Hlaudi weather shows SA's leadership crisis

“I WANT to applaud the people who recognise this wonderful person called Hlaudi … I believe in myself. I believe everywhere that I am I do miracles. And I am going to do those miracles in the position that I am going to occupy.”

Have you heard of the Dunning-Kruger Effect? It’s “a cognitive bias in which low-ability individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability as much higher than it really is.”

And there’s a lot of it about, it seems. Watching Hlaudi in his fedora, a grin sidling across his face, that self-satisfied lip-twitch, with the shutter-sound of cameras underlining his words, it occurred to me to wonder just how far from reality the SABC board, and much of our leadership, has wandered.

Or, let me reword that: people in power. Because you can’t really call them leaders, adrift as they are on their own warm pool of glittering bubble-spangled water, incapable of action, of implementation, of intervening effectively in crises, of Doing Things.

Has the glare of the spotlight convinced them that their behaviour in positions of power is meaningful, no matter if it achieves anything or not? Have their spin doctors taught them to believe the spin?

Are they hypnotised by the glare of the camera lighting and the deceptive gloss of riches and glamour and power? Have they completely lost connection with real people and real situations?

(Cue Pink Floyd, The Final Cut?:

… and they can appear to themselves every day
On closed circuit TV
To make sure they're still real
It's the only connection they feel.)

So we are told that Hlaudi has been appointed SABC group executive for corporate affairs. As though we won’t recognise the sleight of hand. As though Hlaudi’s smug grin, as he informs us that he’s going to make this position “more exciting, that it does what it’s supposed to do”, wasn’t a dead giveaway.

Come on! We all guess that Hlaudi aims to be head honcho in everything but name. Just until everyone looks away long enough for him to apply to get his old job back - even though his appointment was judged to be irrational and invalid.

(Does it occur to anyone that poor Bessie Tugwana has been booted from that group exec position to make way for the Great Hlaudi, and will now be just a humble ‘project manager’? Did she crack open the champagne that night, one wonders?)

But of course, this is has become standard behaviour in this country: package a move so that it LOOKS right or good, and expect the public to miss the shenanigans and manoeuvring behind the façade. Appoint a commission of inquiry so that it looks as if you’re doing something (and then hide for years behind the claim that “the commission hasn’t finished its work”), for example. (We need a Commission of Inquiry into Commissions of Inquiry, don’t you agree?)

To be fair, our leaders have learnt from the global milieu in which we have lived for a century or so, in which unpleasantnesses are PR’d into acceptable shape, so that sewage is repackaged as ‘biosolids’, and a possible explosion in a nuclear reactor is referred to as a ‘spontaneous energetic disassembly’ (both examples come from Sheldon Rampton and John Tauber’s 2002 book, Toxic Sludge is Good For You, well worth reading).

The surface is what matters, the pictures in the media, the anodyne cliché-ridden quotes. What’s actually done doesn’t matter that much. It’s all about image, little about ability. (There remain some in government, of course, who actually try to Do, to achieve things – I know of a few who must be dying of frustration.)

Smoke and mirrors don’t work forever

But smoke and mirrors don’t work forever. Sooner or later, the untended infrastructure breaks up, the broadcaster finds itself without talent, the pipes run dry. Sooner or later, you start seeing through the high-gloss one-way mirror that’s been hiding reality, and behind it, look! there’s the Mad Hatter, Willie Wonka and The Joker.

The cracks are showing all over this country, from the people who’ve gone weeks without that most basic right, water, in Syferbult, North West, to the vice chancellors squirming under the wiggling weight of the dilemma Blade dropped in their laps, to the police captain in bulletproof vest who won’t visit a township crime scene because “it’s too dangerous” (true story, just happened), to the ANC councillors throwing things in Tshwane… it’s nuts.

The university crisis is a mirror of the failures in the macrocosm, as Nombonisa Gaza said on eNCA recently, where we see vast, extensive failures in leadership. And we see the use of that tired and uninspired tool, force, violence, militarisation, leaking into areas of society where it’s quite inappropriate and bodes ill for the future.

The creaking of societal strain, especially in the most vulnerable and disadvantaged strata of our society, has been loudly audible for years, but even when put on notice in early August, our Upper Ranks put their heads in the sand, the totally unstatesmanlike, irresponsible choice of people in a comfort zone who are never called to account.

I have an Oliver Cromwell quote echoing in my head: “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately ... Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!” We have a country to fix, and you are in the way.

*Mandi Smallhorne is a versatile journalist and editor. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter.

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