It Takes A Tsunami

A Compelling Tale of Survival, Redemption, and Human Resilience

“From success to failure is one step; from failure to success is a long road” Yiddish Proverb

In Brief

Natural Tsunami vs Artificial Tsunami By Rael Levitt

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What does it take to admit when we get an aspect of an issue we are reporting wrong?  All of us who were practicing when the Auction Alliance scandal broke in late December 2011 should hide our faces in shame. We didn’t perform as expected by the public, we went for the easiest headlines to write. We had a series of stories most of which were single-sourced. And as long as the culprit appeared to be a thriving corporation, dumping words like fraud, and theft…  next to whatever names we had was sexy enough to hook our readers.

The memoir opens by taking readers into a distant past to experience how humans deal with natural crises before landing onto a man-made crisis that led to the crash of his multi-billion Rands creation, Auction Alliance. Levitt’s "It Takes A Tsunami" is a gripping art that takes readers on an emotional journey through the aftermath of a devastating 2004 tsunami. Levitt skillfully weaves together a compelling narrative of survival, redemption, and the indomitable human spirit. Through richly developed characters and vivid descriptions, the author explores the themes of loss, hope, and the power of community. With its thought-provoking storyline and immersive storytelling, "It Takes A Tsunami" is a must-read for fans of literary non-fiction and those interested in exploring the complexities of human nature in the face of adversity.

Levitt's vivid and descriptive writing plunges the reader into the chaos and destruction of the natural disaster, painting a harrowing picture of the tsunami’s immediate aftermath. Levitt's ability to convey the sheer magnitude of the event is impressive, as he describes the powerful waves and the devastating impact they had on the lives of countless individuals.

Levitt masterfully explores the depths of grief, depicting the overwhelming sense of sorrow and despair that consumed his life. Through his poignant prose, he captures the raw emotions and inner turmoil that plague the protagonist, making his pain palpable to the reader.

After a short revisit to his 2004 encounter with the tsunami, Levitt returns his readers to the artificial crisis that engulfed him some six years after surviving the tsunami. Levitt leaves the readers wondering why it took him so long to allow the public into his confidence.

Business scandals can wreak havoc on a company's reputation, financial stability, and customer trust. Effectively managing a scandal is crucial for minimizing the damage and regaining public confidence. However, some organizations make critical errors in their crisis management approach, exacerbating the situation rather than resolving it. This book delves into the pitfalls of mishandling a business scandal, highlighting key lessons to learn from these mistakes.

While it’s clear that the writing of the memoir was to address the scandal surrounding the auction of Quoin Rock Winery, his delay to provide these behind-the-scenes happenings cost him a company that had taken him two decades to build into a multi-billion Rands corporation. But just as he had survived the Indian Ocean Tsunami in December of 2004, he picked himself up, dusted his coat and rebuilt himself again. Combating a scandal when being haunted and hunted by a well-resourced rabid journalist, Levitt was to soon discover, was not as easy as trying to survive a tsunami.

Unlike most corporations trapped in a scandal, Levitt’s Auction Alliance did not go into liquidation, he ensured that the business closed down only after ensuring the business paid up all its debts; no employee was hung out to dry. This decision somewhat made it easier for Levitt to continue walking with his head held up high.

The readers will be able to pick up on how he smartly addresses some previous media reports that created some phantom questionable relationships with bankers. ‘It Takes A Tsunami’ provides the history of how he made himself including his first interactions with a banker Gerald Jordaan of ABSA in July 1992. This first deal was granted by the bank to a 21-year-old whose only asset was the will to succeed.

Levitt's narrative skillfully captures the chaos and devastation of the tsunami, immersing readers in the harrowing experience. The author's attention to detail and ability to evoke a wide range of emotions create a heart-wrenching and hopeful atmosphere. From the initial shock of the disaster to the gradual process of rebuilding, the memoir paints a vivid picture of the physical and emotional challenges faced by the characters.

Down but not out

He lets the readers get to know his origin while not forgetting all those who moulded him along the way from his nanny, Lenie Simons to a University Dean. Levitt knew what he wanted from that earlier age and usually went for it. Not keen on being conscripted into the apartheid military after high school like most white boys were, he had a few options; face court-martial (meaning six years in prison if convicted), emigrate or go to university. When he couldn’t get a spot at the universities, he got the dean of UCT’s law faculty on the phone through the faculty’s secretary “…She put through my call. He was annoyed and told me they only accepted international students for mid-year admission.

“With new-found chutzpah, I responded, ‘I understand that but would you prefer me to be in your class or running around the university lobbing teargas into your lecture halls because I was forced into the army? I’d love to join UCT and I need your help.’”

The readers are however not let into this Academic’s thinking. I would love to touch base with this Academic to understand his thought process after that phone call. We also don’t get to know what part of the speech, worked, but in June 1989, he was admitted to UCT with “a bunch of overseas students” To study law.

One of the book's greatest strengths lies in its well-rounded and relatable characters. Levitt imbues each character with depth and complexity, exploring their fears, dreams, and inner struggles. Levitt portrays himself in these characters.

"It Takes A Tsunami" delves into a multitude of themes, all woven together seamlessly. The book explores the fragility of life and the unpredictability of natural disasters, reminding readers of the impermanence of human existence. Yet, amidst the devastation, it emphasizes the power of resilience, hope, and the indomitable human spirit.

Levitt also delves into themes of grief, loss, and healing. He sensitively explores the stages of grief and the transformative power of community support and connection in the healing process.

Another theme explored is the idea of personal growth and redemption. Levitt's exploration of redemption highlights the potential for individuals to rise above their circumstances and find purpose and meaning in the face of adversity.

Rael Levitt's writing style is evocative and lyrical, immersing readers in the world he was born into. His prose is richly descriptive, capturing both the beauty of the coastal City and the devastation wreaked by the tsunami thousands of miles away. Levitt's ability to evoke a wide range of emotions, from despair to hope, adds depth and authenticity to the narrative.

The pacing of the book is well-balanced, with moments of intense action juxtaposed with reflective passages that delve into the characters' inner worlds. The author's skillful use of dialogue further brings the characters to life, allowing readers to connect with their hopes, fears, and aspirations.

Levitt masterfully connects the 2004 Tsunami to his personal events of 2011 when he found himself in the midst of a personal tsunami when his thriving business, Alliance Group was forced to shut down. He doesn’t shy away from taking his readers to the backrooms of the events that led to the shutdown. Most readers would be left wondering why he didn’t take the public into his confidence as soon as Auction Alliance was becoming the punching bag for all who wanted to see him knocked out. But all appeared not to have been lost as he picked himself up, obtained two master's degrees and started new ventures including farming.

It Takes A Tsunami’ is a powerful and poignant book that explores the resilience of the human spirit in the face of tragedy. Rael Levitt's storytelling prowess and well-drawn characters make this book a compelling read. Through the exploration of themes such as loss, redemption, and the power of community, Levitt delivers a thought-provoking narrative that lingers in the reader's mind long after the final page. This book serves as a reminder of the strength of the human spirit and the potential for growth and healing, even in the most devastating circumstances. ‘It Takes A Tsunami’ is a testament to the enduring power of hope and the interconnectedness of humanity.

Levitt, knowing that the media had received millions of advertisement rands from his business didn’t seem to expect that the same media could crash him. He should have gloved-up and punched back sooner. His delayed response allowed the single-sourced narrative to rule. We in the media did not just let him down, but we let those who rely on what we publish and broadcast down as well. The main contention of the scandal was the issue of vendor bidders at public auctions. While Wendy Appelbaum had cried that by having a Vendor Bidder during the Quoin Rock Winery auction, she had been bidding against herself, three years after the scandal, the South African Supreme Court of Appeal affirmed a lower court's decision that the employment of Vendor Bidders was and is legal. Had Levitt confronted the accusations head-on, his case may have been the precedent-setting judgement, and maybe Auction Alliance may still be in business.

He closes the book by sharing what he calls ‘Eighteen tips to survive a crisis’.