You will be assimilated
1 November 2014 15:42 (South Africa)
Opinionista Johann Redelinghuys

'Shooting from the hip' is now the norm - and deeply damaging

  • Johann Redelinghuys
The ANC has become notorious for making ill-considered, poorly-formulated decisions which don’t have the support of all stakeholders. The saga of the “e-tolling-by-stealth” legislation is only the latest example of a plan which, without the consensus of the key players, continues to backfire.

What has happened to the great African tradition of the Kgotla where, in a public meeting, all community decisions are arrived at by consensus and where everyone is allowed to speak, and have their say?  Consultation and debating the consequences of a decision were integral parts of governance and the chiefs and headmen took these processes very seriously.

Now, apparently having given up on this great democratic tradition, we only have countless examples of senior politicians and government functionaries who express opinions or make far-reaching decisions without having given any meaningful thought to the consequences. Shooting from the hip is the new norm. President Zuma himself does this all the time. His emphatic statement that he has a bond, which now seems doubtful, is evidence of this impulsive need to say whatever comes to mind. All he wants is to get the media off his back, and never mind that it is by some or other rash statement.  

More seriously, what about the backtracking on the vote of no confidence? First Chief Whip Mathole Motshekga describes the proposal by eight parties backing the motion as “frivolous” and then, when faced with some pressure, turns around and concedes that he has no misgivings about the vote and that it is “serious in nature”.

Or take the Access to Information Act, the notorious “Secrecy Bill”. It followed the same pattern of first a reckless proposal without proper consultation, and then the backing down when the consequences become clear. We are left to wonder who applies their mind to these things before they become a national joke. When confronted by legitimate protest and considered rejection of whatever government proposal, we only observe embarrassed politicians running in all directions, often colliding with each other to avoid the inevitable egg-on-the-face outcome.

Minister Paul Mashitile at the Daily Maverick Gathering said that Mangaung would be a forum for “policy renewal”, and with “unity” being of overriding importance to the ANC, there needs to be “renewal of leadership”. But the question we have to ask is: where is the vision? How can a political party, no matter how strong, make any kind of impact if its leadership does not have a clearly articulated vision? If it does not know where it is going or how to lead its people in a defined direction?

Experts in leadership psychology tell us that the first job of a real leader is to create a vision. It should be a well-formulated strategic vision which should enable people at all levels to understand it and to have the desire to follow it. Do we have anything like that right now? What we have instead is a series of fragmented policies which Paul Mashilitile admits need “renewal” but which do not evolve out of a commonly held vision.

The ANC has become dazzled recently by the success of Comrade Lula da Silva of Brazil. His inspiring vision, when he was elected in 2003, has lifted up the poor of his country and given them education, employment and subsidised health. Lula is now a model of what can be achieved in an emerging economy, which like South Africa, has also had racial discrimination, unemployment, and poverty. So now the comrades look to Brazil and want the same for South Africa. They forget that Lula’s vision was right and appropriate for Brazil and had not been imitated or cut-and-pasted from somewhere else. I fear that the ANC will once again head into some cockeyed plan that has not passed the test of being debated and examined by all stakeholders to see if it would also work in South Africa.

Onetime stalwart of the struggle, Jay Naidoo, now focused on a much bigger international vision of saving the poor, was also at the Daily Maverick Gathering. He says that we must give up our yearning for a “messiah” to lead us. We should all be responsible for leadership. He says we should behave as citizens and not as subjects. It means that we should all take responsibility for governance ourselves. That all sounds very well, but isn’t it just another Utopian dream? How could we do this if we don’t have some unifying vision and the same values that would make us pull together? 

If Mangaung is going to be the focus of “Leadership Renewal” as Mashitile says, a first step might be to start honouring the tradition of proper consultation. Let’s put an end to the impulsive, random model of thought and decision-making now causing so much dissention. And if there should still be any doubt who to vote for as the next leader of the party, let us encourage the ANC to go for the candidate who is able to articulate, and offer the country, a real and inspiring vision. 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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