Max du Preez

All we need is good leadership

2015-08-04 08:45

Max du Preez

We South Africans tend to over-analyse our problems, seek complex solutions and dream up fanciful models, but in most cases all we need is good, efficient management and leadership.

I spent a lot of time during the last few weeks in hospitals where members of my family received treatment. I have little doubt that we would not have enjoyed better care anywhere else in the world – and I do have some experience of hospitals in Europe and North America.

The hospitals I’m talking about are the Groote Schuur and Red Cross Children’s hospitals in Cape Town, both run by the provincial government, and private hospitals in Stellenbosch and Paarl.

I had time to watch the doctors, nurses, clerks and workers closely. They all knew how and when they had to do what. The routines were well worked out, there were clear lines of responsibility and oversight and the employees were all motivated and friendly. The doctors and nurses were competent and clearly well trained.

Quality of leadership

It’s not rocket science. It is simply good administration and management, and clearly also motivation.

Groote Schuur has more than 2 000 employees, Red Cross well over 100. Both work like well-oiled machines. The two private hospitals, part of a national chain, were equally professional, only a bit more luxurious with tastier food.

And yet there are many hospitals in South Africa where conditions and treatment are so poor that patients are traumatised and in many cases get sicker. The difference isn’t budgets; it is simply the quality of leadership, management and administration.

We witness the same phenomenon in schools. There are several examples of schools in squatter camps or deep rural areas that have every excuse to be as poor as most other schools in these areas, and yet they have become centres of excellence. The quality and commitment of school principals and teachers is the only difference, not budgets or the background of the pupils.

There are a handful of very successful local governments in the country that govern very effectively and serve citizens well, while most others are complete nightmares. Again, the difference is not how poor or rich citizens in those municipalities are, the difference is poor appointments, corruption and an absence of good administration.

The ANC’s present economic model provides a strong role for state-owned enterprises. It is a model that has worked well in countries such as China, but in South Africa it’s a complete disaster. There isn’t a single state-owned enterprise that isn’t in disarray right now – think of PetroSA that has just announced a loss of R14.9bn, of Eskom, Prasa, Transnet, SAA and the SABC.

Ineffective state bureaucracies

The tremendous potential of the model where state-owned enterprises stimulate and grow the economy and create employment is undermined by pathetic political leadership, wrong appointments, cadre deployment, corruption, bad management and control.

The Nkandla scandal has dominated our political scene for years now. After the latest investigations, we know now that if all the work done at the property, even those parts purely done to please the president, were done under proper supervision and according to budget, the president’s whole villa would have cost R50m or less and wouldn’t have been much of a scandal.

South Africa’s business sector, much-maligned by politicians, is known for its innovation, energy and resilience. In stark contrast, our bloated state bureaucracies, the most expensive in the world, are notoriously hopeless and ineffective.

We don’t need fanciful new economic models. We need to make more of the resources we already have.

Perhaps our politicians should place a moratorium on blaming capitalism, neo-liberalism, Western imperialism and even the legacies of our bitter past just for a year or so and concentrate on proper, disciplined management and leadership on all levels of government.

- Follow Max on Twitter.

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