Vision and leadership in ordinary people

JP Landman

South Africa’s politics are getting noisier, the Zuma case is pushing the stakes ever higher, important institutions are under pressure, and the economic shoe is becoming a tight fit.

In the words of a good friend of mine: “We need a break.”

Under these circumstances it is no wonder that the country is pining for “leadership” and “vision”.

But what if the country gets neither a break, nor a leader with vision?

The fact is, we will continue to get up in the morning, go to work, earn money, pay taxes, visit our friends, enjoy our loved ones and all the rest.

Our personal life will go on.

The economy will, likewise, continue on its way.  Investment, especially by government, is increasing drastically.  It is unlikely that the next government will change budgetary tack.

In the last 13 years, almost 4-million work opportunities were created.  This progress is not about to vanish into thin air, either.  And, our 3% economic growth, though not matching the 5% of previous years, will continue to increase the economic cake because it is still more than the population growth.

This active economy and the additional 4-million workers means there is tax money available: about R650-billion (US$80-billion) this year and R720-billion ($90-billion) next year.  This will continue to finance a wide range of activities, with or without “vision” and “leadership”.

We hardly notice a lot of these activities anymore.  In 1994 only 62% of our population had access to drinking water – today this has increased to 87%; 50% had sanitation – today 77% has proper sanitation; and only 51% had electricity – now 72% has electricity.

This process continues.

By 2014 the entire population may have access to the three basic services – a prerequisite for modernity.  In 20 years we would have erased three of the major backlogs.

If one looks beyond the%ages, millions of people have benefited exponentially from these improved conditions.  But this does not mean people are more satisfied.  Instead, satisfaction levels with service delivery have dropped from 80% in 2004 to 60% this year.

We could learn from China where civil action has increased from 10 000 to 80 000 per year despite the country experiencing phenomenal growth and development.

Improvement and satisfaction does not necessarily go hand in hand.  It is logical that as long as everyone is in the same boat, people tend to accept their lot.  But when your neighbour gets water and electricity and you don’t, unhappiness creeps in.

That is why we hear more from those who have not received anything yet, while those on the receiving end are quiet.  It’s the way it works.

It does not imply that nothing is happening.

We are moving ahead, even if we lack “leaders” and “vision”.

It would have been better with leadership and vision, but all is not lost.  On the contrary, this state of affairs may be working in our favour at the moment.

First, there are those leaders whose vision may not be good for the country.  Think of socialism and ethnic mobilisation (also among whites).

Second, traditional societies such as ours prefer strong men.  These men tend to bring strife with them.  Few are like Mandela.  The majority will become another Mugabe or Verwoerd.

Third, while there is probably a dearth of leaders with vision in politics, our business sector, universities, the media, agriculture and other sectors are full of them.

The business sector is instrumental in the fight against crime while they continue to build industries, both to the benefit of society.

We are therefore not dependent on political vision and leadership.

And at some point in time ordinary folks start to build democracy and institutions.  We have now reached that point.  But each of us needs to play a part.

We are not victims, we are participants.

Fortunately I am coming across more and more South Africans doing exactly that.

Brick by brick we are building a better place with greater opportunities for more people.

For me that is enough “vision” and “leadership”.

JP Landman is a self-employed political and trend analyst. He consults to SA largest private wealth business, BoE Private Clients, and works with several SA corporates on future scenario trends. His focus areas are trends in politics, economics and social capital.

Among some of the unique research projects his consultancy has undertaken was the role of public institutions in battling corruption (quoted by the UN in a report on corruption), the interplay of demographics and economic growth, and an overview of trends around poverty alleviation in SA. Whilst working as an analyst on the JSE in the 1990s he was voted the top analyst in political trends.

He is also a popular speaker who has addressed diverse audiences locally and internationally and enjoys consistently good ratings.

He has a BA and LLB degrees from Stellenbosch (1978), studied Economics and Development Economics at Unisa (1979 and 1980) and later at Harvard (1998 and 2005), and obtained an MPhil in Future Studies (cum laude) from Stellenbosch (2003).