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Diversity & Inclusion – What potjiekos can teach us

Updated: Jun 9, 2021

Recently at a planning camp for the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo, our SA 7s team held a potjiekos competition as part of their teambuilding. This is a ritual that has become synonymous with being South African – whether it is in corporate team buildings, sport planning camps, school fundraisers, or just ‘sommer’ a friendly rivalry amongst family and friends.

In a subsequent interview I had with Siviwe (Shakes) Soyizwapi, captain of the 7s team, we talked about their recent potjiekos competition and came to the conclusion that in fact, potjiekos should probably be our national dish. It is who we are. It is what we do, and it is what summarises what it means to be South African. In terms of diversity, inclusion and belonging, potjiekos couldn't be a better analogy.

In making a proper potjiekos, like only South Africans can, we take various ingredients, which on their own have great characteristics and flavours, and throw them in a “potjie” over a hot braai. We then “masterchef” this into a delicious, flavoured, simmering potjiekos dish. A dish that would never have been if it wasn’t for the amazing flavours of the individual ingredients put together, over some extreme heat and pressure.

Exploring this analogy, Shakes and I discussed the success of the SA 7s Team. The team is built on a specific culture - a culture of diversity and inclusion. It consists of players from all backgrounds – white Afrikaners, white Englishmen, Coloured (some Afrikaans, some English), Xhosa, Zulu - the list of players goes on. In many countries and societies, this will be seen as a challenge, a stumbling block or at the very least a risk, because how do you get this group of players to align and work together as a united front if they are all so different? You cannot just put all these “ingredients” together and expect an extraordinary result?

But in South Africa we do – in fact that is what our 7s team is all about – a whole bunch of fantastic ingredients put together over some heat and pressure, so that the best flavours and performance of each ingredient comes to life. Can I add that the chef (leader) of this pot is of course the mastermind -behind this potjie. In Neil Powell, our SA 7s coach, we have a masterchef – not sure if his wife would agree about his cooking skills – but on the field, our coach has the ability to take diverse players,fire up some heat, and then not only overcome their differences and backgrounds, but in fact use them as a strength.

This is what makes the SA 7s probably the ultimate performing team in South African sport. As coach Neil says, “I cannot imagine only having to choose from one type of player / culture like perhaps the Fijians, English or All Blacks. I have the luxury of choosing among many different cultures with each one bringing something very different and very special to our overall culture within the team.”

Neil, Shakes and the team, don’t see their differences in background and culture as something that must be overcome, they see it as an advantage and strength. They use their differences as a competitive advantage. This is diversity and inclusion in action.

Now the question remains - in our corporate set-ups, how good are we in using our unique differences to our advantage. Are we able to really see the “potjiekos effect” in the boardroom, or do we still have unconscious biases? Are we still trying to overcome our diversity challenges, or are we using our diversity as a unique edge in how we operate? Are we looking at the tip of the iceberg where only colour, race, gender and socio-economic backgrounds are visible or are we seeing the individual personalities, strengths, skills, capabilities, competencies and uniqueness below the surface?

Do we realise the opportunity and in fact strength we have in being blessed by such diversity in our country? So many different mindsets, attitudes, qualities - different ingredients - that, if lead and managed in the right way, can result in this amazing simmering potjiekos. A winning potjiekos, a masterchef product of using our diversity to outperform our rivals across all borders. A winning recipe that is not yet developed to the effect that it could be in our boardrooms.

So how do we become masterchefs of these great diverse ingredients in our possession? Join us on 23 June when the GameChangers team together with D&I expert, Samkelo Blom and SA 7s Coach and Captain, Neil Powell and Shakes Soyizwapi, host an interactive, online Masterclass on Diversity and Inclusion.

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