BUSINESS SKILLS ARE WELL AND GOOD – BUT WHEN IT COMES TO EQ AND A GRASP OF THE HISTORICAL AND HUMAN FRAMEWORK NEEDED TO LEAD, NOTHING CAN EDUCATE LIKE READING, AS POTLAKO GASENNELWE, FOUNDER OF PG INTERIORS AND A SERIAL ENTREPRENEUR, EXPLAINS TO INTERVIEWER
Do you read regularly? Yes, I love to read. I’m currently doing my PhD in African art.
When do you find time to read?
Mostly at night when the kids are asleep or on weekends, when I’m not working.
Which books have most impacted your business leadership style in business and career growth? The Scramble for Africa: White Man’s Conquest of the Dark Continent from 1876 to 1912 by Thomas Pakenham [Avon Books], King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild [Pan Macmillan], The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell [Atria Books] and Pablo Picasso by Matt Green [ebook biography series]. These books spoke to me.
What has your reading taught you about Africa? That we black Africans need to create our system and coding to define our own destiny in order to be truly liberated. The longer we regurgitate the Western template, the deeper we’ll sink into the abyss.
Which quotations from your reading have become personal or professional mantras for you? This one from Pakenham’s The Scramble for Africa: “Will African civilisation victoriously resist the grip of European
civilisation, or from reciprocal reactions of one upon the other? Will an intermediary civilisation spring up which will conserve the African foundation and at the same time disguise it under a European cloak?” These lines make me stop and think every day in my business. They’ve also made me passionate about African voices and excellence; after all, we developed the concept of a university. [During the 15th and 16th centuries, Timbuktu in Mali was one of the greatest centres of Islamic learning in the world, with 25 000 students of mathematics, the arts, religion and the sciences.] We need to shift the narrative.
Why is reading important for everyone? It opens up one’s perspective of matters and create a database of knowledge.
Bill Gates says he reads a book a week. How about you? I also read about four books a month.
Which do you prefer: fiction or non-fiction? It depends on my mood. Sometimes I go for best-sellers or whatever new book is being talked about.
Do you only read English books? Yes, but I also read books with elements of African phrases and idioms in them.
Do you read for relaxation or for education? A combination of both.
Because I’m studying, I read informative material for research, but when I’m taking a break, I read to relax.
What kind of books interest you most? I’m intrigued by historical works, fiction and works on art and architecture. They not only speak to my beliefs and daily life, but feed my career. I’m also very influenced by the Pan-Africanist ideology and mindset, so anything that speaks in that language draws my attention. Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, if it has that African element in it, I’m sold!
Favourite authors? I love the works of Egyptian architect and writer Hassan Fatti, French West Indian psychiatrist Frantz Fanon, Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe and South African writer Christine Qunta.
How can we encourage youngsters to read?
South African youth are under intense pressure at the moment. Our leadership has failed them by setting the educational bar so low that they’re in survival mode and reading hasn’t been embedded in our culture and psychology. It’s perceived as a luxury, rather than a pathway to growth and self-preservation. We need to have our own African blueprint now for raising our children.