounter and relationship with the risen Christ.

American sociologist Peter Berger believed at the beginning of his career that the church was marginalised as a modernising influence. However, he abandoned this view after doing research among Latin American Pentecostal Christians who lived in very challenging circumstances. He found that “religious forces are as strong and healthy as they have ever been“. He observed that this group of people’s behaviour was characterised by entrepreneurship, independence, discipline, and a rational outlook on life and work.

Ann Bernstein also makes mention of the “entrepreneurial spirit” she has identified under the Pentecostal grouping in South Africa. What these independent academics noticed while objectively observing born again and spirit-filled Christians was that they are enterprising and that they are changing their world for the better.

As early as 1975, Eugene Nida wrote in his book “Message and Mission – The Communication of the Christian Faith” that all revivals emerged in the lower economic levels of society and that participants frequently improved their economic station.

An article in Harvard Business Review, October 2013, refers to a study of 1,714 American adults that concluded that entrepreneurs are more likely to believe in a having a personal relationship with God. They believe in a God who is interested in them as a person and cares for them. They also pray more often. The article continues with reference to a study in Africa and Indonesia that found that the value a person places on his or her relationship with God can be associated with innovation, higher business returns, and businesses that create more jobs. Exactly how and why it works, the article says, they do not know yet.

In an attempt to gain a better understanding we should start with a clear understanding of the concept entrepreneur. It is questionable whether concepts like “tenderpreneur” or “culturalpreneur” we so often read about in the media are indeed correct. It might be a trendy, but still an incorrect name for corruption.  The problem with these popular and catchy phrases is that it is at the expense of our perception of an entrepreneur.

Who and what is an entrepreneur?

An entrepreneur is someone who looks at a desert and sees a garden. It is someone who sees possibility where others cannot see it. It is the person who continues in hope and who, through their perseverance, hard work and innovation, contributes to the creation of prosperous communities. It is the person who personally takes responsibility for the risk of this drive towards hope.

What we now begin to understand is that when a person has a personal experience and relationship with the living and resurrected Christ, they often begin to act innovatively and entrepreneurial. This is certainly not the initial purpose, but rather one of the outcomes of a real encounter with God.

The working of the Holy Spirit enables people to make the hope that Jesus Christ offers visible in this world. The Holy Spirit enables a person to see the future He has planned and to be the torchbearer of that plan; to be a person who refuses to give up, a diehard.  Someone who bounces back from setbacks. A person who maintains commitment and discipline. Someone who, with the help of the Holy Spirit, pushes forward towards hope, and creates a future of positive experiences and prosperous communities.

The French economist, Cantillon in 1732 first coined the concept entrepreneur and from there on the phenomenon was mainly studied within the field of Economics. Over the years we have come to understand that in the context of a social challenge, there are individuals who exhibit the same entrepreneurial actions and attitudes in order to create something of value (in this case usually measured as social capital). The concept of social entrepreneur was subsequently described. It has been shown that both groups show great similarities and that only the nature of their capital may differ. The concept of “entrepreneur” thus broke out of the boundaries of the economic sciences and also entered the social sciences as a study object. Maybe it should break out again and especially if we study the origin of the phenomenon?

The origin of entrepreneur is probably not in the field of economics or the social sciences, but rather lies with our Creator and Saviour. Should sound theology become a frame of reference for the theory and practice of entrepreneurship, it may bring unexpectedly and new insights.

I know that many who claim to live under the banner of Christianity, yet would like to get rid of the “holy cows” as they call them, and who are not serious about the authority of the Bible and the death and resurrection of Jesus, will most probably be at loggerheads now. Nevertheless, as to the origin of entrepreneurship, I refer to the One who knows the plans He has for us. The One who directs the paths of every tribe, language, people and nation. After all, through His death, He reconciled people of every tribe and language and people and nation to Himself.

He is with us, and we are called to be His hands and feet in this desperate world. Unstoppably we do this by His power, with hope and careful planning, step by step.

In conclusion

Finally, I think it is correct that Helping Hand and the churches held a poverty summit on November 6th 2019. I know their strategy will not simply be to give a fish, but this time it should also be about more than teaching people how to catch fish. No, this time we should not rest until we have revolutionised the fishing industry (in recognition of Drayton’s comments about a social entrepreneur).

This time our motto should not be “A people save itself”. We did it in 1939 and got it right. This time we have to aim for the seemingly impossible. This is our chance to think more broadly: “A nation / country saves itself!” Should not those who are in the know take responsibility for taking the rest with them?

If this may seem fanciful, then our Book teaches “And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.”

He says, and then we say. “Says who” actually means: God speaks first, and then we speak in accordance with Him.

Dr Rene Hattingh-Rust is lecturer at Aucklandpark Theological Seminary and co-founder of Kotive – a technology company.

She has created a online course called “Entrepreneurial Awakening” to mobilise church groups as an answer to poverty in South Africa.