Leading beyond the ballot

Monde Ndlovu in conversation with panelists Patrick Kulati and Wrenelle Stander
As South Africa enters the uncharted territory of coalition politics, the only thing that binds it now is the Constitution. So says Prof Thuli Madonsela, Director of the Centre for Social Justice and Law Trust Research Chair in Social Justice at Stellenbosch University, who was speaking at a post-election dialogue, hosted by the BMF and Henley Business School Africa on the school’s Cape Town campus on Thursday, 6 June.

"Nobody has a majority. Yes, the ANC has most of the votes, but there are so many discrepancies in terms of what parties want to prioritise. So in my view, what needs to be prioritised is the Constitution," said Prof Madonsela. "The Constitution already gives us the values that should bind us, and that include the values that underpin ubuntu."

She added that a focus on the eight principles of good governance as propounded by the United Nations, in particular equality and decision-making by consensus, will become critically important to guide leaders at this time.

The discussion, which took place while the ANC National Executive Committee met to discuss its options following the historic loss of its majority in the country’s seventh democratic election, was moderated by BMF Managing Director Monde Ndlovu and set out to explore the challenges facing SA’s leaders ‘beyond the ballot’ and how the shifting political landscape may shape the economy and business environment.

"The BMF is passionate about empowerment and transformation. So this is the opportunity for us to discuss how we want this government to carry on the transformation agenda for all," commented Ndlovu.

With greater accountability, a coalition in SA can work

Wrenelle Stander, CEO of Wesgro, who joined Prof Madonsela on the panel, agreed that the country’s strong Constitution is one of the reasons that a coalition government in the country can work. She said that along with an independent judiciary, free media, strong institutions, and a well-regulated financial sector, the Constitution and the fact that the country has entrenched rights, could tip the balance in favour of success at this perilous time, but greater accountability is required of the country’s leaders.

"The future is coalitions, and we need to figure out how that works. I'm confident that we are resilient and I think that if we hold government accountable, then it certainly can work," she said, adding that big business and civil society must step up to play their role and buttress government like the wheels of a tricycle. "We cannot sit on the sidelines and watch our country fall apart."

Patrick Kulati, CEO of Good Governance Africa and the third panellist at the event, added that this was a watershed moment for the country and a real opportunity to renegotiate the status quo. For decades, he said, the country’s leaders have not "listened to learn".

"Many people have been saying things – scholars, people in the NGO sector, communities whohave been saying a lot of things. Change direction. Stop the corruption, stop this crass individualism, this careless, I don't care attitude. Stop it." But South Africa’s leaders have not been listening, he said. In a coalition situation, this would have to change, however.

"This is a maturing democracy ... let us not be worried ... something good is coming out of this... It's an opportunity for us to learn that things must change urgently,’ he said.

Sharing the country as equals

The three panellists agreed on the challenges facing the country, but not on how to address these. Key challenges identified included unemployment, especially among the youth, and lack of economic growth. Land inequality was raised as a central issue.

But while Wrenelle Stander pointed to the ‘rising tide’ of economic growth and widening the pie to grow opportunities and create jobs by focusing on industries that can absorb young job seekers, as is the mandate of Wesgro, Prof Madonsela cautioned that jobs alone won’t fix inequality, especially if they are not sustainable. She warned that the issues are more ingrained and nuanced than that. In the same way simply giving people access to title deeds won’t solve the problem of land restitution if care is not taken to also invest in livelihoods.

"The issue is about sharing this country as equals," she said, adding wryly that the economist Thomas Piketty has undermined the tenets of capitalism, suggesting that a rising tide does not, in fact, lift all boats but can cause those who are not anchored to be thrown overboard.

"We have to decide, are we rupturing Cecil John Rhodes’ pyramid scheme to build a diamond society ... or are some of us saying, let's keep the diamonds and create jobs? ... It's just mathematically that those who have been subtracted from and those who have been added to will never be equal unless you rupture the inequality.’

Leadership must be bold and visionary, but also pragmatic

All of this calls for a kind of leader who is able to move beyond venal rhetoric and political showmanship and put the needs of the country first. Just talking about land expropriation without compensation, for example, is not going to get us anywhere, said Prof Madonsela.

"Leaders will need to be ethical, purpose-driven, impact conscious and committed to serve," she said. "They will have to decide upfront what will be the values that bind them." Prof Madonsela added that business schools could have a role here in challenging leaders to see if they are measuring up to the key values espoused by the Constitution including Section 195, which outlines the principles of public administration.

Speaking after the event, Jon Foster-Pedley, the dean and director of Henley Africa, agreed saying: "As a business school, we are dedicated to giving African leaders the skills and the capabilities to develop confidence, especially the confidence, to build our businesses and society. We’ve got all the talent we want in South Africa, and I hope that we're going to be able to continue to develop the people of South Africa and also that we will be able to build more and more of this sort of compelling thought leadership with the voices and experience of our three panellists and moderator at this event." 

As our esteemed guest Professor Thuli Madonsela said, borrowing from the words of Charles Dickens, "right now in South Africa, we are experiencing the best of times and the worst of times. The difficulty is that there is a lot of uncertainty, but the good thing is that we have an opportunity for a values reset, or rather a return to the values we already agreed to in our Constitution, and to rethink leadership and good governance as we turn our faces towards building the future."

Useful resources:
Henley Business School
At the core of Henley’s philosophy is the belief that we need to develop managers and leaders for the future. We believe the challenge facing future leaders is the need to solve dilemmas through making choices. We work with both individuals and organisations to create the appropriate learning environment to facilitate the critical thinking skills to prepare for the future.
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