Imagining a different South Africa

2017-11-05 06:13
Young rugby fans came out in their numbers at Montecasino, Johannesburg, to bid farewell to the Springboks. The Boks were heading for London for the 2015 rugby World Cup. Picture: Muntu Vilakazi

Young rugby fans came out in their numbers at Montecasino, Johannesburg, to bid farewell to the Springboks. The Boks were heading for London for the 2015 rugby World Cup. Picture: Muntu Vilakazi

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From today’s vantage, the miasma of corruption and unrepentant leadership may seem intractable.

So much so that thinking about a country free of state capture may look like a fruitless indulgence.

Trying to imagine the Union Buildings occupied by a self-denying leader could seem unimaginable.

The South African nightmare of the past eight years is too real and soul-crushing.

But just as the endemic corruption and violence of apartheid once seemed undefeatable, it is possible to envision and achieve a country focused on creating a better life for all.

The net effects of failing to imagine, and working towards achieving a country free of malfeasance and gangster leadership are too dire to contemplate.

There is a direct connection between good governance and public goods.

When governing political parties fail to deliver common goods such as basic education, healthcare and security, then such parties suffer a legitimacy crisis.

An example of such a crisis is the nascent call from some left- and rightwing quarters, for people to embark on a tax revolt against the SA Revenue Service.

By definition, a revolt renders countries vulnerable and dysfunctional.

From thereon, the route to a failed state or banana republic is certain.

There are international benchmarks we can easily draw on and use as a compass for an ideal South Africa.

President Xi Jinping of China is now in the pantheon of great leaders, chiefly for his attainment of the Chinese Dream.

The Chinese Dream is about uplifting people’s living standards and rejuvenating the country’s standing in international affairs.

Wherever one meets Chinese people, they exude an infectious national pride, unlike us South Africans or the Americans under President Donald Trump, whose White House is now, to his critics, an adult nursery.

Individual leadership can make all the difference in determining a country’s fortunes or misfortunes.

There is no denial we have reached rock bottom as a country, a country which once held so much hope for itself and the continent.

Still, it is possible to regain the patriotic pride we possessed under presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.

What criteria will we place on the political parties and leaders that will contest the 2019 national elections?

Which conditions will be used to assess the worth and quality of candidates?

Generation Y

Firstly, the majority of our population is comprised largely of young people, the so-called Generation Y.

This is a segment that is justifiably intolerant of parties and leaders still parading their struggle credentials as a badge to national office.

This makes ample sense, since these young people bear the brunt of unemployment and poverty.

This pattern, where our politics is normalising beyond a fixation with liberation politics, is evident in tertiary institutions, with the popularity of student movements less than 10 years old.

Proven leadership and experience

Secondly, following the examples of countries like China and Iran, where meritocracy and education are prized, candidates running for office need to combine proven leadership qualities and experience.

Xi ascended to the throne following his successful stints as governor of a few provinces.

This is the reason, the Chinese will gladly inform you, that their meritocratic system is enforced to prevent divisive mavericks like Trump from emerging.

Also, such education is important so that the country is not saddled with civil servants solely dependent on one salary and can bravely stand up to wrongful actions.

Ethics and morality

Thirdly, another criterion leaders and parties have to measure up against is ethics and morality.

Using the lessons learnt since 2009, we have to come to appreciate the distinction between corrupt and corruptible leaders.

Practically, most leaders are liable to be corrupt given the high perks that come with power and the access to vast public resources. Most people do not give in to temptation and when they are caught up in corruption, they repent.

However, corruptible individuals seem to possess a rare genius for being corrupt and doing so without feeling shameful.

Only serial killers and psychopaths commit their dastardly acts without shame or their conscience bothering them.

Ethical leaders are synonymous with servant leadership, as exemplified by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former presidents Thomas Sankara (Burkina Faso) and Jose Mujica (Uruguay), and Tanzanian President John Magufuli.

Being a citizen

Lastly, imagining a different South Africa if citizens literally exercise the meaning of citizenship.

Being a citizen is about being a member of a country and having certain rights and duties.

These responsibilities require that when a wrong is committed, active citizens rise up, as is their primary civic duty, and seek to correct the misdeed.

Rising up implies more than writing articles for the media and voicing one’s opinion on social media.

The National Development Plan views active citizenship as “equalising opportunities and enhancing human capabilities”.

Corruption and maladministration do the exact opposite, by robbing people of equal opportunities and stifling their human capabilities, as Indian economist and philosopher Amartya Sen understands them.

The South African dream

Imagining a different country means that, when we finally have selfless leaders who are driven to achieve a South African Dream after 2019, we can cease being vigilant.

The journey is long and unending, precisely because even our most revered leaders are, after all, human beings liable to fall into temptation.

There’s a truism that if you want to test someone’s true character, give them power and money.

Very few people, like Madiba and Kenneth Kaunda, have voluntarily walked away from the privileges that money and power accord.

One hopes the leaders we will elect in December 2017 at the ANC’s elective conference and in the 2019 general elections, are inspired to walk in the shoes of a Mujica and Xi.

Sehume is a retired, anonymous stone-thrower


How do we foster a culture of selfless leadership in South Africa?

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