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Challenge in SA is the disconnect between political leaders and those they serve
Dated: Thursday, September 14, 2017
“Those who score the most in the political debate often forget the poor, hungry and uneducated,” says Mathews Phosa, political and business leader who has accepted a nomination to stand as president of the ruling ANC. 

Phosa was the keynote speaker at the Leadership Summit jointly presented by the University of Stellenbosch Business School and Ukuvula Foundation at the business school on 17 August this year. The master of ceremonies was Ukuvula Foundation CEO Alfred da Costa. 

According to Phosa, the challenge in South Africa is the disconnect between political leaders and those they serve. He said the 1955 Freedom Charter promised a better life for all but “our leaders are failing dismally at this”. 

On working together

“There should be dignity in differences,” explained Phosa. Some members are threatened because they have different viewpoints. That is why we should create partnerships. He said we have lots of business initiatives but none of them in joint ventures with government. South Africa has 726 state-owned enterprises, but “all we hear is inefficiencies”. We therefore need a combination of public-private partnerships. 

On job creation

“We need to create jobs instead of protecting jobs.” He said we need to promote small, micro and medium-sized businesses and skills. “There is no short-cut to wealth. It’s through hard work. Don’t ask white people or Chinese people for money. Blacks should be given the skills.”
Vocational training should be restored and young people need to be empowered with skills and training. “We cannot stay in a museum of knowledge – we need practical skills. Encourage young people to participate in business and public life.”

On fiscal management

“In South Africa, unfortunately, the handling of money shows how fatally flawed our leaders are.” According to Phosa, South Africa’s leaders are seduced by the Guptas. “History will judge those who have remained silent. There is an Afrikaans saying: Die deler is net so goed soos die steler.”

On government and leadership

He referred to South Africa’s politics as “gangster politics”, saying we have silence in the face of the Gupta reign, which is characterised by fear, favour and prejudice. “We have a culture of immunity without consequences for wrong-doing.”

“The Constitution belongs to all of us – black and white. It we depart from this, we create conflict.”

He explained that it was Mandela’s vision that we build trust between black and white. Now South Africa must rise from angry ashes of destruction.

What should leaders do in all of this? “They should do their constitutional duty,” Phosa said. Leaders should not revert to racism of tribalism. They should reconnect with voters and keep their word. Members of parliament are not elected by voters. Instead, they are appointed. So voters lose their power after voting. 

“We must refuse to be silent. Don’t have your conscience corrupted.”

When asked how he sees South Africa’s future, he said that “we have never stooped so low as a nation before”. He concluded by saying, “We cannot define the future in terms of Jacob Zuma. Our Constitution is strong.”

Here are summaries of what the other speakers had to say:

Prof Anita Bosch

South Africa’s employment laws are outdated. So said Prof Anita Bosch, associate professor at the University of Stellenbosch Business School and editor of the annual Women’s Report of the SABPP. According to her, we need a feminine perspective on sustainability and leadership. She suggested the following in terms of leadership and women:

  • Leadership should act on kinship: We should practise kinship leadership, with kin referring to nature. Nature is as valuable as we are. 
  • Recognise interconnection: We are dependent on nature. Nature can live without us but we cannot live without nature. Life is therefore a web of support – with humans in their proper place. Our security lies in the maintenance of this web.
  • Adapt to the cyclical process in leadership thinking: The soil cycle is not linear. There is always decline and renewal. Every ending is not a bad thing.
  • Validate the emotional: We need to develop respect for each other and for nature. Reason and emotion both have value. We need to think with feeling. 
  • Take responsibility: We are accountable and answerable to non-human nature too. 
Prof Bosch said differences provide an opportunity to reflect on the why. Feminism provides us with other ways of understanding and being in the world. 

We need to adhere to the cyclical nature of life. Business is currently driven by consumption increase, which is not sustainable.
“Perhaps there is another model where the focus is not on growth but on creating a living – collaborative models. It is not about growth at all costs but about living together.”

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​​Audience listening to the speaker.

Prof Edward Kieswetter

“Where are the present-day examples of Nelson Mandela and Ahmed Kathrada?”

This question was asked by Prof Edward Kieswetter, who talked about servant leadership at the Leadership Summit. Kieswetter recently retired as Group CEO of Alexander Forbes.

He said leadership is now being conducted in the name of the poor and disenfranchised. Leaders are no longer held accountable. 
However, “we see the same excess in companies”. This excess is often driven by profit, paying lip service to customers and employees while pursuing short-term interests.

Kieswetter said the current debate in South Africa is less about the attributes of a leader but more about party politics, “which is sad”.
He believes in servant leadership, where leaders understand that there is no entitlement and that one selflessly needs to place others’ interests before one’s own. “Imagine a generation of leaders who display clarity of intent.”

According to him, leadership should be inspirational. Servant leaders accept that not everyone supports them, but they try to unite them.

“Leaders should nurture interdependency. Servant leaders think about leadership as a way of serving. We should exemplify the brand of leadership we want to see in others. We need to bequeath a legacy more valuable than what we were born with.”

Piet Mouton

“We need different leaders in different stages of business life cycle.” So said Piet Mouton, CEO of PSG Group. 

He based his leadership model on the four phases of the business life cycle, namely the start-up phase, followed by rapid growth and maturity, and then rebirth or decline.

According to Mouton, the start-up phase must be driven by visionary leaders. 

The growth and mature phases require professional managers as red tape will increase and boards become more relevant. He said corporates tend to become bureaucratic during the later stages of the business cycle. Leaders then require power to influence the thoughts and actions of people. 

During the mature cycle of business, the purpose of a leader is to create operational efficiency. 

Co-owning the business

Mouton explained why a culture of ownership and long-term thinking are essential for business success. He said professional managers should take a lower salaries and should invest in the company through shareholding. However, it is “difficult to instil the ownership principle in new CEOs and executives”.

“Employ smart, competent people and empower them through trust. They must become co-owners. If the company does well, key managers must do better.”

He agrees with John Maxwell who said leadership ability is the lid that determines a person’s level of effectiveness (law of the lid). 
Finally, Mouton said: “Believe in yourself. Diversification is a cop-out.”