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29 July 2014 16:35 (South Africa)
Opinionista Johann Redelinghuys

The Perils of “Young Blood”

  • Johann Redelinghuys
Often great socio-political change is initiated by the energy and commitment of a country’s youth. They have less baggage and they see the solutions so clearly. But what they make up for in drive and vision, they often lack in judgement and understanding. By JOHANN REDELINGHUYS

This week, in a piece nicely timed for “youth month”, Joel Netshitenzhe said the ANC “should identify a pool of young leaders who can take over from the current generation”. He was referring, at length, to the “dangers of incumbency” and said the “two terms” trend  - where the president is re-elected for a second five-year term and is then followed by his deputy, also for two terms - created problems for the country.

The article, written by Sam Mkokeli, for Business Day says Netshitenzhe believes this deprives the country of a more youthful leadership. He clearly believes that young leaders would be a better choice.

Forget for a moment that Netshitenzhe was more or less banished from the ANC, whose youth league said he needed to “cleanse himself” before he could take his career further. Also remember that in 2009 he was hooted out by a vociferous Young Communist League, who said they “welcome his resignation” for his part in failed neoliberal policies such as the Growth Employment and Redistribution strategy. So, no love lost for him from the country’s youth.

Being, one presumes, more comfortably located in the Thabo Mbeki camp, it is not clear whether he is advocating “young blood” in an attempt to get rid of Zuma, or whether he is genuinely in favour of a more vigorous generation. If it is the latter, one would urge him to be careful.

It was, after all, calls by the ANC Youth League and its then-president, Julius Malema, who consistently called for the nationalisation of mines, scaring off potential mining investments and robbing the country of much international goodwill. He drove away many willing investors, who now, in the developing resources boom, favour other countries in Africa to make their investments. The mining sector is left scrambling with the task of trying to recover the lost opportunities.
Malema has been removed by the old guard of the ANC, but what of the values and the sentiments he expressed? Are they not still the mantras of the young ANC?

Not satisfied with the mining disaster, another theme propounded by the youth and their erstwhile mouthpiece, that of land distribution through uncompensated seizure of white-owned farms, is now being hotly pursued once again. Ronald Lamola, deputy president of the ANCYL, another prince of clear thinking and blinding logic, warned last week that if white farmers do not willingly hand over farms to poor black people there would be violent land grabs like those experienced in Zimbabwe.

One would have hoped that he had taken account of what had happened to the “bread-basket of Africa” since the whites were chased off the farms and the un-trained and un-skilled local population were left to do the farming there.
At the same time, we hear of black farmers in South Africa who are unable to make a living because the government owns the land and the banks will not give loans because the land cannot be used as collateral. In March 2010 the BBC reported that “more than 90% of the South African farms now in black hands are failing to be productive”.

Meanwhile, white farmers who have been put off their land by the government are now in great demand in other African countries because there is recognition for their expertise and agricultural skill. In the biggest deal to date, Congo-Brazzaville has offered South African farmers long leases on up to 10 million hectares of land to farm abandoned state farms. In Mozambique, about 800 South African farmers have acquired a million hectares in the southern province of Gaza. Daft, isn’t it?

Why not use a strategy often employed when the founder of a company is bought out? The acquiring business becomes the new owner, but it creates an employment contract with the founder to stay on and keep the business running and profitable.

In this case the government can buy back the farm, and conclude a similar employment contract with the farmer who knows the ground, understands the challenges and has a track record, so that its productivity can continue. If the ANC and the government believe that the ground belongs to “the people” and wants it returned, farmers who have been working the land and have invested capital should at least be compensated for the improvements on the land and not be subject to “uncompensated seizures” as the youth have demanded. There can also be an agreement to ensure that skills are transferred and farmers rewarded for training the people who may eventually take over the farm.

If the psychological issue of “possession” is so important, it needn’t even be the government that buys the farm in the first place. It can be any black empowerment company, funded by the Land Bank or the government. The black people of South Africa as a whole will become the owners, and not a bunch of firebrand individuals who have no idea what to do with the land. At least we will keep the farming skills in the country and put them to good use.

Instead what is happening now is that the farmers are being murdered to satisfy the lusts of the rampaging mobs, and all they do in the end is plunder the place for firewood or re-sell it back to the original owners to get their hands on the cash.There is not much evidence that they can make the farms productive.

So far, since 1994, there have been 3,300 farmers murdered. The president, this year, feeding the rallying cry of the ANCYL, at the Centenary Celebration of the ANC in Bloemfontein led the singing of “Let’s shoot them..shoot the boer.” I watched the video, speechless. When I asked a loyal ANC member and friend of mine what to make of it, he said “It’s a traditional song, and it doesn’t mean what it says.” I say forget what it means, hear what it says!

Mkokeli calls Netshitenzhe “one of the foremost thinkers in the ANC”. But please, if it is the “young blood” of this country as represented by the ANCYL and the YCLSA who you want for leadership, Mr Netshitenzhe, think again! DM

  • Johann Redelinghuys
JohanRedelinghuysBW

Johann Redelinghuys is a partner at Heidrick & Struggles the international leadership consulting business, which bought the firm Redelinghuys & Partners of which he was the founder. He has been deeply involved in career management and executive search all his life. He is the chairman of the South African company and now heads up its board practice working with chairmen and CEOs focussed on CEO succession, strategic leadership review and board evaluation.

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