Friends & Friction | Counting the cost of our weak leadership

Believe it or not, South Africa has become the land of plenty.

You do not need statistics to prove it; just look at all the obese people around you. No one ever got fat from starvation.

Children used to hide their meat under a mountain of porridge and a touch of spinach, fearing that a hungry relative could arrive in the night, and they would have to share. A plate without meat was not worth diving into.

No one can deny that life for black South Africans has improved exponentially compared with what it was in 1976.

The money that people receive from government grants alone these days amounts to far more than what many professionals earned then.

If you were to ask former ANC leader Albert Luthuli, author of the famous book Let My People Go, about life in present-day South Africa, he might say: “We have reached the land of milk and honey.”

So why are places such as Mamelodi and Atteridgeville in Tshwane – with its citywide Wi-Fi – and Vuwani and its surrounds in Limpopo burning?

The answer is simple: you cannot hold the people to a higher moral standard than their leaders.

Our politicians are rude to each other in Parliament. They have reduced the House to a circus of imbeciles who refuse to listen to each other, and even have fist fights.

How do we then expect the citizenry to be respectful and orderly?

The leaders are looting state resources with impunity, so why would the police worry about a youngster who loots a six-pack of beer?

There’s a nagging question on many people’s lips: given that South Africa is a multiparty democracy, and if the people are so upset with the governing party, why don’t they vote for an alternative instead of rioting?

Could it be that they have no faith in the alternatives? Do they feel that opposition parties have failed to represent higher hopes? Have those parties’ rants about what is wrong with this country brought us nothing but desperation?

In case you haven’t noticed, it is not just the ruling party that is crashing and burning in front of our eyes, but our very political system too.

We are suffering from poor leadership and a lack of succession planning.

Former president Thabo Mbeki felt that there was none worthy of leadership other than him, which is why he wanted the third term. And when he lost, the organisation he loved so dearly and suffered for, lost with him.

Perhaps we need the humility to accept that in the past 50 years or so, Mbeki was the ANC – the rest of the so-called collective leadership were nothing but extras in a movie he directed.

South Africa will survive this. We are a resilient nation.

But it remains a lesson for those starting a business. When making decisions, think of your organisation’s long-term survival, knowing that the wealth of your children and grandchildren depend on you.

You do not want your business to end up in flames because there is a weak CEO at the helm. Choose your successor without passion or sympathy. Make a sound business choice, ensuring it is someone who displays strong, independent leadership. A weak and pliable person may as well open the door to your rivals.

I am sure there are times when Mbeki regrets giving a lifeline to the then insignificant Jacob Zuma, who was an MEC in KwaZulu-Natal at the time. That lifeline turned into a noose that strangled his presidency and split his organisation.

You do not want to be left in the cold, watching as others burp champagne bubbles that represent the lifetime of work you put in.

Kuzwayo is the founder of Ignitive, an advertising agency

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