OP-ED: SA’s severe drought in political leadership lingers


SA’s severe drought in political leadership lingers

The #FeesMustFall movement is not about the cost of university education. Nor is it about untamed forces disrupting the legitimate aspirations of the affluent new arrivals. “My child couldn’t get through the gate of the institution to begin his studies”, complained one distraught and oblivious mother. No, the movement is about the broader landscape of inclusion and exclusion in South Africa. To miss this is to miss the most important event since the 1976 student uprisings, the offspring of which have come of age this year, on the 40th anniversary of the execution of Hector Peterson.

This is not a crisis. This is healthy democracy at work. What should be of greater concern is the extent of the drought in political leadership that has gripped the nation and is threatening to send inflation, exchange rates and increasingly the tempers of citizens flaring.

ANC, DA sound the same and IFP is inaudible

It is the task of political leaders to solve the everyday problems of their citizens, such as; running water, reliable energy, accessible roads and telecommunications in practical and sustainable ways. We have elected to arrange our society through the institutions of a democratic state, guided by a constitution via a parliamentary system, including all the bells and whistles of separation of powers and three tiers of government. This sophisticated apparatus has a single purpose – serve the needs of ordinary citizens, in pursuance of an equatable and rights based social order. I feel proud of our forbearers just thinking about the achievement of implementing such an idealistic political order.

Except, if we consider the lack of progress in parliament in 2015, the shallow, narrow anti-Zuma content of the public political discourse and the dusty slogans of the ANC gearing up to election mode, we are scarcely living up to our grand design. Fortunately we can find comfort in the knowledge that the watering down of political intent to personality and promises is an ancient problem, as Plato lamented, “In politics we presume that everyone who knows how to get votes knows how to administer a city or a state. When we are ill… we do not ask for the handsomest physician, or the most eloquent one.” At least we should’t and doing so would be idiotic and self-defeating.

The preamble of our constitution sets out our national agenda in four simple objectives:
• Heal the divisions of the past…
• Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society…
• Improve the quality of life of all citizens…
• Build a united and democratic South Africa…
In short; reconciliation, citizen’s democracy; livelihoods and nationhood. The job description of our political elite is clear.

To be fair, it is the first task of politicians to obtain their political mandate by presenting a compelling version of how they intent to achieve these goals for the people they will serve when in public office and then to toe the line between promises made and delivery on those promises. This is where the efficiency of our system currently falls down.

The 2014 ANC election manifesto was a simple document, setting out five priority areas for the next five years; decent jobs, fighting crime and corruption, improving health, education and food security while championing land reform.

Let’s take stock; between 2000 and 2016 our unemployment rate climbed from 24.5% to 25.5% peaking at 26.4% in mid 2015, never dropping below 24.1%. You don’t need to be an economist to understand that you need structural reform in the economy if a quarter of formal jobseekers are constantly left out.

The 2014/2015 crime stats indicate a slight but constant decline in crime across the country, while areas such as Mitchells Plain, Hillbrow and Eldorado Park continue to lead global rankings as the most violent places to eek out a living. Sadly, high profile shootings of artists such as Clinton De Menezes and stars Senzo Meyiwa and Nkululeko ‘Flabba’ Habedi remind the public that their vulnerability remains as a high as the national murder rate, which hovers at 45 people per day. Truth is, if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere “safe” and also avoid harm by happenstance while out and about, you’re having a good year! The goal here is not to be cynical, but objective.

Are our political leaders doing their job when critical institutions such as hospitals run into bankruptcy and remain severely under resourced? When our schools “progress” 65 000 pupils, which means we bump them along in the final years of school even though they fail, patting ourselves on the back that a mere 22 000 of them then “pass”.

While the massive drought of 2015 will no doubt place pressure on our food system, we didn’t need climate change to bully us into importing expensive food, we became a middle income country placing pressure on the cost structures of production while fumbling the political handling of one of the most contentious issues affecting agriculture – land reform. Again, no cynicism here, just an optimist fighting back the palpitations caused by the exasperation of shock at the extent of mismanagement of the mandate given to the ruling elite. Its hard to say whether the ANC deserve 0/5, or if a half-mark should be awarded for the stagnation of rampant crime in some areas.

With all this political mud at their disposal one would think that the DA and friends would present as an heroic alternative. Hardly – since being “together for change – together for jobs” translates into a grocery list of political promises to; fight corruption, incentivise the creation of jobs, enable business, make land reform work, deliver empowering education and skills, and supporting wellbeing, safety in South Africa, a “place for all”. Wait, was that the DA or the ANC’s manifesto? In fact, it doesn’t matter, they are in essence the same document.

Ok, maybe there is the small nuance in the point from which the parties depart on job creation and the economy, the DA favouring an enabled business environment as a engine for jobs and the ANC favouring the state and the panacea for decent work.

The problem is that in the market for ideas, neither of these emerge as the clear winner for how to jerk South Africa from the slimy sinking sand of deep socio-economic deficits, confidence at the lowest rates in decades and bubbling unease in social relations. If the IFP did not factually hold 2.4% of the national vote, being mostly Zulu (10.8% in KZN and less than 1% in other provinces), it would not have been worth mentioning the party, but for its silence.

EFF tabloid rhetoric is telling

Flip the coin and you see the other face of South African politics, the only show in town measured by motivating muster and energising idealism, the militant solution to all matters political, the Economic Freedom Fighters. This little juggernaut is picking up weight and leading the charge for change from below. Their manifesto does not begin with 5 priorities or eloquent catch phrases, it begins with no less than 22 angry complaints about the state of affairs for the “black child” in all its forms. The list is telling, after 20 years;
– we are not free
– trapped in squalor, unsafe and unhealthy conditions
– trapped in landlessness, homelessness and hopelessness
– subjected to slave wages and dangerous working conditions
– difficult conditions without basic workers’ rights
– battle to survive financially, trapped by debt and often without basic services
– expected to be satisfied with open toilets and no running water
– quality of our education system is deteriorating
– fishing community in the Coastal Provinces are still denied access to fishing rights
– black professionals subjected to racial discrimination and unequal treatment
– the police still kill people
– civil servants are treated with disrespect and paid low salaries
– our armed forces are underpaid and disrespected
– military veterans are still neglected
– financially excluded from institutions of higher learning
– subjected to violent crimes, particularly rape
– the conditions of people with disabilities have not been improved
– the land question has not been addressed and our land still does not yet belong to all who live on it
– black people still do not have their dignity

This majoritarian emotionalism is effective. The ethicist in me says “yes, yes, yes”. Then I read their prescription of; economic emancipation for rapid economic and industrial development, quality social welfare services, transformation of the state into a people’s driven state and governance and “sectoral commitment” and the wheels of my expectation quickly come off the bandwagon. They would have us believe a prosperous and just South Africa is to be achieved through vast imagined industrialisation on the back of socialist fee-bees ranging from world class education to specialised services for rape victims. The “EFF government in waiting” promises to “provide” and “ensure” all manner of “massive” and “radical” solutions. Wow, at least our people still know how to dream big!

The EFF’s message is appealing because it speaks to the symptoms of the disease. It addresses the pain of life in South Africa for the millions who don’t work in Sandton and don’t shop in Gateway Mall and don’t holiday in Camps Bay. It speaks to the pain of the family of the “selfish and inconsiderate” #FeesMustFall vigilantes and their friends who were less lucky and matriculated to sit at home idle and growing angry. While the aforementioned voices sound increasingly lame against the backdrop of our challenges, the EFF certainly have a catchy tune. The problem is that their ethos is inherently race orientated in a country where critical resources, financial, in terms of education and otherwise, in many instances lie in the hands of South Africans that don’t fit any of the categories of their “black child”. Furthermore, the party’s reliance of stereotype and polarisation envisioned through a lens of state-led redistribution is more likely to produce a form of homegrown bolshevism or fascism than democracy and dignity for all. Yet the writing might be on the wall, to again rely on Platonic insight, “the penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.”

Leadership beyond politicking

So what to do? It had not rained in large parts of the Free State for months, when by 11th January the Bethlehem municipality with the help of Massmart, Vodacom and disaster relief organisation, Gift of the Givers, reported delivering 260 000 litres of water in the area daily. Experts say the cyclical global phenomena of El Nino was to blame and that ocean temperatures and rain in California is related to drought in South Africa’s Kalahari.

Fortunately, help had come from all quarters, some unexpected, such as Biker clubs and even the Protea’s cricket team bus driver carting relief and hope to scorched towns along their way. There is something beautifully human about the capacity of South Africans to come together around a problem and take simple steps to solve it.

By 12 January the rain came. Some farmers danced in the rain like children.

The point here is that our problems are often beyond our control but our solutions within reach, if we take the responsibility to act within our means.

Many of South Africa’s problems are interrelated with global financial conditions such as low commodity demand and jitters in Chinese markets. Some are more cynical such as post-Colonial patters of extractive economic arrangements persisting and the hangover of post-apartheid education reform. We have to cope with these. However, many of our problems are self inflicted, such as intimidating our fellow workers when we strike for wage increases and escalating tensions to sporadic violent conflict, or pandering to teacher’s unions while our children are left sitting in the dust of a knowledge-based global order that isn’t concerned with our petty politics.

This is where leadership is required. Leadership sees the problem, formulates a response, counts the cost of resolving it and musters the courage to take action for the greater good.

The response of South Africans to the drought shows that there is no shortage of leaders in this country. The bus driver, Chris de Kock, delivered 150 litres of desperately needed leadership to the city of Bloemfontein. Publicity stunt? Maybe. But to the people who drank that water it didn’t matter.

South Africa’s severe drought in political leadership can be ended if the leaders we have, got out of election mode and into delivery mode.
Who knows, maybe when the drought is at its worst and we are doing all we can, we’ll receive a little help from above as well.

Marius Oosthuizen is a faculty member at the Gordon Institute of Business Science. He teaches leadership, strategy and ethics, and heads up the Future of Business in SA project.

Marius Oosthuizen

Lecturer: Strategic Foresight (Leadership , Strategy & Ethics)
Program Manager: Future of Business In South Africa

Centre Business Analysis and Research
Gordon Institute of Business Science

Tel: 011 771 4378
Cell: 084 670 1723

E-mail: oosthuizenm
Web: www.gibs.co.za

Current Project: http://goo.gl/BPaZRj

“The best way to predict your future is to create it” – Abraham Lincoln

Marius Oosthuizen

Lecturer: Strategic Foresight (Leadership , Strategy & Ethics)
Program Manager: Future of Business In South Africa

Centre Business Analysis and Research
Gordon Institute of Business Science

Tel: 011 771 4378
Cell: 084 670 1723

E-mail: oosthuizenm
Web: www.gibs.co.za

Current Project: http://goo.gl/BPaZRj

“The best way to predict your future is to create it” – Abraham Lincoln

Marius Oosthuizen www.gibs.co.za – Faculty, Researcher
www.thecusp.co.za – Consultant


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