Don’t tell me about “African Time”​

The highest disrespect to a person or to an occasion is to be late.

Across Africa, it is the most irritating thing to announce a meeting or event and have to accommodate late comers who seem oblivious to their disruption. In leadership and among the people. How common is it to attend a meeting where they quoted the start time to be 9 am and the meeting is to end at 2 pm.

By 12 pm, a few individuals are still strolling into the meeting, disrupting everyone as they search and then squeeze through to a free seat. Excitedly acknowledging colleagues as they do so. Then settling down noisily to follow the proceedings.

The meeting coordinators themselves do not care much for the original starting time. Presentations start at 10 am as they wait “patiently” for enough of a quorum. Then each presenter, while having 15 to 30 minutes to talk, would go on for 30 min to an hour. Some presentations could go as long as 2 hours. 15 minute tea breaks in the end are 1 hour breaks. Our 2 pm ending time, becomes 5 pm. By then people are tired, complaining about the late ending and dejected

Our African nature is that we respect the latecomer and not the time keeper!

For those that respect time, that is all unacceptable. To be on time, they had to wake up early. Cancel other fun or profitable engagements. Travel with urgency. They were seated and ready to start on-time as per instructions. By making everyone wait for stragglers the organizers are penalizing time-keepers. They are disrespecting them. They are disrupting their next engagements.

At so many events and conferences you hear people refer to “African Time”. Announcing an activity to start at 6 pm to many means the engagement really starts at 7 pm or 8 pm. Even there, there seems to be discord about what that African Time gap is… I’ll be racist to say, it’s only when a white person is involved, do I see everyone make a conscious effort to push time management. Then notice the embarrassment of participants and organizers as they try to control those non-compliant late comers…

Time management is an intentional and controllable habit. It is universal for all races and continents including Africa. There is no excuse. Not even traffic. We all know about rush hour traffic. So, depart from where you are earlier, anticipating traffic challenges. If you will be late, call someone at the meeting before the start time to announce your delay and potential new arrival time. Plan to be early, in ad


It is better to be early, than to be on-time or late!

I love and respect people who keep to time. Thank you to you all. To all those later strollers here’s my suggested guide to dealing with you:


We start on time and stick to a preset agenda

If you stroll in late, the meeting continues and no one will rewind for you

The meeting will start and end exactly on time. To allow everyone to go to their next engagement.

Every meeting will have a time keeper. Every presenter will be flashed a timer card reminder for time remaining: 10 minutes, 5 minutes, time. When it’s time, you should have said all you need and stop.

The chairman of the meeting has the right to not permit you to attend

A timekeeping register will be kept. Third strike for lateness and disruption, there will be consequences. Deal with HR


Again, the meetings will start and end at the scheduled time

Everyone will stick to the agenda and have an active time keeper

Late comers within 30 minutes can be the early-birds entertainment (including the boss). They must sing and dance to a lively song to get everyone in the mood. Embarrassment is the objective, so if it becomes entertainment for the

offender, change tact. If offenders don’t like it or cause more disruptive delays, they can leave.

Late beyond 30 minutes, late comers have no space to be in our meeting. Return where you came from and deal with the consequences another day

Financial penalties occasionally work, but impose

d upfront, can be more disruptive to the meeting, and if linked to payroll, frankly can be like spanking a child next week for stealing today… useless

Parties and events

Time respecters, will normally arrive at the time you notify for starting. To the organizers, please respect them by having appropriate activities already active. It is crass to put someone who has arrived on-time on a guilt trip for a being there before you’re ready. Remember, it is a time you suggested.

For parents, if the cake and ice cream haven’t b

een cut and served by 4 pm, don’t be surprised and offended to see parents leaving at your announced party end time. Cutting the cake and sharing ice-cream at 6 pm is hugely inconvenient. Besides, sugar-rushes at 6 pm are not a thought to celebrate.

In conclusion, there is nothing cool or appealing about being late. Lateness is disrespectful to your craft, to your character, to your colleagues and to your wallet. There’s nothing savory about the concept of “African Time”. Respect your time. Respect my time.

In life, every past second cannot be recovered, don’t waste it

Farayi Ziswa is a specialist sales consultant for retail trade and route-to-market strategies within Eastern and Southern Africa. If you would like to know more or would like a review of your selling strategy through retail, please reach me on

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