Defend Truth


SA needs accountable leadership and collective responsibility to move forward


Kim Polley is a reputation resilience strategist who works across sectors from agriculture, energy and financial services to FMCG, ICT and public administration. Her core regions of focus are SADC, EAC and Ecowas.

We talk with great pride about South Africa’s strong institutions, governance structures, diversified economy, natural resources and Constitution. What use are these if those in positions of leadership are not sanctioned appropriately for ineptitude or malfeasance?

After reading yet another treatise by a venerable South African business leader discussing how much potential South Africa has, and how well poised the country is to flourish, I had to stifle a sigh of frustration.

The litany of advantages listed is not news to anyone, nor are the excuses for our nation’s abject failure to achieve its potential. They always follow the same course: if only the right decisions were being made; if only our leaders capitalised on the opportunities; if only business and government worked together better… 

If only, if only, if only… 

If only we had accountable leadership and a sense of collective responsibility is where I am at. Without it, we should just tell Eskom not to bother turning the lights back on. What’s the point?  

Where is the sense of collective responsibility when the trade unions encourage Eskom employees to strike knowing our economy is already on its knees, hurtling towards failed state status? Our businesses are crippled, and many have ultimately closed their doors after two years of pandemic-related restrictions and unrelenting energy insecurity. Yet the unions choose illegal industrial action to make the situation worse? How do they think Eskom, which doesn’t have sufficient funds to maintain its existing assets or provide a reliable service, will find cash to increase wages? 

Where is the accountable leadership when the decisions that need to be made to urgently address our energy security crisis are allowed to stall due to petty inter-departmental politicking and irresponsible media narrative? The 20-year term of the Risk Mitigation Independent Power Procurement Programme is not a reason to object. Load shedding started in 2007 and we still don’t have a solution. That’s an energy crisis track record of 15 years and counting. In that context 20 years to achieve stability does not seem unrealistic, in fact, it makes good sense. And it’s not just energy insecurity we are contending with.  

Where’s the accountable leadership in our education system? Why do we pretend that the curriculum in our schools can prepare South Africa’s youth for the world? Matric is a public relations exercise, not an outcome. How can it be acceptable to send them out of a school system with expectations that cannot be met? Is it any wonder that our desperate and disaffected youth stir up unrest and resort to crime? 

Courageous and accountable leaders would focus on capacitating our children with skills that make them more employable in the real world, not infer that working with their hands is somehow “lesser” – that it is university or bust? I believe it is imperative that we rebuild the narrative of pride in artisanal capability in South Africa. We are only the worse off for the last 20 years of focus on academia over trade.  

And the proof is in the pudding! Our developed world compatriots value – and instill a sense of pride in – their trade professionals. There is status and worth in being a fully qualified “brickie”, “sparky” or even in training as an “appy”. What’s more, there’s also a living wage. Part of our collective responsibility is in ensuring that our communities, schools, families and leaders rebuild the narrative of pride in artisanal capability. Not only do we urgently need these skills; they are imperative in building the South Africa we want to see. 

The cost of continuing on our current path is unthinkable. We talk with great pride about South Africa’s strong institutions, governance structures, diversified economy, natural resources and Constitution. What use are these if those elected to govern our country, or put in positions of leadership in the private sector, are not sanctioned appropriately for ineptitude or malfeasance? What is the cost to South Africa’s reputation, economy and citizenry – and when does this become unacceptable enough to evoke change? 

If we keep looking outwards for someone else to fix our problems, nothing will get done. So, let’s stop living in the world of “If only” and start calling each other to account. Let’s also not pretend that the fix is simple, we may be 20 to 30 years away from equilibrium and we need to accept that.

Perhaps, by admitting to ourselves that there are no quick wins, we’ll start to be a little more sensible about long-term goals and pragmatic planning. When that day comes, we’ll know that at last, the light at the end of the tunnel is not an oncoming train. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Stephen T says:

    tl:dr Back in the 90’s the ANC claimed they were ready and able to govern. They lied.

  • Rg Bolleurs says:

    In essence i think you are saying that the country needs a moral compass.

    Zero sign of that. Our politicians are a class of thieves and crooks and the last thing that inspires their to do something good for the country. I exclude the DA from this assessment.

  • Confucious Says says:

    Collective? The ANC hides behind collective! We need individual responsibility! You do the crime, you do the time!

  • Hermann Funk says:

    I like most of what the writer is saying. The one thing I am missing, private organisations are just as much to blame. When will they the challenge government publicly over lack of good trades people, terrible education system, etc. They are doing too well being part of the rotten system. Just one example, without the big banks the Gupta’s would have been unable to hide the loot they were collecting.

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