Where is our lead­er­ship in nation-build­ing?

CityPress - - VOICES & CAREERS - Jef­frey Sehume voices@city­press.co.za

The cal­i­bre of na­tional lead­er­ship can be a de­cider in gen­er­at­ing, or sti­fling, na­tional good­will and eco­nomic re­cov­ery. Amer­i­cans have fond mem­o­ries of pres­i­dent Franklin Roo­sevelt’s role in tran­scend­ing the Great De­pres­sion. Bri­tish peo­ple remain in awe of Win­ston Churchill’s ac­tions dur­ing World War 2. Sin­ga­pore­ans re­vere Lee Kuan Yew for bring­ing their back­wa­ter coun­try into the First World. South Africans rem­i­nisce about the racial bon­homie of the Nel­son Man­dela era.

Alas, faced with sur­ren­der of na­tional sovereignty to one for­eign fam­ily, the ef­fects of “junk” sta­tus and re­ces­sion, South Africans are rightly mo­rose about the present and fu­ture. Their jaded mood re­sem­bles that of Amer­i­cans un­der Pres­i­dent Donald Trump. For­tu­nately for the Amer­i­cans – who live in a First World coun­try – they can sur­vive Trump, as they sur­vived the dam­age caused by Ge­orge W Bush. For South Africa, the in­cal­cu­la­ble costs of the #Gup­taLeaks will take gen­er­a­tions to over­come as cor­rup­tion has be­come in­sti­tu­tion­alised.

Tito Mboweni re­minds us that, when the gov­ern­ing party took over power in 1994, it in­her­ited from the apartheid regime $25 bil­lion worth of debt. To its credit, the ar­chi­tects of post-1994 South Africa re­paid this debt so that, by 2008, they re­ceived an A rat­ing from the in­ter­na­tional ratings agencies. That hard work, sac­ri­fice and ded­i­ca­tion is now being wiped out, not least by stu­pen­dous own goals re­sult­ing in the down­grad­ing of the coun­try, its top five banks, San­ral, plus cer­tain re­gional and lo­cal gov­ern­ments. De­spite their ide­o­log­i­cal bias to­wards Western coun­tries, these ratings agencies re­tain a global hege­mony that can­not be writ­ten off.

It is there­fore not sur­pris­ing, in this jeremiad mood, to see in­creased in­ci­dents of ugly racism. It is prob­a­ble that the likes of He­len Zille and Penny Spar­row would not have been so vo­cal if the ex­ec­u­tive of­fice was oc­cu­pied by some­one ex­ud­ing author­ity and com­pe­tence. There would have been no need to com­pare, un­fairly so, South Africa to Sin­ga­pore, even though Zille re­cently for­got to men­tion that Sin­ga­pore achieved its eco­nomic glory and good gov­er­nance un­der Lee’s be­nign au­thor­i­tar­ian regime.

The im­por­tance of na­tional lead­er­ship is sorely needed to bring into the eco­nomic main­stream the army of 3 mil­lion job­less young peo­ple, and to pre­vent 50 000 women and girls from fac­ing the scourge of rape ev­ery year. A self­less lead­er­ship would chart the way for­ward to ar­rest service de­liv­ery protests that, at times, pro­vide crim­i­nal cover for xeno­pho­bic at­tacks. A ser­vant lead­er­ship What can or­di­nary South Africans do to en­sure our coun­try gets ba­cak on track? SMS us on 35697 us­ing the key­word LEAD­ERS and tell us what you think. In­clude your name and prov­ince. SMSes cost R1.50 would en­sure so­ci­ety is gal­vanised to stem the en­velop­ing de­press­ing na­tional mood filled with apa­thy, cyn­i­cism, anomie and Zil­lean racism.

It is a fact that the so­cial ills that emerge from this down­cast col­lec­tive mood will en­cour­age pop­ulism and far­right re­ac­tionary move­ments. And be­cause these move­ments and pop­ulist fig­ures spout im­prac­ti­cal bullsh*t, their short-term reme­dies for the coun­try’s crises can only ex­ac­er­bate the al­ready ad­verse sit­u­a­tion. Wait­ing in the wings to of­fer bind­ing aus­ter­ity so­lu­tions are Bret­ton Woods in­sti­tu­tions and the other in­ter­na­tional lend­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions that have crip­pled Greece.

The em­pha­sis on na­tional lead­er­ship and its abil­ity to en­gen­der so­cial co­he­sion is linked to the need to re­visit so­cial com­pacts. What are these com­pacts or covenants? They are im­plicit agree­ments made by gov­ern­ment, in­dus­try and civil so­ci­ety about the proper poli­cies to spur eco­nomic growth and shared pros­per­ity.

Be­fore the re­cent Cabinet reshuf­fle, an ex­am­ple of such an agree­ment to col­lec­tively bat for Team RSA was re­lated to the na­tional min­i­mum wage, agreed to by gov­ern­ment, labour unions and busi­ness.

More broadly, if these com­pacts were in place, the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan would be mean­ing­fully im­ple­mented even as var­i­ous stake­hold­ers im­prove the sec­tions of the plan they are not wholly sat­is­fied with.

In the ab­sence of na­tional lead­er­ship, South Africa is left to its own de­vices to deal with the men­ace of sys­tem­atic in­equal­ity. In their book The Spirit Level, so­cial sci­en­tists Richard Wilkin­son and Kate Pick­ett warn that the short- to long-term neg­a­tive ef­fect wreaked by in­equal­ity is sim­ply in­cal­cu­la­ble. They ar­gue that “al­most all the prob­lems that are com­mon at the bot­tom of the so­cial ladder are more com­mon in more un­equal so­ci­eties – in­clud­ing men­tal ill­ness, drug ad­dic­tion, obe­sity, loss of com­mu­nity life, im­pris­on­ment, un­equal op­por­tu­ni­ties and poorer well­be­ing for chil­dren”.

What is to be done in the mean­time while we wait for the out­come of the gov­ern­ing party’s De­cem­ber elec­toral con­fer­ence, and start spec­u­lat­ing about the prospects of a 2019 coali­tion gov­ern­ment?

The fear ex­pressed by some cyn­ics among us about South Africa de­gen­er­at­ing into a fail­ing state like Zim­babwe is mis­placed. The for­ti­tude of South Africans to stand and fight against in­jus­tice is leg­endary – apartheid was de­feated largely by civil ac­tion driven by or­di­nary peo­ple ac­com­pa­nied by ser­vant lead­ers such as Des­mond Tutu. Klep­toc­racy, which is lit­er­ally rule by thieves, can never take root in this coun­try be­cause our peo­ple are pre­pared to make per­sonal sac­ri­fices even un­der the threat of ha­rass­ment, vi­o­lence, tor­ture and death.

The ex­am­ple of ca­pa­ble lead­er­ship as ex­pe­ri­enced un­der Madiba and Roo­sevelt, in fo­cus­ing peo­ple’s at­ten­tion and en­ergy to­wards so­cial co­he­sion and nation-build­ing, is mo­ti­vated, as Martin Luther King said, not in a search of con­sen­sus but to mould con­sen­sus.

Sehume is a re­searcher at the Ma­pun­gubwe In­sti­tute

Nel­son Man­dela

Win­ston Churchill

Lee Kuan Yew

Franklin Roo­sevelt

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