Imag­in­ing A DIF­FER­ENT SOUTH AFRICA

We have to be­lieve that we can re­claim our coun­try and rid it of gang­ster lead­er­ship, writes Jef­frey Se­hume

CityPress - - Voices & Careers - Se­hume is a re­tired, anony­mous stone-thrower

From to­day’s van­tage, the mi­asma of cor­rup­tion and un­re­pen­tant lead­er­ship may seem in­tractable. So much so that think­ing about a coun­try free of state cap­ture may look like a fruit­less in­dul­gence. Try­ing to imag­ine the Union Build­ings oc­cu­pied by a self­deny­ing leader could seem unimag­in­able. The South African night­mare of the past eight years is too real and soul­crush­ing.

But just as the en­demic cor­rup­tion and vi­o­lence of apartheid once seemed un­de­feat­able, it is pos­si­ble to en­vi­sion and achieve a coun­try fo­cused on cre­at­ing a bet­ter life for all.

The net ef­fects of fail­ing to imag­ine, and work­ing to­wards achiev­ing a coun­try free of malfea­sance and gang­ster lead­er­ship are too dire to con­tem­plate.

There is a di­rect con­nec­tion be­tween good gov­er­nance and public goods. When gov­ern­ing po­lit­i­cal par­ties fail to de­liver com­mon goods such as ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion, health­care and se­cu­rity, then such par­ties suf­fer a le­git­i­macy cri­sis.

An ex­am­ple of such a cri­sis is the nascent call from some lef­t­and rightwing quar­ters, for peo­ple to em­bark on a tax re­volt against the SA Rev­enue Ser­vice. By def­i­ni­tion, a re­volt ren­ders coun­tries vul­ner­a­ble and dys­func­tional. From thereon, the route to a failed state or ba­nana repub­lic is cer­tain.

There are in­ter­na­tional bench­marks we can eas­ily draw on and use as a com­pass for an ideal South Africa.

Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping of China is now in the pan­theon of great lead­ers, chiefly for his at­tain­ment of the Chi­nese Dream. The Chi­nese Dream is about up­lift­ing peo­ple’s liv­ing stan­dards and re­ju­ve­nat­ing the coun­try’s stand­ing in in­ter­na­tional af­fairs. Wher­ever one meets Chi­nese peo­ple, they ex­ude an in­fec­tious na­tional pride, un­like us South Africans or the Amer­i­cans un­der Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, whose White House is now, to his crit­ics, an adult nurs­ery.

In­di­vid­ual lead­er­ship can make all the dif­fer­ence in de­ter­min­ing a coun­try’s for­tunes or mis­for­tunes.

There is no de­nial we have reached rock bot­tom as a coun­try, a coun­try which once held so much hope for it­self and the con­ti­nent. Still, it is pos­si­ble to re­gain the pa­tri­otic pride we pos­sessed un­der pres­i­dents Nel­son Man­dela and Thabo Mbeki.

What cri­te­ria will we place on the po­lit­i­cal par­ties and lead­ers that will con­test the 2019 na­tional elec­tions? Which con­di­tions will be used to as­sess the worth and qual­ity of can­di­dates?

Firstly, the ma­jor­ity of our pop­u­la­tion is com­prised largely of young peo­ple, the so-called Gen­er­a­tion Y. This is a seg­ment that is jus­ti­fi­ably in­tol­er­ant of par­ties and lead­ers still parad­ing their strug­gle cre­den­tials as a badge to na­tional of­fice. This makes am­ple sense, since these young peo­ple bear the brunt of un­em­ploy­ment and poverty. This pat­tern, where our pol­i­tics is nor­mal­is­ing be­yond a fix­a­tion with lib­er­a­tion pol­i­tics, is ev­i­dent in ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions, with the pop­u­lar­ity of stu­dent move­ments less than 10 years old.

Sec­ondly, fol­low­ing the ex­am­ples of coun­tries like

China and Iran, where mer­i­toc­racy and ed­u­ca­tion are prized, can­di­dates run­ning for of­fice need to com­bine proven lead­er­ship qual­i­ties and ex­pe­ri­ence. Xi as­cended to the throne fol­low­ing his suc­cess­ful stints as gover­nor of a few prov­inces. This is the rea­son, the Chi­nese will gladly in­form you, that their mer­i­to­cratic sys­tem is en­forced to pre­vent di­vi­sive mav­er­icks like Trump from emerg­ing.

Linked to this is the im­por­tance of for­mal ed­u­ca­tion. The cab­i­net of Pres­i­dent Has­san

Rouhani of Iran is re­puted to have the high­est num­ber of serv­ing min­is­ters with doc­tor­ates (PhDs). Ob­vi­ously, hav­ing a doc­tor­ate is no guar­an­tee that the min­is­ters are or will be com­pe­tent. Rather, it is a cau­tion­ary mea­sure de­signed to en­sure that these min­is­ters bring ad­vanced crit­i­cal think­ing fac­ul­ties and skills. Also, such ed­u­ca­tion is im­por­tant so that the coun­try is not sad­dled with civil ser­vants solely de­pen­dent on one salary and can bravely stand up to wrong­ful ac­tions.

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Thirdly, an­other cri­te­rion lead­ers and par­ties have to mea­sure up against is ethics and moral­ity. Us­ing the lessons learnt since 2009, we have to come to ap­pre­ci­ate the dis­tinc­tion be­tween cor­rupt and cor­rupt­ible lead­ers. Prac­ti­cally, most lead­ers are li­able to be cor­rupt given the high perks that come with power and the ac­cess to vast public re­sources. Most peo­ple do not give in to temp­ta­tion and when they are caught up in cor­rup­tion, they re­pent.

How­ever, cor­rupt­ible in­di­vid­u­als seem to pos­sess a rare ge­nius for be­ing cor­rupt and do­ing so with­out feel­ing shame­ful. Only se­rial killers and psy­chopaths com­mit their das­tardly acts with­out shame or their con­science both­er­ing them.

Eth­i­cal lead­ers are syn­ony­mous with ser­vant lead­er­ship, as ex­em­pli­fied by Arch­bishop Des­mond Tutu, for­mer pres­i­dents Thomas Sankara (Burk­ina Faso) and Jose Mu­jica (Uruguay), and Tan­za­nian Pres­i­dent John Magu­fuli.

Lastly, imag­in­ing a dif­fer­ent South Africa if cit­i­zens lit­er­ally ex­er­cise the mean­ing of cit­i­zen­ship. Be­ing a ci­ti­zen is about be­ing a mem­ber of a coun­try and hav­ing cer­tain rights and du­ties. These re­spon­si­bil­i­ties re­quire that when a wrong is com­mit­ted, ac­tive cit­i­zens rise up, as is their pri­mary civic duty, and seek to cor­rect the mis­deed.

Ris­ing up im­plies more than writ­ing ar­ti­cles for the me­dia and voic­ing one’s opin­ion on so­cial me­dia.

The Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan views ac­tive cit­i­zen­ship as “equal­is­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties and en­hanc­ing hu­man ca­pa­bil­i­ties”. Cor­rup­tion and mal­ad­min­is­tra­tion do the ex­act op­po­site, by rob­bing peo­ple of equal op­por­tu­ni­ties and sti­fling their hu­man ca­pa­bil­i­ties, as In­dian econ­o­mist and philoso­pher Amartya Sen un­der­stands them.

Imag­in­ing a dif­fer­ent coun­try means that, when we fi­nally have self­less lead­ers who are driven to achieve a South African Dream af­ter 2019, we can cease be­ing vig­i­lant.

The jour­ney is long and un­end­ing, pre­cisely be­cause even our most revered lead­ers are, af­ter all, hu­man be­ings li­able to fall into temp­ta­tion. There’s a tru­ism that if you want to test some­one’s true char­ac­ter, give them power and money.

Very few peo­ple, like Madiba and Ken­neth Kaunda, have vol­un­tar­ily walked away from the priv­i­leges that money and power ac­cord. One hopes the lead­ers we will elect in De­cem­ber 2017 at the ANC’s elec­tive con­fer­ence and in the 2019 gen­eral elec­tions, are in­spired to walk in the shoes of a Mu­jica and Xi.

PHOTO: MUNTU VILAKAZI

YOUNG DREAMS Young rugby fans came out in their num­bers at Mon­te­casino, Jo­han­nes­burg, to bid farewell to the Spring­boks. The Boks were head­ing for Lon­don for the 2015 rugby World Cup

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