Don Beck & South Africa
Written with input from
Updated: 26 June 2021
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.
Beck (Don Beck et al, 2018) recalls: “…when I was working peacefully to dismantle Apartheid in South Africa…I used the neutrality of colours to escape racial profiling. I wanted the leaders working for peaceful solutions to Apartheid to be aware of the different codes existing in people, even of the same race. Only then could we get a realistic picture of what was happening.
“Zulus tended to be stereotyped as a tribal ethnic group. Yet millions of Zulus lived in urban South African settings with Westernised urban values. The Afrikaner of European ancestry was stereotyped as a highly traditional and religious farmer, operating from a value based on the ‘one true way’. That code, though, might be transmuted into a strong capitalist orientation by his urbanized son. The urbanized Zulu and Afrikaner mighte have more in common with each other than their fathers.”
This use of a colour code to describe different thinking systems 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 1988 were not the same as the Afrikaners of 1948. 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 1991. 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.
The South Africa Beck stepped into was increasingly isolated from much of the rest of the world by United Nations-determined sanctions which were strangling the economy. The country was being more and more wracked by violence – attacks by the black resistance movements against white civilians and ‘white institutions’; police ‘dirty ops’ against the resistance movements; and black-upon-black conflict between the African National Congress and the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party. With routine beatings of protesters by police and regular ‘necklacing’ of suspected police informers in the black townships added to this maelstrom of violence, a slide into civil war seemed almost inevitable by the end of the 1980s. Rather than watch this happen, Beck, in the words of Rica Viljoen (2018), “believed that, if South Africa could align the multiple intelligences and gifts of each value system within the Spiral, a balance could be created that could result in great success for South Africa and could offer solutions to the rest of the world for their problems as well.”
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.”
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. (Some later trips were sponsored.)
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’.
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.
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 of Inkatha in promoting the peace initiative and in designing the post-Apartheid economic, political and educational systems and structures. Beck spent a lot of time with Buthulezi, discussing topics such as illegal immigration and the sustainability of the Zulu nation. Accordingly, he was given an honorary Zulu name, Amizi Muthi – ‘the one with the strong medicine’.
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.
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 1995 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.”
In 2019 Monica Bourgeaux (p40) wrote: “…when Beck was advising Nelson Mandela in South Africa, the colours were helpful. He could tell Mandela to give his ‘red speech’ or his ‘blue speech’ depending on the audience, so that Mandela shared his consistent message in a way that was relevant to each group.”