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Don Beck & South Africa

Written with input from
Don Beck
Updated: 11 March 2016

Each participant in designing the South African transition from Apartheid to multi-cultural democracy during the early-mid-1990s will have his/her own version of what happened – and it doesn’t always suit the politicians to give too much credit to the ‘backroom boys’!

What is beyond doubt is that Don Beck was involved and used the Spiral Dynamics model (Don Beck & Chris Cowan, 1996) developed from Clare W Graves’ research (1970) to replace the skin pigmentation and ethnic origin categories with an understanding of the value systems (vMEMES) and ways of thinking universally accessible to the human race. This provided a new language to understand natural differences and anticipate major personal and societal changes. ‘Whites’ could now see the differences between Black RED and Black ORANGE; ‘Blacks’ could acknowledge that Afrikaners of l988 were not the same as the Afrikaners of l948. All groupings could recognise what Beck calls the ‘evolutionary dynamic’ that was at work in all South Africans.

Just how influential Beck was during the South African transition is reflected in the following transcript from the official record of the Debates of Parliament (Hansard, pages 342-343) on Thursday 7 February l991. Dr F Hartzenberg, one of the leaders of the Conservative Party, was speaking. He was attacking F W DeKlerk, leader of the National Party and the State President of South Africa…

DR HARTZENBERG: The ultimate is that the hon the State President’s Manifesto is actually a version of the advice which Dr Don Beck of Texas gave the Government two years ago. It appeared in a series of articles in The Star of 29 April l989. Everything contained in the Manifesto is what he says has to be done. I shall not mention everything to hon members but he speaks inter alia of ‘nation building’ and says that is what the hon the State President should do and that is what the hon the State President is announcing now.

THE MINISTER OF HEALTH SERVICES AND WELFARE (Representatives): Schlemmer says so too!

DR F HARTZENBERG: He says that all discriminatory legislation must be removed, and the hon the State President approves this. He has a third point to make, in addition to the other points which appear in exactly the same form in the hon the State President’s Manifesto and which were announced by the hon the State President. He says: Finally, an extensive evolutionary model for change would have to be developed and this would require summit meetings of the leaders of all groupings in the country, First World and Third World.

In 2015 Beck humorously recalled the resistance and resentment to his work: “…while I am certain I had a long police file, I managed to stay out of trouble…. I got into trouble when I was accused of being ‘The Anti Christ’ – by a HR chap at Portland Cement – and was cautioned I might need security protection.. They even thought the TURQUOISE 8th Code was a global conspiracy that was going to take over the world, and I should be arrested. They found the number 8 in the Book of Revelation which spelled doom.”

63 visits to South Africa
Beck first went to South Africa in 1981 at the invitation of Keith van Heerden who heard him make a 20-minute speech on Graves’ work at a conference in Dallas, Texas. Beck’s first appearance in South Africa was at a 3-day South African Values Circles conference at Sun City. It was to be the first of 63 trips to the country. “I stayed in the cheapest places I could find; one was 25 Rands a night. It was virtually a little shed behind the Mount Nelson in Cape Town. Friends would invite me to dinner. Other nights I got into a proper hotel to take a shower because I was doing black advancement training.”

Van Heerden then took Beck to consult at the Western Deep Level Shaft mine he ran…and from there Beck went on to work with Middleburg Steel & Alloy (MS&A), a stainless steel operation in the western part of the country.

Through van Heerden, Beck also met Loraine Laubscher who would prove to be a key ally right through the process in South Africa. Laubscher had first become familiar with Graves’ work through Jack Idleman, her mother’s doctor; and she was involved in the same mine as van Heerden. Of the Sun City conference, Laubscher (2013) later recalled: “After Don Beck had exposed us to Spiral Dynamics, we realised what the difference was between factory workers in Japan and African workers in South African mines and manufacturing. Japanese factory workers had the equivalent of a matriculation certificate for their most basic job categories, whereas we in South Africa had semi-literate workers in many of our industries. We also had different thinking memes.”

Laubscher and Graves at his farm (Courtesy Loraine Laubscher)

Laubscher and Graves at his farm (Courtesy Loraine Laubscher)

After a few subsequent visits by Beck to South Africa, Laubscher came to the US to meet Graves at his farm in upstate New York and for the 3 of them to make a joint presentation at the World Future Society. Beck and Graves decided that South Africa would afford a unique opportunity to field test the entire Levels of Existence theory since all of the historic value systems were compressed in that microcosm of the entire planet. They then created what was first known as ‘Strategic Evolution’ as a practical programme to facilitate the massive transformation that would be required. During the final 5 years of his life, Graves consulted often with Beck to give advice and counsel at many of the critical transitional stages. Beck initially worked ‘pro bono’, using his life savings to finance the project.

Laubscher acted as Beck’s guide on his visits – as she recalled: “When Don came to South Africa I used to fetch him at the airport. Without fail his first question would be: ‘Hey, Girl, what’s happening?’ He meant what was happening on the political front…. Don’s original work for his doctorate was about the polarisation resulting in the Civil War in America. He actually identified eight political positions that were held prior to 1850. These positions were divided into two political viewpoints that represented the thinking patterns of the North and South. From his interest in South Africa he identified the same world views. He felt it was part of his mission to try and prevent a civil war in South Africa. He endeavoured to speak to as many political leaders in South Africa as possible. Since I acted as his chauffeur, I got to meet most of them as well…. I remember taking Don to Soweto with Thelma Ncgobo to show him all the ramifications of Apartheid. We showed him the houses of Nelson and Winnie Mandela, and Desmond Tutu.”

Besides Laubscher and van Heerden, MS&A threw up another 2 key allies for Beck: John C Hall, Middleburg’s managing director, and its Director of Manpower, Alan Tonkin (later to run the Global Values Network web site). Starting through Hall’s connections, over a 16-year period Beck was able to build up a network of contacts and personal relationships with many of South Africa’s influencers, including (eventually) Nelson Mandela and president F W DeKlerk.

Other key allies included Piet Calitz (who had come to Graves’ work via Dudley Lynch’s ‘Dolphin’ version), values engineer Andrew Barker and journalist Graham Linscott who had covered 11 African countries. His experiences included coverage of the revolutionary wars in Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe as well as several years in the Press Gallery of the South African Parliament.

With these partners, Beck used the Gravesian approach to map out several possible futures for South Africa and predicted, along with others, the HIV/AIDS crisis, the out-of-control crime rate, the high levels of corruption as well as other manifestations of the value system (vMEMETIC) contours in that society.

Laubscher recalls the influence the little group of sociopyschological pioneers had: “Mandela, Sisulu, Treurnicht, de Klerk and various other people in government when P W Botha was still in power; before de Klerk came onto the scene. I sat in Parliament so many times. I listened and I observed. It was so satisfying to see the people whom we trained in understanding different value systems display their capabilities in the political arena. Rolf Meyer, Wynand Malan, Leon Wessels and Cyril Ramaphosa all had been exposed to Gravesian thinking.”

Partly under Beck’s influence, Hall served as Chairman of the National Peace Committee, 1991-1993.

The drive to change
Beck appeared often on television talk shows such as the popular Good Morning South Africa on SABC-TV and was a frequent guest on Radio 702 and other radio outlets. He lectured at academic institutions, before the various medical and scientific societies and even the leadership of the Dutch Reformed Church.  One early breakthrough was an interview with James Clarke of The Star, a key commentator on the growing crisis unrest over minority rule. Conducted over lunch in the Braamfontein Hotel (Clarke, 2016), the interview – partly reproduced below – set out the basics of Graves’ theory in easy-to-understand terms and the inevitable social revolution Beck termed the ‘Afrikaner’s Third Trek’.

James Clarke's interview with Beck in The Star (Courtesy Elza Maalouf)

James Clarke’s interview with Beck in The Star (Courtesy Elza Maalouf)

Most importantly series of 6 articles Beck & Lincscott had published in all the South African newspapers in April 1989 influenced the release of Mandela and the start of the peace process.

One of the articles Beck wrote with journalist Graham Linscott (Courtesy Loraine Laubscher)

One of the articles Beck wrote with journalist Graham Linscott (Courtesy Loraine Laubscher)

While in prison Mandela had read about Beck’s work and so was receptive to his approach, meeting him and Laubscher soon after his release. Beck worked with the teams of Mandela, DeKlerk and Mangasuto Buthulezi in promoting the peace initiative and in designing the post-Apartheid economic, political and educational systems and structures.

Beck and others from the Value Engineering and Value Management associations used the Botswanan Kgotla, a tribal process for creating a safe environment in which people can speak their minds and the leaders can then use that information as a basis for their decision-making. (The closest Western equivalent is probably Harrison Owen’s Open Space technique.) Their ‘Natal/KwaZulu Indaba’ was one of the first attempts to engage Africans and Europeans in collective decision-making.

If the Kgotla reflected a PURPLE/GREEN vMEME harmonic  - with possible hints of a 2nd Tier approach – another key impetus in the drive for change was the strengthening of the ORANGE vMEME. Beck and Hall realised that it had the power to transform elements of South African society. With Alan Tonkin, they designed programmes to turn young black men into entrepreneurs and integrate them into the business community. (Hall would go on to become the chairman of the National Peace Committee.)

Elza Maalouf (2014, p179) describes one such programme: “The company focused on large metal production and had little interest in the smaller byproducts of the manufacturing process. Employing value-engineering methods pioneered by Dr Beck and his South African clients, MS&A devised a scrap metal programme that provided raw materials for a group of young black entrepreneurs. These young men melted the metal scraps to fashion household goods which they sold door-to-door in the racially integrated mining towns. When Bishop Desmond Tutu heard of this, he wanted to see for himself. Here were young black men working side by side with white men, engaging with each other as equals and partners, while the rest of the country was fighting bloody battles – it brought tears to Bishop Tutu’s eyes.”

A key moment for the emergence of the new South Africa was the country’s victory over the British Lions in the final of the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Laubscher remembers: “Don was directly involved with the l995 Springboks and Mandela’s role in the event….many contributed to the team’s success and ultimate triumph. However, a triumvirate still stands out. There was the inspirational presence of the country’s president, Nelson Mandela in a Springbok jersey, the leadership of the captain, Francois Pienaar and the astute coaching of Kitch Christie. Don had been working extensively on organisational transformation in South African corporate institutions. He also had an interest in sports psychology, and had assisted with the Dallas Cowboys in Texas. I cannot remain quiet about the role that Don played. He truly believed in the peace-making power of sport, and he was one of many who helped the Springbok team go from a symbol of Apartheid to a new nation’s shared pride. He designed a strategy for the Rugby World Cup, and referred to it as Six Games to Glory. He set out the psychological build-up that was needed for each match as the Springboks progressed through the pool stages, the quarter-finals, semi-finals and eventually the finals. He also suggested the on-field approach that was necessary for each match. He recommended aspects such as an African crowd song to be adopted. The audience just loved Shosholoza. He further suggested very strongly that, if possible, Nelson Mandela should be persuaded to identify with the Springboks. This idea materialised, and the rest is history. The 1995 Rugby World Cup was pure unadulterated MAGIC!”

Beck told Russ Volckmann (2014a): “Mandela was such a champion. He understood why he needed to support the white rugby game that was seen as a racist Apartheid sport.”

Beck’s legacy
A personal annecdote…in June 1999 I fell into conversation with a group of visiting South African students in Leeds. To my surprise, they not only knew of Don Beck but regarded him as something of a ‘political hero’. (2 of them had actually seen him speak at a university appearance.) One of them told me that, thanks to Beck’s work, race would be a dead issue in South Africa inside 5 years – and these students were from the Transvaal, hard Boer Afrikaner stock from an inherently-racist tradition!

Race-as-a-dead-issue has proved hopelessly optimistic but the students’ comments give a flavour of just how much impact Beck and Clare W Graves’ ideas had in South Africa in the 1990s.

In an August 1993 interview with Padraig O’Malley, archived on the Nelson Mandela Foundation web site, Hall, explains the  model Beck used in South Africa: “Donald Beck, he’s the American sort of sociologist who has been working in this country with my companies for a long time and he makes it very complicated, I simplify everything – as you know. So level one is a hunter/gatherer, level two is a tribal collectivist, level three is people that have urbanised, come into the townships, no tribal support system so they survive on their own and they have very short term survivalistic goals so the youth are quite often in that category. And level four is once again a strictly Calvinistic type of structured society and that’s why quite often in our businesses an Afrikaans foreman gets on incredibly well with migrant labour. They both come from a similar collectiveness value system. And then you move into level five, an entrepreneurial, business skills, lower level crooks, higher level businessmen and so on. It’s either mumbo-jumbo or it’s not but it happens to work for me…. That’s probably too simplistic. You should have a chat to Don and he could make that last for two hours.”

Beck’s own account of his early work in South Africa is given in ‘The Crucible: Forging South Africa’s Future’, co-written with Graham Linscott in 1991. The book was dedicated to Clare W Graves as he had died in the Winter of l986 before he could witness the first large scale application of his seminal work.

After the establishment of multi-cultural democracy, Beck was commended by both now-president Nelson Mandela and the chief minister Mangosutu Buthulezi and honoured by a joint resolution of both houses of the Texas Congress. Below is an extract from the joint resolution, initially proposed in the House of Representatives:-

By Hunter of Taylor

HR No. 224 74R6013 KMP-D R E S O L U T I O N

1-1 WHEREAS, The Texas House of Representatives takes great pride

1-2 in commending a truly remarkable Texan, Dr Don Edward Beck, for

1-3 his invaluable contributions toward the peaceful creation of a

1-4 democratic South Africa; and…

2-2 WHEREAS, In 1979 this outstanding educator resigned his

2-3 tenured position at the University of North Texas to devote himself

2-4 fully toward ending apartheid in South Africa, a decision that

2-5 received strong support and required great sacrifice from his

2-6 loving wife and children; and

2-7 WHEREAS, During the next 15 years, Dr Beck worked behind the

2-8 scenes with governmental officials, civil rights leaders, business

2-9 investors and owners, and international diplomats to develop

2-10 successful strategies for attaining a more peaceful transition of

2-11 power in that troubled nation; during the final four years of this

2-12 transformation, he was the only private citizen from the United

2-13 States directly involved in the high-level negotiations that

2-14 ultimately led to the release of political prisoners and the

2-15 triumphant dissolution of the apartheid regime; and…let it be

RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives of the 74th Texas

3-3 Legislature hereby commend Dr Don Edward Beck on his many

3-4 extraordinary contributions toward peace and understanding in South

3-5 Africa and extend warmest best wishes to Dr Beck and his family

3-6 for success and happiness in their future endeavors; and, be it

3-7 further

3-8 RESOLVED, That an official copy of this resolution be

3-9 prepared as an expression of gratitude and high regard by the Texas

3-10 House of Representatives.

The complete Senate version of the resolution can be accessed here (courtesy of Don Beck).

Daily News report of Beck's honouring by the Texas Congress (Courtesy of Elza Maalouf)

Daily News report of Beck’s honouring by the Texas Congress (Courtesy of Elza Maalouf)

The quality of the relationships Beck developed during the South African is perhaps best summed up by Maalouf (2014, p48) who describes “a meeting in Oslo where Beck and DeKlerk came together to converse like old friends, once again long after significant lifetime events have passed.”

Mandela’s passing and South Africa’s future
Following the publication of ‘The Crucible’, Linscott published his own book ‘Uhuru & Renaissance: South Africa in a New Century’ in October, 2001. In it he uses Spiral Dynamics to look at how values have influenced African and world history in the 20th Century. It also considers how using a different approach can be beneficial to help understand the African continent as a whole.

Don Beck himself returned to South Africa in late 2013, as he told Volckmann: “I had a call from Stollenbosch University School of Business Executive Development, close to Cape Town, asking if I would come out and restart the process. Of course, I accepted. They said that the title of the work would need to be South Africans reinvent themselves for the 21st Century.

What we are doing is taking leaders back to 1994, the day after Mandela was inaugurated in Union Building. The question was then posed: ‘Knowing what you know now, 20 years later, what would you have done differently then?’ That stirred up the most interesting insights, because now they have the advantage of 20 years of experience.

What I’ve sensed from the people I’ve talked to before I went and certainly while I was there is that they have reached the end of the Mandela era where harmony and non-racism were the keystone. But in spite of all that, the wheels are coming off big time, because when they didn’t follow what Graham Linscottt and I recommended in ‘The Crucible’. F W DeKlerk, last State President of apartheid-era South Africa, was speaking in Dallas recently. I asked him about it and he said that they wanted to do that, but The African National Congress wanted power and they went down a track of instant gratification and plundering the country and simply handing off German motorcars to the black leaders. The needs of people were not met, because they weren’t getting to the critical issues.”

The Stollenbosch promotional material stated: “Beck’s spiral dynamics approach was the basis for the creation of the Peace Committees and the subsequent CODESA process in the run up to the first post-apartheid elections in 1994.

Nelson Mandela died while Beck was in South Africa. He summed up reaction in South Africa for Volckmann: “Even though everyone knew that it was going to happen, it was still a shock. Of course, the word passed quickly and what you probably saw from Western television, all the celebration, all the toitoi, it’s called. South Africans recognised that it was not a time to mourn. It was a time to celebrate and to honour a man who was like their George Washington and more. He was recognised globally as one of the four or five global leaders for whom there is a mutual respect from virtually everywhere.”

Of the great statesman himself, he said: “…the contribution of Mandela was that he had an open system. He was pretty communist so I can tell you he went to conferences in Switzerland and heard the nature of the Fifth Level business system. He came back a changed man. Consequently, South Africa has as its advantage far less racism than in our own country, thanks to Mandela…. I kept warning during the transformation days – it’s not going to be a civil war. Rather, South Africa has a chance of being that much more, both white and black, thanks to Mandela once again.

Mandela would never talk to me about black or white, because he truly believed in a non-racial South Africa.”

Old allies reunited: Don Beck and Loraine Laubscher at the awarding of Laubscher’s doctorate, Autumn 2013. [Photo courtesy of Rica Viljoen/Mandala Consulting]

Old allies reunited: Don Beck and Loraine Laubscher at the awarding of Laubscher’s doctorate, Autumn 2013. [Photo courtesy of Rica Viljoen/Mandala Consulting]

Thanks to Loraine Laubscher, Russ Volckmann and Elza Maalouf for permission to quote extensively from their work.

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  1. Rica Viljoen says

    Thank you Clive E Rice for your accurate blog about Dr Don Beck’s work in South Africa. It is a lovely, authentic and soulful representation.