It’s our turn to eat: The battle for the soul of SA

Former President of Kenya Mwai Kibaki.
Former President of Kenya Mwai Kibaki.

I remember hoping South Africa would never be engulfed by unfettered greed and corruption that would warrant such a book when I set eyes on It’s Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistle-blower by Michela Wrong in 2009.

That title never left my consciousness. I could not bring myself to read it.

It is based on whistle-blowing by John Githongo, a former journalist who served as permanent secretary for governance and ethics in Kenya’s post transition government in 2003-2004 and became known as Kenya’s first anti-corruption czar.

The book is about allegations of corruption and looting under the presidency of Mwai Kibaki following the ousting of Daniel arap Moi.

There have been numerous books released in South Africa implicating political leaders in corruption and the looting of the country’s coffers.

We are currently glued to screens watching commissions of inquiries expose the ethical shortcomings of the private and public sectors.

I am hopeful because 10 years on, though Kenya still experiences challenges, it is one of the fastest growing economies in sub-Saharan Africa, achieving 5.7% gross domestic product growth in 2018.

It is known as the cradle of Africa’s technological innovation.

We are in awe at how through M-Pesa – the mobile money transfer – Kenya has changed banking and is assisting businesses to be in the forefront of the digital revolution.

We cannot overcome our economic and social predicaments without all South Africans doing honest soul-searching and being single-minded about creating a different future.

Sometimes I get the sense that our ambitions went as far as the end of apartheid, but beyond that, our vision was not aspirational to motivate us to root the new constitutional values in our hearts and minds:

  • Human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms;
  • Nonracialism and nonsexism; and
  • Supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law.

We mouth them for sure. But we don’t really live them.

We are so quick to reference apartheid ills to justify unacceptable behaviour.

As black people, we sometimes feel in good company to say: “White people are just as corrupt. We learnt from the best.”

Really? That is why thousands of people lost their lives so that we can emulate the worst values in our society?

We cannot afford to be flippant about corruption because its prevalence in our institutions and society is a sign that bad corporate governance is pervasive.

Good corporate governance is a critical pre-requisite for investors, whether domestic or foreign, looking to invest in economies together with well-functioning legal and judicial systems, property rights, political stability and labour skills, among other factors.

Countries with bad governance reputations tend to have lower economic growth.

In a country with levels of unemployment ranging between 27% to 40%, South Africa can ill-afford not to create conditions that enhance its reputation and make it competitive among the African countries all jostling to attract global investments as the last frontier market.

The battles for the souls of many of the South African institutions are being waged at leadership level.

Bad corporate governance seems to lend credence to the saying that “the fish rots from the head”.

Our country is reeling from a deficit of ethical leadership.

What has contributed to this state of affairs, in my view, is the inter-connectedness of power, positions and information in specific networks from both the political and business arenas that seem to live by the adage: “You scratch my back, I scratch yours.”

Thus opportunities are concentrated and governed by unethical exchanges to the detriment of our country.

What is required is an infusion of new leaders with wholesome values into the leadership ranks in private and public sectors to bring diversity and diffuse the power which becomes abused.

Many organisations, both in the public and private sectors, require competent directors so that we can stop recycling the usual suspects resulting in the same individuals serving on a number of boards.

The quality of their oversight becomes suspect.

I am committed to developing a credible pipeline for board positions.

Be part of a new generation of board talent, who are not only knowledgeable and skilled, but are courageous to take the correct, not popular decisions, for the benefit of the organisations that they lead.

Msomi is CEO of Busara Leadership Partners, which will host its Corporate Governance Masterclass themed 50:50 Board Representation – We Are Here & Ready, on Thursday, 15 August to Friday, 16 August 2019 at Gibs


Will a strong and ethical leadership emerge in SA after corruption and state capture inquiries?

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