Leadership without courage is hampering SA

Dr Reuel Khoza, at his inauguration as UKZN Chancellor, is a prominent business leader and author. His most recent book is The Spirit of Leadership.

Dr Reuel Khoza, at his inauguration as UKZN Chancellor, is a prominent business leader and author. His most recent book is The Spirit of Leadership.

Published Jun 16, 2024


Durban — Dr Reuel Khoza’s new book, The Spirit of Leadership, is about faith in humanity and, above all, faith in God; about being an African and a Christian, and a strong believer in the virtues of ubuntu; ancestral wisdom and modern leadership. It is about progress through ethical behaviour and good governance in business. This is a vital and timely book for a country that needs to rediscover its moral compass.

Khoza is a prominent businessman, corporate chairman and outspoken opinion leader. He is chairman of Discovery Bank and Assupol, president of the Institute of Directors South Africa, and chancellor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He is a former chair of Eskom, Nedbank and Glaxosmithkline, has served on the boards of Old Mutual, Standard Bank, Nampak, Sasol and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, and was involved in the formulation of the King Codes on Corporate Governance.

His qualifications include a BA Honours in psychology, an MA in marketing, an EngD in business leadership, a D.Econ (honoris causa) and two LLDs (honoris causa). He is also a leading avocado farmer and exporter, a cattle and fish farmer, and a choral and classical music producer.

This is an excerpt from the book.

President Zuma’s disastrous reign characterised by maladministration and corruption (2009-2018) was followed by a perfect storm under President Cyril Ramaphosa. Like many stormy days it dawned clear and promising, with an upbeat reception for the new president, who was expected to carry out a clean sweep of corruption and put the economy back on track. Neither happened. If anything, the situation worsened.

From 2011, when I called attention to the “strange breed” of leaders, the decline of the party had turned into a rush to the bottom. When Ramaphosa took the reins, I, like many others, breathed more easily – although to say it was a sigh of relief is not quite true. Knowing the factional struggles within the party, it was too much to expect that corruption would be dealt with overnight. What we felt was rising hope: “Blessed is the one you discipline, LORD, the one you teach from your law; you grant them relief from days of trouble, till a pit is dug for the wicked.”

The Ramaphosa years rolled by and it became apparent that the “New Dawn” was not producing results fast enough. In 2022 I felt called upon to speak out again, this time on the leadership of President Ramaphosa. It gave me no pleasure to remark negatively on his performance. Speaking at a webinar on leadership, I said that while Ramaphosa had fine stature, was well educated and extremely presidential, and even worldly in terms of what he has been able to achieve continentally and around the globe, he was too accommodating of those within his own party or cabinet who sought to undermine him:

Unfortunately, in my observation, he has a number of shortcomings … for one thing he is irresolute. An effective leader has to be decisive; you cannot prevaricate for any extended period of time. I agree with Winston Churchill who said you can have all the characteristics of leadership, but if you lack courage, particularly the courage of your own convictions, don’t step onto the leadership plate. In my humble observation, the current president does lack courage.

In a series of damaging incidents, Ramaphosa lost a great deal of his credibility as a corruption fighter. He vowed – but failed – to bring to book the real instigators of the July 2021 countrywide looting that he himself called an insurrection. The so-called Phala Phala scandal over dollars that were allegedly stolen from his Limpopo ranch left a sense that the president had not come clean, although he was later exonerated by the Public Protector, the Reserve Bank and SARS. Ramaphosa was cleared of any wrongdoing regarding the alleged violation of the Executive Ethics Code and whether there was a conflict of interest between his constitutional obligations and his private interests at his farm. However, political analysts and opposition leaders questioned whether the report had been thorough enough and said they would take it on review. Like Nixon in the White House during Watergate, Ramaphosa was accused of a cover-up. It would be comical if it were not so tragic. This political distraction played out against the background of a country in real trouble. Our people were suffering daily. Poverty, starvation, crime, violence against women and children, inflation and extraordinary levels of power blackouts reduced many homes to the trenches in a war of all against all.

Covid-19 lockdowns and the outbreak of war in Ukraine caused serious economic damage and further suffering. Ramaphosa’s leadership was dilatory, inattentive to major issues like the failing Eskom power grid. According to the August 2022 South Africa Economic Snapshot by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, South Africa’s growth underperformed during the past decade: GDP per capita was already lower in 2019 than in 2008. Unemployment remains high, at around 35%, and youth unemployment even exceeds 50%. In the meantime, spending pressures are mounting to close the financing gap in health, infrastructure and higher education. To finance those needs while putting public finances on a more sustainable path, which is key to restore confidence, spending efficiency should improve and be accompanied with increased government tax revenues.

As I’ve mentioned, South Africa is becoming a submerging economy rather than an emerging one. This is the tragic outcome of leadership devoid of a soul, hollowed out of the quotients of intelligence, empathy, social awareness and faith. Leadership without a soul has no compunction and does not consider itself accountable.

The tale I tell is not mine alone; it has become a familiar narrative among those who have watched with alarm as the country has skidded downhill. In church circles, in business, among media commentators, in contacts with foreign investors and government people, and in the political opposition at home, it is said that the once noble and visionary ANC has fallen prey to greed and immorality. All the evils of incumbency plague it. Impunity is given to wrongdoers while they practise cronyism, corruption, tender-rigging and vote-buying.

Under low-intensity democracy, an elected regime can pursue damaging economic and social policies in sharp contrast to what it claims to be doing – and still retain some popularity. It is a crippling paradox.

Low-intensity democracy tends to be characteristic of conservative regimes. Their ruling groups promote the interests of entrenched elites and seldom devote energy to solving the socio-economic problems of those struggling to survive below them. This is clearly what has been happening in South Africa. It is remarkable that South Africa’s left-leaning ANC government deserves to be seen as running a low-intensity democracy. Over the years since the first, massively well-attended democratic election in 1994, voter turnout has declined and political apathy has taken root. Lack of official responsiveness to poor living conditions causes many people to boycott elections instead of using the vote to bring about change: a clear sign of disaffection from the system that was meant to guarantee their rights.

Yet in communities across the country, street protests against failures of service delivery have risen to a crescendo, more or less bypassing electoral channels. Time and again, local and provincial councils dominated by the ANC have proven themselves to be unresponsive to community demands. This is a condition of unfreedom. The Constitution actually treats housing, health and education as socio-economic rights – but these have been more honoured in the breach than in the observance. As this is written, a national outcry against load shedding is reaching a peak. Households have no power and often no water; business, industry, mining, agriculture, hospitals and municipal services have to contend with up to nine hours a day without electricity. Every year since 2007 when load shedding began, the government has promised to end it, but by 2024 it had increased exponentially. Even as President Ramaphosa promised again to end load shedding in his 2024 State of the Nation Address, a swift loss of generating capacity pushed the country back into Stage 6 darkness.

With its electoral dominance, the ANC has exploited democracy as its justification for governing as it does. Meanwhile it maintains an ideological stance at variance with its real behaviour. Many of the movement’s pronouncements are socialist in nature, but the actions of its leaders and followers are materialistic and self-serving.

Independent on Saturday