Earlier this year I was invited to speak at the SAMRA conference in Johannesburg. I accepted.

My speech lasted just half an hour. For the rest of the time I was able to enjoy the conference ­ which I did. The event clashed with ESOMAR, so many of the 'big names' were in Europe, leaving space for different views from different people. I may not have agreed with everything I heard, but it was refreshing to hear new ideas or new angles on old ideas, however impractical some of them might have been.

The highlight of the trip for me, however, occurred in the two days holiday I tagged on at the end. I joined my host, Jean Green, the doyenne of qualitative research in South Africa and her husband, André, in some sight seeing in and around Cape Town.

A visit to Robbin Island, where political prisoners were held, affected me greatly. We were shown around by an erstwhile inmate who, after 20 years there, now acts as tour guide. A stop at the bookshop later proved even more moving.

About to pay for some books, I recognised the cashier's photograph on the wall, labelled 'ex-Warder'. I can't now describe the emotions this provoked, but my automatic response was to put the books back on the shelf. Jean queried my reaction. I told her that I wanted no contact with an 'ex-Warder', but she replied that I had missed the point. The prison is now a national monument, staffed by ex-prisoners and ex-warders working together. She explained that in the new South Africa black and white, young and old, men and women and every other combination that is possible, work together, so that in the new millennium the country can overcome its past and together show the world the way of the future.

I think Jean could be right. And if such sentiments are adopted by the research world, 2000+ should be the most exciting, dynamic time our industry has seen in its 40 years history in the UK. Should our industry follow the lead set by South Africa, the spirit of change could become the spirit of co-operation and that, I believe would improve everything that we do.

I bought the books.