Derryn Campbell's Quest To Make South Africa Awesome

By: Paul Pregnolato
Posted: 21 June 2012
Category: Features Comments View Comments


If there is one thing that South Africans can do - and do well - it is grouse about everything from crooked politicians to the less-than-stellar performance of Bafana Bafana, the national men's soccer team. Derryn Campbell's vision of unifying South Africans via her best-selling book Awesome South Africa is a refreshing alternative and visitors to this year's Cape Town Book Fair were able to hear her describe how the book came into being as well as expand upon her vision.

Derryn Campbell's Quest To Make South Africa AwesomeDerryn Campbell's transition from holding down a comfortable corporate job to becoming a best-selling author is a story in its own right and she shared the difficulties she encountered with a spell-bound audience at the 2012 Cape Town Book Fair. Frustrated with constantly hearing the negative sentiments that most South Africans are wont to air, she had a vision on a flight in 2008 to "pull South Africans together". However, corporate sponsorship was out of the question and like-minded organisations (such as LeadSA) had yet to be formed.

Fortunately, Derryn was referred to Di Smith of Peace Initiative SA (PINSA), who was planning a similar such venture, and they ultimately joined forces to form Awesome South Africa. Just how exactly they were going to put their message across to a wider audience continued to perplex them until (purely by chance) Derryn picked up a British book containing various zany facts and figures about the United Kingdom: "I then realised that there was no equivalent [book] that showed South Africa in a fun, colourful and vibrant way". Thus was born the idea of the book.

Derryn freely admits that at the time she "knew nothing about writing or publishing" but as she was putting the book together "all the information just came together and flowed". It was also (as she put it) "scary... hard work and cost me a lot of money!" When it came to time to publish the finished product - by now titled Awesome South Africa - she discovered (much to her chagrin) that it would be more economical to print it in Singapore instead of locally. This placed her in a moral and ethical quandary: "It went against everything I was putting out there". However, salvation in the form of ABC Press in Cape Town was at hand; while it could not match the figures quoted by the Singaporean publishers, it agreed to print the book at cost for the first print run, after which it would charge normal rates. To qualify as a "best seller" in South Africa, a book only has to sell 5 000 copies but (sadly) few reach even this figure. Derryn took a massive gamble and ordered a first-run printing of 10 000 copies in 2009. It turned out to be a gamble that paid off handsomely, as Awesome South Africa has since sold over 40 000 copies both locally and abroad.

For all those who grumble how things were better in the "old days", and predicted that the 2010 FIFA World Cup would be nothing short of an unmitigated disaster, Awesome South Africa is filled with a plethora of facts of which many in the audience were unaware:

• South Africa is the same size as Germany, France, and England combined.

• Johannesburg has (on average) 8.5 hours of sunshine per day; London (by comparison) only has 3.8.

• Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto is the largest hospital in the world.

• South Africa has 90% of the world's known platinum reserves.

• Tugela Falls in the Drakensberg is the second highest set of waterfalls in the world after Venezuela's Angel Falls.

Derryn also wryly commented that "we tend to downplay our country and we tend to think that we are in a third-world country - which we are - but we don't always see where we are in the bigger scale of things". To support this she cited some surprising facts and figures:

• South Africa's tourism industry is growing at three times the average international rate.

• The Economist stated in February 2010 that South Africa had the best performing housing market in the world over the long term.

• South Africa's economy was ranked 20th in potential to grow in 2011-2012 and was rated ahead of Belgium, Switzerland, France, and even the United States in this regard.

• Of the over 200 currencies in the world, the South African rand is one of only 17 one can convert and have foreign exchange transferred immediately.

• PricewaterhouseCoopers (UK) ranked South Africa as potentially having the seventh highest projected economic growth for the period 2011-2050.

• South Africa - along with Brazil, Russia, India and China - is a member of BRICS, an association of leading emerging economies whose members are seen as the future economic power houses of the developing world.

Notwithstanding the above, one thing that made Derryn proud to be South African and to put the book together "was not the statistics nor the fact that we have a beautiful mountain nor the gold but the people". In particular she recalled the feel-good atmosphere ("gees") that unified South Africans during the 2010 FIFA World Cup and posed the question "Can you imagine what would happen if we had that attitude every day of our lives?"

Encouraging everyone to become an Awesome SA ambassador (she has a web site that sends out regular newsletters in this regard), Derryn concluded that "we will only ever pull through as a nation when we start sharing responsibility for our nation and for our community".

Tags: #books, #ctbf

Key Facts: Awesome South Africa
Author: Derryn Campbell
ISBN/EAN: 9780620465274
Publisher: Awesome SA Publishers
Edition: First
Year: 2010
Format: Softcover
Pages: 224
Dimensions: 240x240x16 (LxWxH)
Genre/Keywords: humour, non fiction, South Africa

On The Internet
Derryn Campbell: Awesome SA | Facebook | LinkedIn | Twitter
Awesome South Africa: Official Site | Facebook | Twitter

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