Change the world



IN 2010, Peter van Kets spent 76 days alone in a seven-metre rowing boat, crossing the Atlantic without any support.  It was the second time he had made the epic journey, but the first time completely on his own. Two years later, he and a team-mate completed a gruelling race to the South Pole.

On February 24, this professional endurance adventurer, conservationist, author and international keynote speaker will be in the Bay to share the lessons he has learned conquering the odds, with future business leaders at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

Van Kets, a former teacher who lives at Sunrise-on-Sea near East London, is the guest speaker at the opening event of NMMU’s PinnAcle Leadership Programme – tailor-made for the 80 top-achieving students in the School of Accounting’s four-year BCom (Chartered Accountancy) degree programme. PinnAcle, unique among South African universities, aims to supplement the students’ academic instruction with the skills they will need to become future change-makers in society.

Van Kets’ talk, themed “Grit”, will focus on the power of perseverance, and provide practical tips towards living a life that is not just successful but also significant.

“This year is going to be tough. It’s a turbulent year. These students are approaching their studies in a changing environment … What I’m going to do is to try and give them a very real practical process [to help them achieve].

“My big thing in life is to change the way people think about themselves. Each person is incredibly made and can do anything. You’ve just got to have the right processes in place.”

Two years prior to his unsupported solo row across the Atlantic, an epic 5438km journey, Van Kets won the Woodvale Trans-Atlantic Rowing Race with his friend, Bill Godfrey, which they also rowed unsupported.  His race with co-adventurer Braam Malherbe against six other international teams, across the Antarctica to the South Pole in 2010, was to commemorate Robert Scott and Roald Amundsen’s race to the Pole 100 years earlier. At the end of this year, he will once again team up with Malherbe (who has run the entire length of the Great Wall of China) to row from Cape Town to Rio. They will set off at the same time the yachts depart for the Cape to Rio race.

Asked what drives him forward in each new adventure, he said: “It’s complicated. It’s like asking someone why they go to work every day. There are many reasons. In the end, I give one main reason – ‘because that’s the vision I have for my life’.”

He uses each adventure as a means of raising funds for South Africa’s Carel du Toit Centre, which helps deaf children learn to speak, and for the “Children in the Wilderness” conservation fund, which educates children living in wilderness areas how to conserve the animals whose habitats they share.

“For me, the highlight is always the end of an expedition: successfully finishing what I set out to achieve.”

When the journey gets tough, and he doesn’t know if he will make it, he thinks of the people who surround him in his life, which include his wife Kim and daughter Hannah. “They are pure motivating factors for me to get back.”

“Peter van Kets’s story is one of survival, courage, perseverance, passion, loneliness, tenacity, amazing team work and the will to win. He takes his lessons learned from his expedition and relates them to the business environment. It will inspire our students to have resilience and ‘go for gold’,” said Pinnacle Programme Coordinator Jessica Raper. 

Contact information
Mrs Jessica Raper
Lecturer: Academic Life Skills
Tel: +27 41 504 9909