Wake up or fail utterly

2012-08-18 15:23

Only South Africans can prevent the country from becoming a rogue state, writes Reuel Khoza

South Africans of all persuasions should sit up and take notice when international leaders warn that the country is on the wrong path.

The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and the former President of Ireland, Mary ­Robinson, said similar things when they visited this country ­recently.

They condemned planned ­media ­censorship, warned on ­rising ­corruption and suggested the ­ruling party is fast losing its moral authority.

It is unusual for senior statespersons to lambast the leadership of a host country. They regard the threats to South Africa’s model democracy as so­ ­serious it is time to sound the alarm. Are we nearing a real crisis?

Warnings to South Africans to wake up and resist the spread of ­institutional crime seem to fall on deaf ears as the pace of misgovernance by misdeeds hots up.

It is sometimes said, in a sort of backhanded defence of the current system, that corruption was just as bad under apartheid – the only ­difference being that more of it is exposed today because the media are more vigilant.

Freer ­media have indeed highlighted corruption since 1994, and the massive sins of apartheid remain utterly inexcusable, but when the doors to government opened, so did the floodgates of corruption.

Robinson was particularly pointed in her criticism of efforts to muzzle the media.

Already widely reported, her speech is worth quoting again for the point she makes about links between “state actors” and corruption.

Everything we have heard from the drafters and supporters of the so-called “secrecy bill” has been about the need to protect state ­security and intelligence, not ­protect state actors.

But if the latter are up to no good they will certainly use the ­machinery of the law to shield themselves from public and police investigation.

To paraphrase the old saying that patriotism is the last resort of a scoundrel, the “protection of information” will be used by state scoundrels to protect themselves. Then the rogue state in South Africa will take great strides forward.

Cosatu has declared that “political hyenas” are increasingly gaining control of the state and at a Red October rally in Khayelitsha a year later, the union federation’s general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said that assassination squads had emerged in several provinces as the politics of patronage, corruption and greed destroyed the ethic of self-sacrifice and service that had characterised the revolutionary movement.

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe has given notice that party members who are “caught with their hands in the till” are ­betraying the selfless legacy of Nelson Mandela and should not be ANC cadres.

Leadership is not an individual thing, it is an expression of collective purpose. We can draw certain distinctions between styles and goals of leadership that suggest where the faults lie with leadership at all levels in our ­society.

Transitional leadership sees ­itself as bridging past and future, but is not necessarily the deliverer of a new dispensation.

Transitional leaders have no permanent stature in the eyes of followers and though they are agents of change, long-term vision is not their strong point.
Transactional leadership is a form of management that regards common, purposeful action as the result of a trade-off between those in authority and those who form the group. The ethics of this form of leadership may be questionable, as the end can justify the means.

Transformational leadership is a style that produces positive change in the group and in each person in the group. Transformation means change for the better and by its nature this form of ­leadership is ethical and visionary for the long term.

I have been severely criticised by the ANC for saying that a “strange breed” of leaders is undermining our institutions.

Although I never mentioned any particular authority figures or ­parties by name, those who identified themselves may once again be smarting from the whiplash ­remarks of Clinton and Robinson. What exactly is the problem we face here?

Political, business and others in leadership positions reflect short-term transitional and ethically weak transactional leadership styles.

To speak of a “second transition” when the first is not even halfway accomplished is an admission of failing transitional leadership status. Besides, decoupling politics from economics in providing ­leadership to a political economy is extremely naïve.

Apartheid was as much a politics of oppression and suppression as it was an economics of exclusion and exploitation.

The monster could not be dealt with serially – in phases. It had to be, has to be, dealt with comprehensively. Politics and economics are inextricably intertwined.

To bargain with different ­interest groups, telling them what they want to hear at the cost of ­laying down tough but achievable goals, is a mark of transactional cynicism.

South Africa needs transformational leadership to get us out of the mess we are getting into. How is this to be achieved? By ­honouring the institutions of democracy, the rule of law, the balance of ­powers, judicial independence, ­accountability in governance and a moral outlook.

There are no shortcuts and those who try to achieve their own narrow purposes will destroy our Constitution and with it the dream of a ­common, tolerant, caring and ­equitable South Africa.

We may not yet be a rogue state but we could be on our way there. Clinton summed up very well the connection between democracy and good governance when she said: “Only South ­Africans can fight corruption. Only South Africans can prevent the use of state security institutions for political gain. Only South Africans can defend your democratic ­institutions, preventing the erosion of a free press and demanding strong
opposition parties and an ­independent judiciary.

“Only South Africans can truly preserve and extend the legacy of the Mandela generation.”

We need to do this with the sense of urgency that should be matched with a sense of responsibility and commensurate commitment to ­accountability.

» This is an edited version of an article first published on Politicsweb 

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