As an 18 year old democracy with 11 official languages, four major race groups and 46 years of apartheid, South Africa today is a complex society in need of a very special brand of leadership.
It is a diverse society with many different histories, cultures, customs, beliefs and philosophical frames of reference. From a leadership perspective some of the complexity, frustrations, challenges and strengths can be seen in the following:
In the political and public service domain the many stories of corruption reflect very negatively on the current leadership. Abuse of power for personal gain is diametrically opposed to the principles of leadership and currently it undermines the credibility of those who are supposed to serve the people of the country. It would appear that the spirit of materialism and personal gain replaced the spirit of ubuntu (sharing and community) once the struggle for political freedom was over. Perhaps it is a case of ‘the family’ that does not need to stand together for the liberation cause as in the past. Indeed, it is now a new nation that needs to stand together for a new cause. To strengthen cohesion in the nation and make progress in transformation, the articulation of a compelling vision for all by the country’s leader(s) and show of moral character is more important than anything else. Hard work and improved competence will follow if people are convinced that the country is moving in the right direction and its leadership can be trusted. In its absence people fall back on old race-based positions and much needed positive energy is lost.
Anyone with a little bit of experience or interest in South Africa knows that inequality is an immense challenge. Job creation and entrepreneurship is crucial for the country’s prospects. The good news is the undeniable steeliness and competitiveness in so many South Africans of all races. The number of young South Africans who desperately want to move on with new paradigms of thinking, who are less politically minded and more innovative and industrious, are growing in numbers. For them leadership is not the position and the route to success not their connections, but what they see in themselves and the opportunities that excite them. They are aware of Africa as a growth market and South Africa as the gateway to Africa.
The environment for entrepreneurs and small business owners is far from ideal. Compliance costs in small businesses is far too high and the procedures required to start a business far too many and cumbersome. The initiatives to stimulate entrepreneurship and self-leadership are however increasing as do the inspirational success stories of the previously disadvantaged. The challenge to the new generation of leaders is to overcome the many obstacles, not wait on government to make life easier and make full use of own networks and sources of knowledge and guidance. To capitalise on its remarkable success of making a peaceful transition to a new dispensation, South Africans need to unlock their leadership ability from the bottom up with 21st century opportunities and visions in mind.
NB: This publication reflects the views of the author.