Whither South Africa?

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    Nat Quinn
    In the introduction to Pieter Du Toit’s latest book, The ANC Billionaires: Big Capital’s Gambit and the Rise of the few Business Leaders, prominent business leader Michael Spicer expresses his frustration with the seeming reluctance of the Ramaphosa presidency to take difficult decisions, always looking at consultation and social compacting, even when society is expecting decisive leadership.
    Spicer states that he does not see Ramaphosa as a politician, a leader of conviction and further goes on to say that “the problem with him is that he believes in leading from behind, and our problems do not allow for a gradualist approach. But that’s the guy’s nature: he’s not a get-out ahead and decisive sort of guy.”
    I was reminded of this view of the president as I was receiving countless calls from my black professional, non-political middle-class mates, asking me to give them my perspective on the electoral outcomes of the ANCs 55th national conference this past December.
    Of course, because politics affects everything in society, despite my claim that they are non-political, what they really wanted to know from me is whether I think the electoral outcomes of the ANCs 55th national conference will be positive for South Africa and whether they should be entering 2023 with a more positive outlook about the country and their own prospects and interests within the country, as a result of that?
    Lots of pressure right, I hear you say? I mean, I may be an ANC activist, but it is not like I am Nostradamus after all okes? The question(s) from my mates took me back to the title of a book that was edited by ANC luminary, eminent academic and contemporary of former ANC president O.R Tambo, Professor Bernard Magubane, which asked the profoundly germane question in this context, Whither South Africa?
    With a second term for president Ramaphosa after the ANC’s 55th national conference, everyone is asking the same question, to what place or state (pun unintended) are we going as a country, in light of this? With the president having emerged from the 2022 Nasrec conference stronger than he was when he went into conference, as the popular narrative appears to be, will we now be in a place where critical, crucial decisions will be taken, that will move the country forward, or are we going to still be stuck in a place of inertia, as the Ramaphosa presidency of both the ANC and the country is alleged to have posited us?
    I responded to the question(s) using the Socratic Method myself, given my own uncertainties, even as I hold out hope that the ANC that has come out of Nasrec 2022 will finally take its rightful place, as per its own political philosophy, as the “strategic centre and leader of South African society.”
    Will the president finally be bold and decisive and stop being overly consultative and seemingly unable to take tough decisions, now that Nasrec 2022 has seemingly given him an overwhelmingly decisive mandate? Can the president step up to the plate and become the transformative, visionary, reformist leader that the country needs in order to resolve its manifold problems and move forward towards a better and brighter future for all?
    Are we now going to see a man of action, or shall it be more of the same that we have witnessed up to now: a preference for discussion over decisions, a lack of conviction, an inability to take tough decisions whilst the ANC and the whole country goes hither and thither, as the president has often been accused of up to now?
    To quote Michael Spicer again from the same book that was referred to earlier, You cannot govern without making decisions, and the whole point about political economies is that you have limited resources. This requires you to divert resources into some areas and away from others. And inside this process, you have all these vested interests, including big business.”
    It is critical that we honestly reflect on the point that Spicer is making here, as we seek to answer the question of whether a second term for Ramaphosa as ANC president will be good for the country or not, because the ANC is a party that is in government and the nature of governance is that you are constantly faced with, not just competing interests, but also competing priorities, wherein governing by consultation and consensus may actually end up being counter-developmental.
    The state is always a contested terrain, with diverse interests looking to capture it (state capture is a normal phenomenon the world over). The ANC is a non-racial party that seeks to advance South Africa towards a National Democratic Society, but with a bias towards the working class and impoverished (poor) in its own lexicon and within that same lexicon, that would be blacks in general and Africans in particular.
    Tough decisions must be taken that reflect this bias of the National Democratic Revolution and this is what will determine whether a second ANC term for president Ramaphosa is good for the country or not, along with how he resolves problems such as load-shedding, water-shedding which is already a reality for most of those who reside in my neck of the woods in Johannesburg north as just one example.
    How decisive and bold will the president be on economic interventions to grow, develop and transform the economy towards a better life for all South Africans and not just an elite few, is another critical issue to consider? Can his presidency and leadership bring about a material (in an accounting sense, not philosophically) improvement in the country’s gross fixed capital formation, as part of crowding in private sector investment towards the attainment of national development objectives? A lot of questions, I hear you say, but I did profess to endeavouring to respond Socratically to the question(s) that my mates asked.
    In the book Leadership: Six Studies in World Strategy by renowned American statesman Henry Kissinger, the traits of global leaders since 1945 (end of WWII) are examined and broken down into two fundamentals: 1) the statesman who is pragmatic and farsighted, able to take tough decisions that are not necessarily popular with contemporaries, but that have the effect of bringing about greater long term good for society. 2)
    The prophet who exhibits visionary boldness and can bring about changes that catapult society towards success and positive change. Kissinger posits that the ideal leader should be a mix of both traits, which leads us to the question, has our current president given us any concrete evidence that he possesses either/both these traits? I leave you to draw your own conclusion on this one.
    Of course, there are those within the ANC and Mass Democratic Movement structures who will accuse me of presenting an overly Eurocentric, individualistic perspective on leadership, especially given that the president is operating within a framework and culture of collective leadership, collective decision-making and that hideous thing called collective responsibility (in my view, if something is everybody’s responsibility then it is nobody’s responsibility, but maybe that is just me being parochial), but allow me to be bold enough to say that one does not need to possess that nebulous thing called “Marxist-Leninist tools of analysis” to agree that individual leadership does matter, even within an environment steeped in collective leadership traditions.
    Former ANC president O.R Tambo’s life and leadership bear this out, because even as he led as part of a collective, his leadership style and traits as an individual left an indelible mark on the character, nature, essence, and organisational culture within the ANC. President Tambo as a leader within a collective did indeed leave his imprint on the ANC.
    In his Twenty-One Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, leadership expert John Maxwell presents the Law of legacy, positing that leaders who practice the law of legacy are rare, but those who do (O.R Tambo was a master at this, with the brilliant generation of young leaders that he developed to take over and shape the ANC in its next phase of struggle being a pertinent example) leave a legacy of succession in their organisation.
    Another law that Maxwell puts forward, is what he calls the Law of the lid, which implies that the limitations of the leader can become a bottleneck to the growth and development of the organisation that they lead, the leader becomes a lid that prevents the organisation from growing and becoming more impactful.
    Will president Ramaphosa prove to be a leader of legacy who understands Maxwell’s law of the lid? These are but some of the crucial questions that will need to be tackled as we seek to answer the question, Whither South Africa in light of president Ramaphosa’s second term as ANC president. Over to you Mr President.
    Mugabe Ratshikuni works for the Gauteng provincial government; He is an activist with a passion for social justice and transformation. He writes here in his personal capacity.

    Whither South Africa? – OPINION | Politicsweb

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