Last month’s journal contained plenty of great articles and updates, including this mini-biography by Jim and Morna…
Jim and Morna Buys
Jesus counsels us “ For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” Accordingly, when our son and daughter and their respective families immigrated to Australia, it was inevitable we would follow. In December 2011, we packed up our bags, our home and our lives, and we came to live in Sydney.
We have been asked to share a little of our history before that time. Our story begins with the birth of a beautiful baby boy in a small mining town in then Northern Rhodesia, on a crisp winter`s day in 1943. Little did my father – who was the doctor attending the birth – realise that he was delivering his future son-in-law. Lest you suspect we ‘arranged marriages’ in Africa, let me reassure you this was not the case. By the time I was born some three and a half years later, Jim`s father had immigrated south to Rhodesia, having made enough money on the Copperbelt to go farming.
Jim grew up on a Rhodesian farm where he developed a deep passion for the rural African life centered on the farm and the people who worked on it; by his late teens he was determined to pursue a farming life, preferably on his father’s little piece of Africa. At that time he could not know how much the politics of Southern Africa would bear on those early longings: with Prime Minister Ian Smith`s Universal Declaration of Independence (UDI) in 1965, and the United Nations endorsed sanctions which followed, farming ventures in swathes of the country were forced to close, to limit the build-up of stockpiles of crops which could no longer be exported. His farming dream shattered, Jim applied for a government bursary that enabled him to complete an Economics Honours degree at a S. African University.
To fulfill his contract, he began working in a government office responsible for the production of the country’s National Accounts (GDP) and Balance of Payments figures, which had suddenly become classified as “Top Secret” as they incorporated much of the detail of Rhodesia’s sanctions busting efforts. Thus the politics of the time became inextricably linked to his career in Economics, in a way that was to continue throughout his working life. In terms of the prevailing racial conflict, both in Rhodesia and later, S. Africa, Jim`s career was shaped by countries caught up in what could be regarded, in essence, as civil war.
Meanwhile, I had finished my schooling in N. Rhodesia, completed a B.A. degree in English and History at a South African University, and had also emigrated south to Rhodesia to teach English to High School boys.
Finally, we met. Jim – at the advanced age of 27, was a man of decisive action; we were married within 7 months.
As the military conflict grew in intensity and scale, Jim`s army commitments escalated to a point where 6-week call-ups alternated with six weeks at a theoretically full-time job. We battled with the political circumstances we found ourselves thoroughly caught up in, where we shared a growing concern about the morality of the course chosen by the Ian Smith government and the majority of the voting population, in itself a small proportion of the total population. The initially promised progression to a fuller democracy seemed to be fading away. In 1976, driven by our troubled consciences (not the military commitments in themselves) we considered emigration to Australia on skills visas.
However, I felt moving so far away would be tantamount to abandoning my parents. My father`s retirement farming venture in Rhodesia had failed financially: aged 73 and very vulnerable on his isolated farm, he had already singlehandedly repulsed a ‘terrorist’ attack, fending off thousands of rounds of small arms fire and grenades. Despite the fact that S Africa`s ‘apartheid’ policies were even more reprehensible to us, South Africa became our compromise option. Jim was headhunted, and in 1977 he began working for the Anglo American Corporation.
Anglo – at the time the largest mining conglomerate in the world – had as its chairman Mr. Harry Oppenheimer, who very actively supported and funded the anti-apartheid opposition in parliament, actually serving as an MP at times. Given Jim`s training as an economist, his employers provided him with various opportunities to engage in the wider debate on the ultimate futility of successfully running an economy dominated by the scourge of apartheid.
By the mid-1980’s he became a member of a team tasked with developing future scenarios for the global and South African economies. These were developed initially to assist corporate decision-making, but they led to a major initiative in the wider South Africa.
The South African scenarios developed by the team, within the context of international scenarios, argued essentially that South Africa was doomed to a deeply politically and economically troubled Low Road future in the absence genuine negotiation leading to an acceptable dispensation with true leaders of the country’s majority. Only such an approach offered a High Road alternative, with advantages for all the people of the country. Anglo’s executive were impressed by the persuasiveness of the scenario work, and decided that the country would benefit from public dissemination.
The leader of the scenario team produced a book detailing the findings, and was rapidly engulfed in public presentations to the point of a collapse of his health. The Anglo executive instructed Jim and a third colleague to assist with country-wide presentations in the face of extraordinary demand from all quarters, from the extreme left to the far right in political terms. Between them literally hundreds of talks were given. The new experience of hearing well-considered and argued “futures” for South Africa which were not party-political in nature, but which urged recognition of a viable and better future path, struck a remarkable response from the wider public. The leader of the team even made presentations to the then National Party cabinet, and to the ANC leadership still in detention.
Some years later, Jim found himself caught up in another exercise in “political economy”. Mr. Nelson Mandela had been released from prison, and intensive negotiations were underway between the South African government and the African National Congress (ANC) aimed at finding an acceptable path forward to a new democratic dispensation for the country. Sadly, this was unfolding in the context of widespread violence and loss of life, and enormous uncertainties about the country’s future prospects for peace were compounded by the ANC’s highly publicized economic policies which promised a statist approach including the nationalization of the “pillars of the economy” including the mines and the banks.
In an initiative which provided an early indication of Mr. Mandela’s remarkable wisdom, statesmanship, flexibility and political courage, he approached Mr. Harry Oppenheimer to seek guidance on which economic policies would best provide the basis for the advancement of all of South Africa’s people in the years ahead. Harry Oppenheimer put together a small group of the most prominent “captains of industry”, and Jim was drawn in as an advisor. The meetings which followed were a fascinating example of constructive engagement between SA’s top business leaders, and future leaders of government who were emerging from years of incarceration, and understandably carrying a strong bias in their policy inclinations towards those practised by the former Soviet Union, their principal supporters during many years in the political wilderness.
Once again, it would be wrong to claim too much influence arising out of this exercise – many other engagements were occurring at the same time – but it certainly contributed to the balanced and centrist policy approach subsequently adopted by the post-1994 government under President Mandela. Jim personally enjoyed the first of several modest encounters with a man of extraordinary conciliation and stature.
Jim`s other “out of office” engagement proved to be the most challenging and time-consuming of all. For his final 8 years at Anglo, while Chief Economist, he also served as the Business representative in a new institution, comprising senior personnel representing business, the new government, and SA’s large and highly politicized union movement, to advise on fiscal, monetary and labour policies.
This frequently exhausting commitment did reward him in the sense of involvement in “nation building” in a country emerging from a past that had seemed to doom it to inevitable failure and a bleak future.
Counter-balancing Jim`s strenuous working life, I became a ‘stay-at-home mum’ with time to become very involved in the local Methodist church where I ran prayer cells, and worked in prayer counseling in the Pastoral Care arm of the church. In our final years in Johannesburg I became involved in teaching in a squatter camp school attended by the children of refugees from all over the African continent: the plight of education in our beloved country was one which concerned me deeply.
In 2002 Jim retired and we moved to a small village widely recognized as the jewel in the crown of the beautiful Garden Route on the Cape coast, where we spent 9 very happy years. It was therefore fitting that we should choose to end our migrations in the beautiful city of Sydney. Not least amongst God`s blessings since our arrival, has been the wonderful warmth, welcome and kindness we have received from so many at St John`s. Spiritually, we have indeed come home.