I Still Have Heroes
As a young boy, I had two heroes: Superman and Bruce Lee. I often wondered who would be the victor if these two had a wrangle. Luckily the creators of their films and stories never thought the same. The posters that once adorned my walls have long since disappeared.
Maybe after my five decades one is not supposed to have heroes anymore. Yet when I think of it, I still do.
Not in a worshiping kind of way but in admiration of people who all have a special talent for taking risks, applying themselves to their chosen craft and who have succeeded in a worldly sense.
For those from South Africa and now on the world stage, I have special admiration. Coming from a relatively small talent pool which in many ways is dislocated from the global arena, they have reached the peaks in their fields. Here then are my international South African heroes.
Founder of SpaceX, SolarCity and Tesla Motors. His enormous self-confidence, inventiveness and ability to go against entrenched interests makes for a modern day Henry Ford. Musk made it big as co-founder of Paypal, and had the nerve to place his last money in Tesla when the company was on the verge of bankruptcy. In Tesla Motors his goal is to lessen dependence on fossil fuels and create a legacy of renewable power usage.
Oscar winning actress. Born in an Afrikaans family she moved to the US. Unable to afford a voice coach she trained her American accent by listening to the radio and mimicking the presenters. Once a model, she is gorgeous. Not relying on her beauty, she picked up weight and with the help of make-up artists turned herself into an abhorrent character for the movie Monster, for which she was awarded an Oscar.
J M Coetzee
Winner of the Nobel Prize for literature and twice winner of the Booker Prize. His delicate flowing prose depicting the sinister side of society leaves you breathless. Never one to shirk from controversy, after his book Disgrace appeared, he received many bitter reproaches. Notwithstanding, Disgrace earned him a Nobel Prize. As a university professor for many years he turned down promotions in order to have more time to hone his craft. His writing often has a melancholy tone while gently lifting the veil on uncomfortable truths.
Wayde van Niekerk
Athletics world record holder in the 400m. His record, set at the 2016 Olympics, may well be one of those rare milestones that stands for twenty years or more. Unless he breaks it himself for he is not yet at the top of his ability. For some perspective on his time: Van Niekerk would have beaten the legendary Michael Johnson by almost two meters. Less known is that he is the greatest all-round sprinter ever, having combined best times in the 100m, 200m and 400m sprints. The fastest man ever in the sprint amalgam of athletics.
Two times winner of the Tour de France cycling race. One of the most grueling sporting events of the world set in the beauty of the French landscape. Froome’s team spirit and even-keeled approach to winning and losing sets him apart. Unassuming, never bitter, always crediting others and keeping his dignity when crowds turn against him, his mental toughness on and off the cycle is exemplary.
Founder and main shareholder in Glencore - the largest commodities trading company in the world. Glasenberg is extremely wealthy. Yet his success is underplayed. When Glencore listed, his wife asked him if she can now buy herself a new hand bag. Headstrong and tough as they come, he is an example of “quietly toiling away” for years in a forgotten industry until he rose to prominence and success on the back of the Chinese economic boom.
Presenter of the Daily Show and Comedian. On air he has a quick wit and slightly debonair presentation style. On stage his biggest talent is to act out and contrast with total accuracy the many different peoples of South Africa and absolutely take the mickey out of them. His crowds here can’t get enough of laughing at each other and at themselves. And we do so need to laugh at ourselves more.
So I’ve come to realize I still have heroes. Of course luck and genetics played at least some part in their achievements.
But I truly admire the determination, risk and effort it takes for each to be top in their chosen field. They show and remind me that the limits of aspiration are vast.
Heroes originally from the “outpost” of South Africa.