SPEECH BY DR REUEL KHOZA
On the occasion of receiving the 2016 Luminary Award from the Free Market Foundation
Firstly, I wish to extend my sincerest gratitude to the Free Market Foundation for their continued and far-reaching engagement with a wide number of stakeholders, and especially for championing the cause of basic freedoms. In particular, the FMF has made us all aware of the essential connection between economic freedom and peaceful co-operation under the rule of law, for the sake of prosperity.
I recall a specific time when the FMF engaged with the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce (NAFCOC) in SOUTACOC working with the said chamber to learn lessons from such political economies as Hong Kong at the time. NAFCOC and the FMF initiated the Law Review Project, which was responsible during the 1980s and 1990s for identifying many anti-business and discriminatory laws and drafting amendments to relax or scrap them. This allowed people to start businesses without asking anyone’s specific permission, which in turn created many jobs.
The FMF has played an important part in the transformation of economic policies in South Africa during the three decades of its existence. I am deeply honoured to receive this Luminary Award from the FMF.
The freedom to conduct business without undue restrictions is an aspect of this. Let us not be persuaded that “economic freedom” means that the State should be used to force “freedom” on us through increased regulation that effectively hobbles employment.
Real freedom promotes creativity and innovation, and if there is one thing South Africa needs more than anything today it is innovation in the economy, in politics and in society at large. We must change to become globally competitive and play our in the world as a respected partner in progress. Sadly, all signs point the other way.
For one thing, we are seeing an alarming upsurge in racism as frustration and anger take hold, in place of the spirit of forgiveness and inclusiveness that Nelson Mandela embodied. For another thing, we have seen the emergence of a strange breed of leaders, determined to subjugate the rule of law and override our noble constitution. This is not the tolerant and accountable democracy for which generations suffered and fought.
Freedom and peace go hand-in-hand but if we look at our nation today we see our hard-won freedoms diminishing while violence and lawlessness are on the increase. We are directionless and have entered a moral wilderness. I am going to argue that this is due in large part of a failure of leadership.
Service delivery protests have accelerated in South Africa in recent years and they are becoming more violent. According to the monitoring research group Municipal IQ, 86% of protests now involve violence in some form.
Rage produces more rage. Teargas and rubber bullets will not resolve the situation.
Anger on anybody’s part will not restore reason. We should take our cue from Mahatma Gandhi, who said “You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist”. All great leaders of our times have cautioned against violence as the answer to violence. Martin Luther King said “Peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal”.
Today we need a leadership that is visionary and as passionate as it is compassionate. The leadership I refer to should set us all firmly on the road to regeneration through exemplary character, setting high targets for themselves and everyone who takes up the challenge. This is at your service leadership. In this regard Mahatma Gandhi’s evergreen admonition commands attention till this day and it behoves us to heed it:
“The things that will destroy us are: Politics without principles; pleasure without conscience; wealth without work; knowledge without character; business without morality; science without humanity; and worship without sacrifice.”
Against this sagacious admonition, as we look at life in contemporary South Africa, what do we see? Anyone who has eyes to see and cares to observe cannot but notice:
Leadership without moral principle lurching from scandal to scandal, apparently with impunity. A welfare department, insensitive and dismissive, telling the destitute and wretched to be contented with living on less than R750.00 per month a la Marie Antoinette.
A teachers union hell-bent on corrupting meritocracy by peddling senior posts to the ill-qualified and undeserving, and by so doing crippling South Africa’s future. The attendant government department seems petrified, unable to take decisive corrective action; and much of the the nation stands by with placid indifference.
Latter-day mining magnates who are close to power, exploiting miners to an inhuman degree. I can go on: The law hobbled by politics, taking its staggering course; an intelligentsia replete with degrees and diplomas, steeped in knowledge but devoid of courage and character; content to be bystanders through a corrosive, raging moral collapse.
In recent times sections of our corporate leadership have mounted commendable efforts aimed at resolving some of the vexing challenges facing us. However sections of our business leadership, arguably angling for political largess, continue to march to an unwholesome political drumbeat, thus slowing down socio-economic progress.
And a business leadership, presumably angling for political largesse, marching to an unwholesome drumbeat.
An ethic of service is missing. Such an ethic is exemplified by the late, great Nelson Mandela, and it lies at the heart of what I call Attuned Leadership. The term denotes the quality of leaders who are attuned to the hopes, expectations, fears and demands of their followers. They resonate with the followers. Leaders who do not embody this ethic are not attuned to their followers – and the gap shows self-serving behaviour that effectively denies the bond between leader and follower.
The resonant leader makes a conscious choice to improve the lives of others through building better organisations and ultimately creating a more just and caring world.
The servant leader practices introspection and self-renewal.
The servant leader demonstrates competence, tenacity and a sense of efficacy on behalf of the followers.
Such a leader does not shy away from difficult or unpopular decisions or measures.
This is leadership that lives by the tenets of consultation, persuasion, accommodation and cooperation, and shuns coercion and domination. It generates trust, goodwill and confidence and is politically and personally as gracious, honourable and magnanimous in defeat as in success. It is a leadership that understands that the success of others does not diminish its own success but adds to the good of the commonwealth.
It stands to reason that the twenty first century servant leader is one who is sufficiently well informed about the complexities of a globalising political economy to be capable of managing the job. This requires continual learning; a leader takes on institutional clothing and should wear it with devotion and unwavering adherence to the oath of office.
To be an attuned leader is to be competent with the exercise of authority, particularly moral authority.
We only have to look at the frightening example of Donald Trump in the US elections to see how a lack of government experience leads to reckless policy statements on domestic and international issues. We witness the same emotive, thoughtless pursuit of popular appeal on our own soil, raising fears that those who may be elected to public positions may have no idea what they are doing or where they are taking us.
The practical side of leadership is all of a piece with its moral nature. You cannot have one without the other.
Effective, moral leadership encourages us to grow and seek what Aristotle termed “the good life” – the life that improves us and contributes to the betterment of all.
Tragically, what we see developing from the top to the bottom in our greedy and self-serving society, from politics to business and even the family, is the bad life. People cannot flourish, become creative and innovative, or grow to their full potential when their daily lives are threatened by crime, corruption, hunger, ill-health, homelessness, the abuse of women and children, and the loss of human dignity.
Let us be clear: the greatest threat to freedom in South Africa today is poverty, allied to joblessness and lack of service delivery. The key to prosperity is economic wisdom, and for that we need sensible, steady, goal-directed leadership. Our leadership is failing because its actions at the level of our most important institutions are seriously undermining the trust of stakeholders in our political economy.
The reckless firing of a competent and trustworthy Minister of Finance was met with justified outrage but, with our leadership’s uncanny ability to repeatedly shoot itself in the foot, this continues to reverberate negatively in investment circles. Unemployment has taken a startling leap in the first quarter of 2016, according to figures released by Statistics SA. Meanwhile a significant number of municipalities are failing to meet their fiduciary and oversight responsibilities, according to the Auditor-General.
Rulings of the Constitutional Court and many other courts are treated either with contempt or gay abandon. The National Prosecuting Authority is selectively prosecuting individuals for clearly political reasons while protecting others from the strong hand of the law. Certain of our State-owned Public Enterprises are falling into disarray with unsuitable individuals in charge. And the national broadcaster is suppressing news of the unrest sweeping the country, with blackouts reminiscent of the Apartheid era.
How can all of this be permitted to go on?
When the character and virtues of leaders are obviously insufficient to the task it is the responsibility of followers to take action, assert discipline and if necessary remove the leaders. I call this moral courage; but unfortunately we are descending into a state of moral turpitude.
The silence may indeed be noisy but it is immoral nonetheless. While the Economic Freedom Fighters turn Parliament into a circus, and the streets are filled with angry crowds, our leaders are drowning in a quagmire of decadence.
From the elite who run the country down to the very lowest levels of society, there are those who are choosing to abandon morality in the pursuit of power, populism, and wealth; thus setting the stage for endemic bribery, malfeasance and crime. Over time, many more will come to accept that the only crime is to be caught doing wrong.
If we are hoping for someone with messianic stature, it is not going to happen. Common citizens must engage and ensure carpetbaggers don’t mess up our hard earned freedom and democracy. We must make sure the institutions that underpin our democracy are upheld, defended and promoted to ensure the sustainability of our democracy.
Accountable leadership is an unattainable ideal without accountable citizenship. Leaders should not make servants of us; they should be our servants.
According to Winston Churchill, courage is “the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all the others.” Courage is the sine qua non for every other virtue. Without courage, essential knowledge and wisdom cannot be used by the ignorant and ill-informed to realise that they are on the wrong path and need to change course.
During the Treason Trial, in his statement from the dock, sheer courage enabled Nelson Mandela to proclaim: “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society…an ideal, which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Steve Biko was just as emphatic on the importance of courage as he declared: “You are either alive and proud, or you are dead.”
Moral courage is not based on bravado, the pomp and pageantry of political office, but on dedication to a course, knowledge, expertise, a sound value system and a compelling vision. Leadership, to be effective and noble, ought to commit itself to listening: listening to its own heart and head, and listening to the appeals of the followership.
Africa’s philosophy of Ubuntu is translates directly into principles of good governance. In my view, good governance is first and foremost a human rights issue. It cannot be otherwise. Only a moral leadership, committed to the good of stakeholders, will wholeheartedly commit itself to upholding the basic rights spelt out in our Constitution.
Good governance is attuned leadership in action.
When there is a national crisis and duty calls, citizens of goodwill, both corporate and individual, must give a resounding response. There can be no gainsaying that the integrity, health, socio-economic soundness of and prosperity of South Africa is the collective responsibility of all of us.
But let me emphasise, moral courage is not founded on the will to overcome evil by any means possible. Gandhi believed in the courage of non-violence: to him all people were sisters and brothers, so how could they turn to hating and destroying each other? He said:
“We may never be strong enough to be entirely non-violent in thought, word and deed. But we must keep non-violence as our goal and make strong progress towards it.”
Naturally there are occasions – such as in the justly fought war – that violence is inevitable. But we are not there yet and let us pray that South Africans, who have demonstrated their good sense before by reaching the political settlement of 1994, will do so again without a civil war.
The stakes are very high; let us not fool ourselves.
As a nation, we have come through so much in our young democracy. What we do now must brand us as soldiers of conscience rather than cowards and quitters; there is courage in defiance. There is courage in taking the steps needed to truly transform our productive lives.
Overcoming poverty is the highest challenge facing us today. The youth of the country are marginalised and the unemployed are desperate; there will be a revolution unless we pull together. We must pay living wages, serve our stakeholders honestly, and rise to the many challenges of corporate citizenship.
In order for political and business leadership to be more effective, to achieve more, we need connectedness, compassion, integrity, humility, reasonableness and the determination to be effective predicated on knowledge – what I call a sense of efficacy. The attuned leader is an effective leader.
Such leaders can step boldly into an uncertain future with the certainty that the followers will lend their support.
Leaders cannot stand alone but must stand with their followers, interpret them, strive to fulfil their hopes, and be their champion in the struggles of life. A lesson which many need to learn before it is too late, is that leadership is achieved, not given. A leader’s moral authority is given by the community around them, be it a business, neighbourhood, or country.
Where this is not happening – as in South Africa today – we need to seek for sanctions against reckless and self-serving leaders. Where are these sanctions to be found?
To rephrase the question: how are responsible citizens to exercise their power over leaders who have gone astray?
Firstly, in civil society: there are those we call stakeholders, the individuals, foundations and groups in communities who expect and demand service from the leadership and are not getting it. They are raising their voices in service delivery protests in the streets but they need to make their demands palpable through the democratic process – the power of the vote. We have suffered the cruelty of apartheid and, through struggle, won the vote. It must be used.
Secondly, through the courts and the legal process, through the Public Protector and other independent institutions of the State we must keep up the pressure to hold leadership accountable. We know that some of these institutions are being perverted for narrow political ends but we must continue to insist that the principles of autonomy, embedded in our Constitution, be upheld and wrongdoers brought to book.
Thirdly, in political structures such as formal parties, Parliament, provincial and local government, and at leadership level in the civil service, those who are aware of mismanagement and corruption must speak to be heard. Silence gives consent; it is not good enough to express one’s disapproval through what has been called “moral silence”- that is, keeping still as a form of judgement.
Fourth, in business, the media, labour unions and other private sector bodies that have a voice in public affairs, there has to be both meaningful engagement with government and critical distance allowing for strong and substantive policy differences. Corporates in particular have a responsibility to show integrity and a sense of citizenship, thereby setting a standard for good governance.
Fifth, to those in our universities and research institutes, including the students who waged the #Feesmustfall campaign, in bidding for transformation of the education system let us not forget we are both contributors to, and competitors in, a global community where brainpower creates prosperity. We must not self-destruct our knowledge assets.
And lastly, it is appropriate to add that conservatives and African traditionalists should be calling the country’s leaders to account. After all, the ancient philosophy of Ubuntu was born in African communities and I for one owe great lessons of wisdom to this spiritual source. Our people’s elders are duty-bound to insist upon the moral rejuvenation of those in power.
In these six ways, I believe, errant leaders can be brought to heel. It is going to take a collective, and co-operative, social effort to achieve this. The alternative is degeneration into a failing state under failing leaders.
The principle of mutual trust and dependence has been lost sight of in the many leadership crises which have affected this country in the past few years.
Leaders and followers are interdependent. This is where I believe the philosophy of African humanism, or Ubuntu, can come to the rescue. Ubuntu shows appreciation for the inner creative life of all team members, conferring freedom to think, to try out, and to make connections. Ubuntu is highly appropriate to modern society because it promotes decentralisation of power and in business, spreads decision-making authority.
We are all members of the human race and share our humanity, but it is our human-ness that binds us ethically to each other.
May I conclude by paraphrasing Mahatma Gandhi:
The things that will build us as a nation are: Politics with principle; pleasure with conscience; wealth from smart hard work; applied knowledge with wholesome character; responsive business with morality; science and technology with humanity; worship with sacrifice.
The Attuned Leader sets out to serve followers, pioneering the direction they need to take, transforming confusion into clarity, despair into hope, and, most of all, their dreams into realities. May our leadership be attuned to and seek to resonate with its stakeholders.
I thank you.