“Leadership is the wise use of power. Power is the capacity to translate intention into reality and sustain it.”
– Warren Bennis
This statement by Warren Bennis seeks to unpack the core challenges facing leaders in our country. The link between intention and reality leaves much to be desired in the South African context. This has now led to the question of sustainability, will this kind of leadership in South Africa be able to avert this current crisis?
South Africa has faced many crises before, but the one we are now in has convoluted our collective thinking about what true leadership is all about. The political atmosphere in the country has deepened the leadership question and has resulted in creating a tense and protest-filled environment.
There is a growing cadence of dissatisfaction in the political leadership and direction of our country. The daily cries of the people seem to be falling on deaf ears, and at most, seems to be falling on more commitments to change the trajectory of the country whilst refusing to cajole political will and decisiveness.
There seems to be continued policy uncertainty and unclear direction on both transformation and governance.
The National Development Plan itself needs the economy to grow by at least 5% for its objectives to be fully implemented. The World Bank reported in June that South Africa is projected to have up to negative growth of 7.1% in this current period, and the aftermath of COVID-19 we are yet to live through.
Policy uncertainty has gripped not only government, but the African National Congress (ANC) over long periods of time. The ANC which sets the tone for government, seems not to have been clear on how to leverage policy instruments to be in kilt of the national project of transformation.
Since 1994, there has been a policy revolution whose impact has not been greatly felt. The policies that have stood the test of time have and can be measured with some success has been the Employment Equity Act and the Black Economic Empowerment Act. These two policies stand head and shoulders above the rest as having stood the test of time and resulted in the creation of a black middle class.
During President Mbeki’s era, more black people were added into the middle-class than any other political tenure of the ANC. If the country had continued with that positive trend, South Africa would have dented the stubbornly high unemployment rate and thus unhooked more black people from the chains of poverty.
The policy instability woes seemingly won’t come to an end anytime soon because South Africa’s greatest challenge is not the ability to craft documents, we’ve crafted some of the best documents the world over, but rather the interplay between the ANC’s internal aspirations and the governments ability to execute parliament’s objectives.
The executive function in government is greatly challenged by the leadership culture of the ANC. The other challenge of the ANC is to move from party leadership mentality to countrywide management mentality. This transition for the ANC has been a challenge for them and continues to haunt the leadership style and culture of the ANC.
The interplay between the ANC and government have led to many challenges on the ground. The Auditor Generals report on the performance of Municipalities becomes more dismal than the previous financial year-end.
Clean audits in this financial year-end were sitting at 7%. At this rate, the whole political system will collapse, and no commission or summit held will assist.
The real leadership crisis in South Africa began at grass roots level. The basic services that the government needs to deliver to all people in South Africa has not been prioritised, also not thought deeply enough about and certainly not corrected for over 15 years.
Basic bulk services not only afford the people the opportunity to live life within the basic needs, but also gives business an opportunity to produce goods and services that should uplift the people. Eskom’s woes along with the Department of Water and Sanitation have greatly contributed to the problem at the grassroots level.
In the political system there is more power at municipal level than provincial or national government level. The lack of clean audits suggests that there is lack of capacity and skills. In this kind of environment corruption and maladministration thrives for longer periods of time.
This balance of power and decision-making within the political system needs to be reviewed urgently, for if this failure persists at this level, we might see a civil uprising that might not be contained.
Commissions and summits
The culture of debate and dialogue has moved from its intended purpose, to enrich the thought-process of leaders and reflect on progress on mandates given.
As President Mbeki has come out and said, South Africa now typically enjoys discussions where action in needed. This is also exacerbated by policy weakness and no clear vision for the country.
Following the Zondo Commission and the work of other Commissions, this sadly reflects a leadership that is at war with itself and its people. South Africa has now locked herself into forums and discussions that lend no hand into clear action and deliverables.
This clearly suggests a lack of political will and the need to please every stakeholder in the country. Driving a social compact message is an old concept which failed in South Africa before when the Government of National Unity collapsed.
The revelations from the Zondo Commission are shocking and shameful, especially with a black government that has a history of bloodshed and great sacrifices. The political leaders put to shame the great legacies of men and women who never compromised a principled stance on fighting for liberation.
The corruption that has been uncovered is just the tip of the iceberg of what has been long ingrained in the political system of the South Africa. The conclusion of these key Commissions will be a subject of keen interest, especially the recommendations that will be stated.
The public and private sector partnerships need to be restricted to focus on building capacity for leadership in the public Sector and also driving economic transformation in the private sector.
The summits need to be limited and relook the levers that drive economic growth. Summits should investigate the deepening of B-BBEE and the creation of new businesses leading to new springs of sectors that will increase the prosperity of the country.
Misaligned procurement processes
The COVID-19 corruption scandals are indicative of the deep-seated challenge of genuine and ethical leadership that South Africa deserves.
The ANC President has committed to root out corruption as resolved by the ANC’s 54th National Conference. This commitment made by the ANC is a sign that some semblance of understanding exists, as complicated as it may be to deal decisively with corruption, this matter hangs between realising a real new dawn or sustaining nightmare.
Leaders within the whole political system must take heed and execute this key issue, especially within their different ministries. The key organs of state that have been tasked to investigate this matter should not be sidetracked in bringing to book those leaders who have compromised the present interventions of government and the future hopes of our people.
Procurement processes are meant to safeguard the resources of the state and drive key initiatives on behalf of the people of the country, with clear lines of accountability.
This growing trend of going against clear principle will even make policy ineffective. These procurement processes are beleaguered with ques of unseen beneficiaries whose names remain silent yet powerful in corridors of influence and high command.
Government still spends more on white established business through procurement than it does on black developing business. This misalignment to the genuine cause of transformation triggers questions on loyalty and trust.
The State should lead in developing black business through their procurement spend and drive the concept of ‘patient capital’ in practice.
State-owned enterprises woes
The other layer on the leadership landscape that needs urgent attention, is SOE’s Board appointments, key CEO appointments in SOE’s and the separation of decision-making driven by good corporate governance principles.
There are rumblings on the ground that are concerning, that is the move to grant the Minister of Public Enterprises more powers within SOE’s to make key decisions. This growing political interference within the SOE’s will cripple the country and centralise business decisions in SOE’s squarely in the hands of politicians who, for the most part, have no sufficient leadership experience in business.
SOE’s should be the most effective and best run organizations because they carry a dual mandate, a developmental and profit mandate.
A developmental mandate cannot be executed with poor leadership and coupled with political interference. The SOE’s have been viewed as bottomless pits for leaders who have no regard to ethics and good governance principles.
Government as the key shareholder should be able to make sure that the developmental mandate is upheld, then take a step back and allow the executives to run the business.
This principle is crucial and fundamental to the survival of SOE’s and the lifeline of the republic. Money lenders have become too cautious in considering SOE’s for major liquid injections and thus putting a spotlight on government as the principal shareholder as being the challenge in financing the very development that the country needs.
The role of business
The private sector has not been innocent in this regard of being patriotic in developing the country. Business activity is central to life itself, and if not correctly contextualised in South Africa it will not play the role it should play with government.
Business leaders should be able to influence and to be influenced, ceteris paribus, in line with the needs of our own world view as South Africa.
We have seen, however, how business has been allowed to abuse government and abdicate its role. The payment of events on behalf of high profiled leaders in government and the twinned corruption been revealed by the Zondo Commission allows business to pay lip service to transformation whilst being minimalist in all their dealings with transformation imperatives.
Government needs more punitive measure for companies that do not comply with Employment Equity and BEE imperatives. Maybe its time South Africa begins to discuss a BEE Ombudsman office, that will drive an overall BEE implementation strategy, squarely in the private sector.
The country also needs to be clear where it wants to go regarding BEE in the transformation process. There is a disjointed understanding of BEE because government has not clearly defined the importance of this process for the survival of the South African economy.
The clarion call for an establishment of a Professionals Panel that will assist government with SOE Board appointments should be agitated for.
This organ should be independent and be given the essential powers to play an appointing role and an oversight role. Professionals who have sound business experience and a sound understanding of good corporate governance principles should be considered on this panel.
We must champion this cause and lobby all professional organisations to this end. We must begin this process and call on government to further engage on this much needed institution that will safeguard and prioritise the needs of the country through collective leadership decision-making.
We need more leadership institutions that will train and groom leaders. Leadership should not be a scarce and special privilege. All the black lobby groups should unite under this banner of establishing a Black Leadership Business School, that will give a holistic approach to leadership in Africa and in particular, South Africa.
We need more leadership and not less leadership. South Africa deserves a leadership that is obsessed with its development and quality performance.
A leadership that draws strength from past leaders and paves the way for future leaders. Ethical leadership teaches us that our personal internal alignment is paramount to our collective success, transformation is of national importance and of personal configuration.
This personal configuration is driven by good social values that aim to uplift the downtrodden and maintain a high level of quality outcomes.
Ethics and outcomes should be the theme of the day, it should be the theme of time, should be theme of this age. The soul of leadership must return, it must return, it shall return when values are the centre again.