Leadership in SA on the Brink of the Abyss?

Joseph Jaworski is the author of a fascinating book, i.e. “Synchronicity.” It deals with events which are more connected than just being random. He is an interesting person in his own right. His father was the prosecutor who prosecuted Richard Nixon. He and his father had long discussions about the state of leadership in the USA, and it eventually led to Joseph creating an institution to develop the societal leadership bench strength of the USA. This blog is not about the success or failure of this institution, but one has to wonder when one looks at the public condemnation of presidents such as George W. Bush. It is a pity though, that whole nations get tarred because of the lack of leadership of their president, but that’s a story for another day.

In South Africa, the National Party was the reigning party from 1948 to 1994. One remembers leaders such as D.F. Malan, J.G. Strydom, H.F. Verwoerd, B.J. Vorster, P.W. Botha and F.W. de Klerk. These were formidable leaders, whether you liked them or their policies or not. It was probably due to their leadership abilities that they got the white Afrikaner population to follow them on a path that spelt mayhem for the Black population and the country as whole, for that matter!

But, what happened after 1994? The Afrikaner has no strong leaders anymore. It’s as if someone turned off a tap. The one moment there was someone like a F.W. de Klerk, and the next moment the Afrikaner was sitting with someone like Marthinus van Schalkwyk. Marthinus is a lot of things, but a strong leader with a vision he is not. As soon as he could, he hopped from the NNP to the ANC, leaving the Afrikaner with no leadership! The question that goes begging is: what leadership development practices did the country have to ensure a string of leaders for the Afrikaner? If there were any practices, what happened to them? If it was a natural process that tapped into the rising leaders, why did the Afrikaner then stop producing leaders of substance?

Although that is a problem that need serious attention as the Afrikaner needs leadership to guide him into the future, my real concern is the current state of leadership in the ANC. Over the years the ANC had real heavyweights in the form of people such as Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sizulu, and Nelson Mandela. These leaders were supported by equal heavyweights such as Cyril Ramaphosa, Tokyo Sexwale, Trevor Manual, to name but a few. The reality was that the ANC had a leadership bench strength that was formidable!

The status quo? We have a president that is apparently struggling to keep his party in line. We have listened to the official line that it is a democratic party and that people are free to speak their minds. Amongst former leaders of the ANC, people such as Mosiuoa Terror Lekota and Mbhazima Sam Shilowa are now struggling and arguing over leadership of COPE in a way that is destroying the party.

In addition, how do we explain the likes of Julius Malema? He is being held up as a Mandela of the future! Yet he puts his foot in his mouth every time he opens it! He has no problem being rude to the extreme, not only towards political opponents, but also to respected members of his own party, such as Kgalema Motlanthe, Naledi Pandor, and even the President himself. He is propagating ideas that will ruin the economy and the social cohesion of the country. He is also contributing to racial polarisation of the SA society and is doing so with some impunity! He is visiting and promoting policies of failed countries such as Zimbabwe and Venezuela. Is he really the future leadership of the ANC? I shudder to think about it!

The reality is that leadership is not something we should leave to chance. The history of the Afrikaner leadership since 1990 serves as a dire warning that if the ANC does not develop some or other process to deliberately grow and develop their leadership pool, this country is in serious trouble. Given their dominance of the country’s politics and the extent of the loyalty of the masses towards the ANC, they will have a major role to play in the next few decades. If they sit with a leadership pool that has the Malema gene as the dominant gene, we need to ready ourselves for a future that will make Zimbabwe a case study for success!

Is this a foregone conclusion? I am enough of an idealist to believe that we do have the potential to rise above the example that Julius is setting. I have met enough young and qualified Black men and women that have the potential to become the leaders that can take this country in the direction we need to go. They are there! We need to identify them and grow and develop them. Leadership is too important to be left over to chance! The ANC owes it to this country!

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2 Responses

  1. Naeem says:

    Very impressive write-up Johan, I was wondering how the same blueprint could be applicable in a Corporate World. At times we see enough young and dynamic people within organizations who need to be grown and developed. But the question is how can organizations develop their leadership pool and identify the future leaders.

    • johanhburger says:

      Hi Naeem

      Thanks for the comment. Successful corporates have indeed embarked upon deliberate programmes to identify and develop thgeir leadership pool. Academics and authors such as Elliotte Jaques and Steve Drotter have developed models that can assist companies to embark on suich programmes. Incidently, the models of these two authors are strongly aligned with one another, and provide good food for thought in the development process of the leadership pool. Companies that rely on chance to find the leaders the company requires, are doomed to either appoint from outside, or to appoint people who are maybe not the best for the position. The end result is frequently a less than optimal solution.