Opinionista Johann Redelinghuys 14 April 2013

She was a lady with a vision

Margaret Thatcher always knew exactly where she was going. She had the great gift of leadership driven by a singular vision. Whether you liked what she stood for or not, she forged ahead, always staying close to her goal and, with her silky British voice, manoeuvred any obstacle out of her way, right up to the end.

Leaders on the world stage today often seem confused and lacking in purpose compared to her. The increasingly sad downside of democracy is that leaders have to be elected and have to rely on votes to get into office. Eventually, they promise the world. Then, when they have the reigns in their hands, they tend to turn limp and opt for some nebulous centrist course of action that will not offend or alienate the voters on whom they rely for re-election. Not Margaret Thatcher. She stayed true to her vision with relentless determination.

She knew that the power of the unions would have to be broken if the failing British economy was to be unshackled, and she understood that the large state-owned enterprises had to be privatised. Her resolute toughness saw her through the toe-to-toe conflict with Arthur Scargill of the National Union of Mineworkers, the Falklands war, the Irish liberation prisoners who were starving themselves to make their point, and all the other potentially unpopular issues she had to deal with. “The lady”, as she so succinctly put it, was “not for turning”.

Like politicians everywhere, Margaret Thatcher also had to win votes to get on to the first rung of the ladder to political leadership. But once she was safely installed she became a fearless leader admired by many for her integrity of purpose. Taking people along to a dream, as the second most important attribute of a leader was, in the end, that at which she failed, losing her party’s support and being removed

Not everyone will be mourning her passing.On the Left and in the working-class areas where she closed coal mines and privatised the big public corporations that provided jobs for many, there will be celebrations because as one lady protester put it, “the witch is dead!” Forget about the divisiveness she caused and look at the prosperity that was created. Like those in South Africa who are still blaming Apartheid for the failures of government, there are people still on welfare in the UK who continue to blame Margaret Thatcher for their plight. Others will remember a time when Britain had strong leadership and a leader who knew what she believed in.

Nowadays becoming accommodating is the “leitmotif” of the insecure and crowd-pleasing cohort in the current political leadership. Popularity gets votes and votes beget election to power.

Wouldn’t it be a great day in South Africa if there was a politician courageous enough to take on Mr Vavi and his mates in Cosatu with their stranglehold on our economy? And would it not be something to celebrate if the state-owned enterprises of SAA, SABC, Transnet and the others were privatised instead of costing the taxpayer ever increasing amounts of money? With an ANC government that is mostly unfriendly to business we now have many of the same problems faced by Britain in the Thatcher years. Is there an Iron Lady, or someone with her spunk who could come to our rescue somewhere here?

Taking stock of how leaders make it to the top these days, Steven Friedman in a recent piece in Business Day was quoted as saying, “Political parties should not run themselves like businesses.” He went on to warn that the ANC and the DA should not appoint people to senior posts by “imitating personnel agencies”requiring CVs for consideration. This process, he said, is meant to find the best person for the job by identifying whether they have the qualifications it requires. “But in politics,” he said, further “qualifications are meaningless”, it is the vote that has to be relied on to identify future leaders

I beg to differ. Far from being meaningless, the CV not only lists the candidate’s academic and professional qualifications, it also describes and gives an account of their track record. It shows what they have done and where they have been successful. In these days of extensive CV fraud it is relatively easy to list inflated or totally fake qualifications. It is harder to be deceptive about a known, or at least a checkable track-record.

If the Department of Public Enterprises, for example, paid more attention to candidates’ track records, there would, I submit, be fewer embarrassing CEO failures. Not  wishing to sabotage the new man on the block at SAA, but was it not incriminating to read that Mr Monwabisi Kalawe was chosen for his fire-eating job because, according to “well-placed sources”, he performed well against other candidates at his interview “impressing the board sufficiently to warrant his selection”?  There was not much said about a track record there and nothing about the candidate’s vision for the troubled airline. Would a smooth interview performance see him through the rugged tests of his business skills that lie ahead?

The truth is that while Mr Kalawe’s appointment still has to be presented by Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba, for ratification by the Cabinet, the matter has caused some concern as he has a complete lack of experience in aviation. So how could he know where he has to take the business and what is to be achieved if he does not even have the building blocks of a suitable track record as a platform for his thinking?

As politicians and leaders everywhere eventually find out, no amount of smooth talking can make up for a lack of vision. DM

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