The first Lebanese Member of Parliament in South Africa, Michael Louis, was born to be a visionary and to make a difference. He studied law and headed up some of South Africa’s great corporate property companies before accepting a call to politics at the start of the Mandela era when he served in government. He is currently serving in the family business, The Louis Group which has been around for three generations, working as the Strategic Director for International Development. Michael Louis is a peacemaker and strategist equipped with a combination of business, political and legal skills. He wrote to HOME Magazine.
My story is a generational story. It begins in 1912 when my grandfather escaped from Lebanon during the war and settled in South Africa. I was born there in 1958, in a country no less divided than Lebanon and deeply entrenched in a political system called “Apartheid”, segregation on grounds of race. Growing up during Apartheid and being the third generation of my family to have experienced great conflict, I decided I wanted to make a difference.
It was in 1994, the year of South Africa’s first democratic elections, that I was witness to a spiritual calling to enter politics. I later became one of the foundational leaders of the African Christian Democratic Party and entered into the arena of government. Later that year I got a call from the Lebanese Foreign Minister, Farès Boueiz, to congratulate me on being the first Lebanese Member of Parliament in South Africa. It was with great surprise and enthusiasm that I thanked him, little did I know that this was a call that would change my destiny.
In November 1994, I attended a diplomatic function in Cape Town, hosted by the Honorary Consul to Lebanon, George Issa, and his lovely wife Samia. This gathering was the first time my wife and I would meet part of the Lebanese diaspora. The exchange immediately touched our hearts and I accepted an invitation from the Foreign Minister to visit Lebanon. I landed in Beirut in May 1995 and as I got off the plane, entered the airport and set foot on Lebanese territory, I knew I was HOME. It was a love affair of the first order and I have never been the same again. In honour of this spiritual event, we made George and Samia Issa godparents to our son, Michael Elijah. God’s ways are not our ways and for years He had prepared my heart to cross paths with outstanding Lebanese families like the Issa’s.
However, without realising it, the Lebanese culture had long been a part of my family. My father instilled in us a love for Lebanese cuisine and, in particular, my grandmother’s “spinach pies” and “zataar bread”. However, the most redeeming and outstanding quality of my grandmother was that she was a woman of prayer. As a young boy I used to pick her up at our cathedral after she had spent the whole day there praying. Today, I have no doubt regarding the power of prayer and believe that it was through the prayer of our spiritual forefathers that Lebanon rose again.
By now, my wife and I have travelled many times to Lebanon, drawn most of all by the Lebanese people and their generous souls. I am privileged to now know the huge strength and character of the Lebanese diaspora, especially those involved in Africa. There is no African country that has not been host to the entrepreneurial spirit and courage of the Lebanese; they are the leaders in finance, property and technology.
I applaud the latest vision of the Lebanese Foreign Minister,Gebran Bassil, to inaugurate a Lebanese Diaspora Forum, calling all Lebanese descendants from all over the world to attend. I believe this has added great value to our ‘Lebanity’. I believe the future is not dictated, but invented. We are Lebanon in the world, we are the world in Lebanon. We are Lebanon.
The characteristics of our ‘Lebanity’ are that we are spirited, entrepreneurial, courageous, hospitable, warm and loving. A country born to love and not to hate. There is a hunger within the new generation to stand for who they are, and not just for what they have achieved. The time is now for the Lebanese to stand up and be authentic as to who they really are.
“The characteristics of our ‘Lebanity’ are that we are spirited, entrepreneurial, courageous, hospitable, warm and loving”
In the final season of my life, I would like to contribute to my country of origin and motivate and inspire the diaspora to be peacemakers and bridge-builders with other countries in a desperate and confused world. I am in love with Lebanon and its people and want to dedicate my time and energy with other diaspora leaders to make Lebanon great again.
I encourage, not only to claim back the souls of Lebanon, but for our own soul, our own identity, and finally, to make our generational forefathers, who suffered to secure our future, smile. I believe the “best is yet to come”.
Let us unite to make Lebanon blossom again.