Our hard-earned democracy is unraveling, and the new generation of Africans must rise to the challenge and stem the tide that threatens to engulf us, Dr Reuel Khoza told a forum at the Gordon Institute of Business Science.
President of the Institute of Directors of South Africa, author and businessman, Khoza issued a challenge to African millennials to lead.
“African leadership is imperative. If not us, then who? Let Africa rise to this challenge,” he said.
Khoza talked about the courage and quality of leadership displayed by the new generation that has been both reassuring and edifying. “Their bold, articulated stance on issues of national importance is an inspiration. Now is the time for contemporary Africa to lead. Be the master of your own destiny.”
The future could be great and abundantly rewarding if this generation chooses to make it so, Khoza explained, but barren and painfully frustrating if leadership is left to those ill-prepared and visionless.
South Africa is a nation in crisis, he argued, but that fear should not overshadow the opportunity.
“A sense of excitement and possibility can replace the fear and resignation that so often accompanies a nation in crisis. Amid the gloom, occasioned by the lack of a compelling national vision, politics of patronage, crippling kleptocracy and a leadership devoid of moral authority and compunction, I believe it is possible to regenerate a sense of purpose, meaning and direction.”
He said South Africa’s millennial generation are the “enemies of entropy.”
The new generation and the African intellectuals have a number of issues to grapple with in order to guarantee a sound and prosperous future for the country. These include a leadership devoid of moral authority who have a disregard and contempt for their oath of office. “Ours is a political leadership that derides excellence and extols mediocrity. Cabinet ministers who pursue excellence and adhere to ethical principles in discharging their responsibilities are castigated and cast aside.”
Poverty, destiny and doing good
Human rights activist and law student Wenzile Madonsela argued that while the concept of destiny is sound, it excludes those in our society who have been left behind.
“For them, dreaming is a privilege. Our reality doesn’t match our constitutional ideals. A large part of our society has been left out,” she said.
Lovelyn Nwadeyi, former student activist and Head of Research for Public Policy and Regulatory Affairs at MTN agreed with this view and rejected the concept of an intelligentsia. This elite automatically excludes people on the margins and takes away their agency, creating a hierarchy. “We have created systems that have allowed poverty to flourish, while what we need is to approach things from a different perspective,” she argued.
Nomatter Ndebele, a journalist at social justice group Section27 said the concept of destiny, as something to be controlled, is unfair to those on the margins of society, and that good leadership starts with good citizens.
Khoza conceded that it was problematic to expect the wretched to be the masters of their own destiny and to determine their future in the context of grinding poverty.
South Africa is a wealthy country that is skewed and the challenge is to make it equitable. However, there is a responsibility on those who are currently disadvantaged. “We can’t leave people to starve, but we must inculcate the ethic of hard work,” he said.
Khoza advocated a stance of “nothing for nothing, even for the down and out.”
Yusuf Randera-Rees, chief executive and cofounder of entrepreneurship investment company the Awethu Project said he found the evolution of businesses into social enterprises encouraging. Through this development, he could envision a social movement where people spend their days in meaningful work contributing to society. “Our work itself can be the vehicle of change,” he mused.
Khoza said in order to do good and encourage social change, we must become humans who engage with complete commitment.
“A life that is humane, human and caring must be a way of life. As long as you are able, continue to do good, until you can leave a living legacy.”
Lack of national vision
South Africa is a nation with no clear vision or inspiring mission of purpose, and as such “is bound to flounder,” Khoza said.
The vision statement of the National Development Plan needed to be redrafted in brief and memorable terms, while the document in its entirety “merits revisiting to render it practical and implementable, with timelines, deadlines, budgets and committed human resources,” he explained.
Ndebele however argued that “the vision of a non-racist and non-sexist society has failed. Our parents fought for freedom, but were given democracy instead. Millennials must fight for the freedoms that our parents were denied.”
Madonsela concluded that South Africans were indeed having an identity crisis. “We are not sure who we are and where we are going. The Constitution should act as a reflection of our identity but there is a definite disconnect with our society.” Her advice to millennials was to immerse themselves in their communities.
“Identify a problem that needs to be fixed. This simple challenge will enable us to get back to the South Africa that we dreamed of.”