A Challenge to the Graduands: University of Limpopo

By Dr Reuel J. Khoza (Chairman of Nedbank Group Limited, Aka Capital  and author of several books including Let Africa Lead and Attuned Leadership) to “Nedbank Group Technology Leaders”  I  12 April 2017


As the then Chairman of the Nedbank Group in 2011, I made the following statement in our Annual Report:

“South Africa is recognised for is liberal and enlightened constitution, yet we observe the emergence of a strange breed of leaders who are determined to undermine the rule of law and override the constitution. Our political leadership’s moral quotient is degenerating and we are losing the checks and balances that are necessary to prevent a recurrence of the past. This is not the accountable democracy for which generations suffered and fought. 

The integrity, health, socioeconomic soundness and prosperity of SA are the collective responsibility of all citizens, corporate or individual. We have a duty to build and develop this nation and to call to book the putative leaders who, due to
sheer incapacity to deal with the complexity of 21st century governance and leadership, cannot lead. 

We have a duty to insist on strict adherence to the institutional forms that underpin our young democracy.” 

Half a Dozen Years Later

Half a dozen years later what do we observe?

  • We see a national leadership that is devoid of moral authority.
  • Leadership that is essentially a house divided; with a disgruntled erstwhile alliance which is increasingly critical of the core leadership.
  • Leadership without a compelling sense of destiny; no clear national vision, no clearly articulated purpose.
  • A leadership that squanders seed capital that should be invested for ensuing generations.
  • A leadership that persistently assault colleagues who are known for their integrity, probity, ethical behaviour, diligence and pursuit of excellence; a leadership that instead chooses to elevate mediocrity to the status of virtue. We observe performing cabinet ministers castigated and cast aside; non-performing cabinet ministers promoted and protected.
  • We observe a political leadership that displays wanton disregard for oaths of office; leadership that dismally fails to respect, protect and defend our constitution when it is their cardinal duty to do so.
  • Half a dozen years later, webehold also a captured leadership, ensnared and beholden to foreign forces whose designs are inimical to our national interest; designs bent on corruption and looting on a massive scale.

We observe a leadership that has no appreciation of globalization, international money-markets and the decision-making processes of asset managers, and what guides foreign direct investments. This informs our leaders’ dismal ignorance of the consequence and implications of a credit downgrade to junk status:

What are the consequences of President Zuma’s recall of Pravin Gordhan and his team from that wholesome investor road show and the subsequent cabinet reshuffle?  These include:

  • President Zuma’s cabinet reshuffle has imperilled South Africa’s fiscal and growth prospects.
  • Zuma’s reshuffle erased 17 years of fiscal and economic progress made since S&P upgraded South Africa’s foreign currency rating to reinvestment grade in 2000.
  • The high cost of offshore borrowing will be entrenched.
  • As South Africa falls off global investor radar screens, our economy runs the risk of getting stuck in a long period of stagnation.
  • The cost of capital is sure to rise resulting in big investors looking elsewhere for investment opportunities.
  • Higher interest rates, now a distinct probability, will make it harder for average families to pay off their vehicles and home loans.
  • Banks are likely to increase their rates in the belief that there will be a greater risk of non-payment or defaults.
  • Access to credit will be lower.
  • The rand is likely to depreciate even more causing an increase in the price of imported goods. If the rand value continues to decrease, inflation will escalate, thus increasing petrol and food prices, making it extremely difficult for most people to make ends meet.

Your Responsibilities as the Intelligentsia
What are the Responsibilities of the Learned Person?

The views of Dr Grayson Kirk (erstwhile) President of Columbia University are apposite:

  1. To endeavour to achieve clarity and precision in one’s spoken and written communication.
  2. To develop a sense of values and the courage with which to defend them:  ‘Good taste’ which can be used as a yardstick in making moral, social and aesthetic judgements.
  3. To make every effort, honestly and objectively, not only to understand the nature and magnitude of the problems of one’s society, but to comprehend compassionately the differences that separate it from others.
  4. To look squarely at the world and its challenges with courage and hope and not with fear and rejection.

Given these as the responsibilities of the Educated, the Intelligentsia of S.A., what are some of the unavoidable challenges facing us?

a) Constitutional Amendment?
A constitution hailed as universally exemplary but where the position of President and its attendant inordinate powers to hire and fire ministers and other senior government executives, were crafted with a “saint” in mind. What do we do about the sinners that followed?

b) Democratic Centralism
An oxymoron yelling for attention. Centralising power, thus disempowering the citizenry, cannot be democratic. What do you do about that?

c) Dealing with those Downright Depraved Educators misleading the core of our Nation Building Institutions – SADTU Paddling leadership positions – crippling the nation where it really hurts. What will you do about that?

d) Wanton disregard and contempt for the Oath of Office and erosion of Institutions that underpin our democracy, e.g. Parliament. What will you do about the lack of accountability?

e) Dealing with what passes for self-flagellation by sections of our society:  the sado-masochism manifest in destroying our own national assets: If one is in search of a better job it does not help to burn down the factory; if one needs better education burning down libraries and lecture halls will only set us back. If housing is the goal, only building and construction will produce that end. To destroy anything or harming any person cannot bring us any closer to the wholesome goals we seek.

f) And then there is the global challenge – Dealing with Globalisation and the very phenomenon of Globality. Barring Donald Trump and his fellow meta-racists, plus the pro-departure Brexit Crowd, humanity appreciates that the world is a neighbourhood; that the global challenge now facing us is to transform it into a brotherhood / sisterhood / a fraternity.

As the enlightened of our beloved country we should strive to be known:

Less for what we say and more for what we deliver in the leadership arena.

Less by our titles and positions and more by our competence and practical expertise.

Less by what we control and more by what we shape.

Less by the goals we set and more by the mind-sets we build.

Both for great personal integrity and dedication to what is in the national interest.

May I conclude by tapping into the wisdom of Robert J McCracken, who opines:
“The world is not perishing for the want of clever or talented or well-meaning people. It is perishing for the want of people of courage and resolution who, in devotion to the cause of right and truth, can rise above personal feeling and private ambition.

I submit that this university’s cardinal objective is to help move learned South Africans from being merely “talented, educated or well-meaning people” to people of enlightenment, courage and resolution, who in devotion to the course of right and truth, can help lift our political economy, our beloved nation, onto a worthy, healthy, morally sound and prosperous cause. We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to posterity.