Friends & Friction: Ditch protocol – go back to basics

2015-02-10 06:00

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‘Happy birthday,” I wrote on someone’s Facebook wall. I was amazed he’d turned 34, because I’ve known him since he was a baby.

His reply was swift.

“Thank you, uncle. But the UIF is killing me.”

That’s the unemployment insurance fund – and it hurts, because it wasn’t meant to be this way.

We all want our children to succeed and get a better life than us – that’s the definition of progress.

If those who were born after us are in despair, that is regression, whether as a family, community or nation.

Six million jobs was the promise.

The economy is in tatters, communities are in revolt and political leaders have taken refuge behind the blue-light brigade.

Our politicians lost all credibility when they, for no reason, demanded protection from their own people. One day they were activists who led marches, the next they saw the people as savages from whom they needed protection.

We see this all the time in companies where the CEOs are aloof, shielded by an army of Doberman-like secretaries to give them an air of prestige and importance.

Human barriers like these deny leaders the goodwill supporters want to give.

When Ben Magara took over as Lonmin’s CEO after the Marikana massacre, he could have opted to walk around with bodyguards – after all, there were many people baying for blood.

Instead he sat down with the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) when hostilities were at their peak and even dared to address the strikers. Some booed him; others insulted him.

Once the strike was over, Magara went on to speak to all 36?000 workers to sell them his vision. He gave them a new purpose beyond going underground and blasting rocks. He bought them T-shirts which read “I dig to build this country”.

That is the hallmark of leadership: working with the people far from air-conditioned offices and making them feel that they belong.

They call him Mnyamane, the blackest one. Tall, dark and big like the stereotypical African in Hollywood movies, he has the confidence to respond to that name and does not insist on being called Mr Magara.

The South African government embraced the idea of protocol like the Emperor Constantine embraced Christianity. It became our state religion.

But while Christianity brought Constantine closer to the people, government protocol removed our politicians from the people and gave themselves the sense that they were gods.

Now the country is burning and it’s time to take stock and get back to the basics.

President Jacob Zuma is the beleaguered emperor, afraid of addressing his people in the seat of power, Parliament, and unable to rest at Fort Nkandla.

His deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, is frozen in the cold shadow of his despised boss. His own reputation is wilting in the boardrooms and being forgotten on the streets – he is slowly sinking in the quicksand of “could-have-beens”.

Our politicians should take back the streets, not through police violence but with the innate charm they’ve used to galvanise the masses before.

Drop the blue-light brigades, find a way back into the hearts of the people; assure them they are loved, the country is under construction – and that they’re doing their best to make those 6?million jobs a reality.

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