One of the things I enjoy doing is to interact with people in corporates throughout the country on a regular basis. These are people from all demographics: young and old, white and black, men and women, etc. The thing I enjoy most is listening to the bright minds that exist in our country, their commitment to making a difference in society and their proposals to do this.
It is clear to me that South Africa has some great minds and some more than average leaders at a corporate level.
But I have also interacted with many people at different levels of government who have impressed me with their views and their commitment to making our country a better place for all who live in it.
Why, I often find myself thinking when I interact with these great minds, is there a perception that our country is leaderless, idealess, clueless? The answer, I suppose, is really simple. The example set by government and those in political leadership in our country is not the best in the world and, unfortunately, many people only look at our political leadership and base their judgments on our country on what they see in this regard.
There is not a day that goes by when I do not cringe as newspaper headlines expose more wrong-doing, more thoughtless statements and more bad decision-making by the people who we have elected as our national leaders.
While affording politicians the necessary respect, I have given up a long time ago on depending on them to affect proper change in our society.
I have realised that change can only really come from the ground up. The results of the recent municipal elections, in which the ruling ANC lost a lot of ground, is part of the response from ordinary people that they have had enough.
They have had enough of living in a society where we are no longer shocked by corruption claims against senior politicians and in which those with power and money, which they access because of their power, flaunt their newfound wealth in complete disregard to those who are struggling to make a daily living in an increasingly more depressed economic environment.
The discussion should no longer be about whether the ANC will ever be able to regain the greatness it once had or whether the DA will be able to capitalise properly on the ANC’s weaknesses and become a truly representative majority party.
The bigger question is how we keep on track the project to transform our country.
The problem is that the more the ANC messes up, the more excuses it creates for people who don’t want our society to transform properly. They hide behind excuses such as “black people can’t govern” or “black people can’t lead” and they base this on the wrong-doings of ANC leaders.
One of the things about transformation is that when black people succeed, they succeed as individuals. When they fail, they fail on behalf of an entire section of our population. And for the post-1994 generation, when I use the word “black”, I use it in the way it is written in our Constitution and include Africans, coloureds and Indians.
There are different ways of responding to the troubles in the ANC. The one is to just cry and hope for the best. The other is to realise that our country is bigger than any individual or political party. There are more people in South Africa, and the world for that matter, who want us to succeed than those who want us to fail.
While we should allow the ANC to continue with their internal soul-searching, which I doubt will deliver anything new or amazing, it is important that people in civil society who have the best interest of our country at heart, to show their displeasure at every opportunity when they spot wrong-doing among our political leaders.
What we saw in Johannesburg this week, when ANC members protested against their own organisation, is a sign that our democracy is busy maturing. The ANC is no longer the underground organisation in exile which needs to keep a tight rein on all its members. It needs to modernise its practices to take into consideration that it is now a ruling party who is accountable not only to its members but also to the people who vote for it.
The ANC needs to start learning some lessons from the organisations and leaders that were aligned to the United Democratic Front, where democracy from the bottom up was a key ingredient of its success.
It is important to note that, while the ANC has an illustrious history and legacy, it no longer has the sole prerogative over the transformation of our society. There are people in the ANC who are only interested in promoting their own well-being and who do not really care about whether our society is transformed or not.
At the same time there are people outside of the ANC, whether in opposition parties or in civil society, who have repeatedly demonstrated their commitment to the transformation project.
The transformation of our society does not depend on individual leaders but on a commitment to the Constitution and the values espoused in it. When we judge our political leaders, we should do it against their commitment to the Constitution which is one document that all political parties agreed upon but which contains many of the values which guided the ANC through the dark days of apartheid.
We need to unleash the collective power and wisdom that is found throughout South Africa in order to take our country forward – and we need to do that irrespective of political allegiance.
(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 10 September 2016)