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Jan Bezuidenhout

Futurist Profile

 

Jan Albertus Christiaan Bezuidenhout

Project Manager: Development Bank of Southern Africa

Education:
B.A. Political Science
B.A. Hons. History
Post Grad Management Diploma
M Phil Futures Studies

Jan answered a few questions about his perspective and on being a futures thinker.

ABOUT YOU AS A FUTURES THINKER / PRACTITIONER

You identify yourself as an African futures thinker or practitioner. How would you describe to the woman or man on the street what it is that you do in this regard?

Based on historic and present information I think/philosophize about sequences of events that may unfold, what it might bring about, and then conjure up an image of how I would like to see it unfold and attempt to contribute to making the good things happen.

How many years have you worked as an African futures thinker / practitioner?

My first formal engagement with futures studies was in 2009 when I commenced my degree in that field. Most of my career I worked in the developmental arena.

In which countries or places have you had working experience as an African futures thinker / practitioner?

I did the research report for my degree in futures studies about future scenarios for the role of devolved government in Kenya. I also worked at a South African organisation that arranged volunteer work camps for students from various countries in southern Africa and Uganda. We slept in villages in rural areas of Mozambique, Swaziland, Uganda and South Africa and renovated schools alongside the community volunteers. Our slogan was “Building Africa Ourselves”. I liked taking charge of destiny alongside fellow Africans – we were young and had passion for the African continent and just having a good time traveling and experiencing what it has to offer.

In what languages have you undertaken futures / foresight related work or research?

English and very broken Portuguese.

What is it that motivates you to work or participate in the foresight / future studies / related field

It is very empowering to realise that we can, through positive imaging and taking care to look out for pitfalls, make a better future for ourselves and future generations. The use of positive images of the future is not new. It helps to imagine, for instance, a perfect golf shot so the ball may drop in the centre of the fairway. Of course that is not all you need to do to make it drop there - it takes some hard work and practice as well!!! So in short, it feels good to take charge of the future, it puts you in a positive mind set to start off with. When seeing pitfalls you can either throw your hands in the air or you can put your hands to work – I prefer the latter.

What goal/s would you most like to reach with your work as an African futures thinker / practitioner?

To reduce the Gini Index in South Africa to 40 (still not great!).

Who or what most influenced your thinking as a futures thinker / practitioner, and how?

Readings for my degree in futures studies, especially Betrand De Jouvenel and “The Art of Conjecture”.

What is your main disciplinary background? (i.e. your primary training / qualification)

Development, African history, project management.

How do other people describe you and how do you describe yourself?

Others describe me as… generous

I describe myself as… hedonistic

 

YOUR PERSPECTIVE

What is one of your favourite quotes about the future?

“Imagination is more important than knowledge” - read it on the way into the AfrikaBurn Festival and later discovered it’s by Albert Einstein.

How would you describe the state of African futures thinking right now?

I believe we are entering a new age of putting shoulder to the wheel (and not with wheels spinning in the mud). The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) was the start of a continent wide effort to have a focus on foresight and development. So I would say we still have a long way to go, but at least the first steps are being taken. Of course Africa is a big continent and tough to generalise from one area to the other…

What is, in your opinion, the main barrier to uptake of futures knowledge by African institutions and organisations?

There are not enough concerted efforts to make futures studies a discipline on the African continent. Not enough resources and formal education are being placed into something that may cost very little but may make an immense contribution to a better future. Sat in a downtown bar (not a pub) in London just after studying (mid 1990’s), next to an approximately 60 year old black South African scientist who went into exile during the apartheid years. We had an in depth conversation about Africa’s development. I learnt so much from him in one evening, but what I recall best of what he said was this: “An angry man is very easy to beat.” He was referring to the notion of being caught up in the past of colonialism and the negative effects we often have to mention to explain the situation we are in. Of course we need to know where we come from and being an African of European decent might make it easier for me to say: we must stop being caught up in the injustices of the past.

If you were to give advice to someone who wants a career in African foresight / future studies, what would you say to him or her?

First see the world when you are young, then make your choices. If you are not young anymore and already know that you are interested – go and do a formal qualification in futures studies/foresight, just do it.

What are your recommended readings for every African futures thinker / practitioner?

I mentioned Bertrand de Jouvenel. Then of course the Millennium Project’s research methodology. I am not really a science fiction reader myself, but apparently that makes for great reading and imagination building. Demography is such an important aspect of planning and foresight so it’s good to do a scan of UN demographic data basis.

What are your recommendations for other favourite futures resources: websites, newsfeeds, mailing lists, associations, etc.?

I just have a couple of search terms I punched into Google alerts. It can send you (daily, weekly, monthly – my choice) the latest information on the web about a topic of interest. i.e. “Independent Power Producers”.

 

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