The Maduke Lot Ndlovu I knew Memorial Lecture
Address by Dr Reuel J. Khoza (Chairman of Nedbank Group Limited, Aka Capital) to “Nedbank Group Technology Leaders” I 16 August 2016
I am delighted to join you on this occasion, the third Lot Ndlovu Memorial Lecture.
Lot cared to reflect, cogitate, and even to contemplate the plight and future of our beloved country, South Africa. It thus behoves us in his memory to pause for a moment, to reflect on the state of our political economy. Lot Ndlovu was no idle armchair sophist, he was a pragmatic thinker and committed doer. Even in this regard, we need to pluck a leaf out of Lot’s life.
Lot Ndlovu and I had a few things in common. Among these was our abiding admiration for Fredrick Douglass, a nineteenth century African American leader of great stature; about whom James McCune Smith had this to say:
“When a man raises himself from the lowest condition in society to the highest, mankind pays him the tribute to their admiration; when he accomplishes this elevation by native energy guided by prudence and wisdom, their admiration is increased, but when this course, onward and upward, excellent in itself, furthermore proves possible what had hitherto been regarded as an impossible reform, then he becomes a shining light on which the aged look with gladness, the young with hope, the down-trodden as a representative of what they themselves may become.”
In this era, in this country, this and more befits one Maduke Lot Ndlovu. May I proceed to laud Lot’s character, personhood, leadership traits and accomplishments:
ESSENTIALLY PRINCIPLE-CENTRED AND PURPOSE DRIVEN, LOT WAS:
- A visionary who clearly understood that vision without dogged implementation is hallucination.
- A strategist who comprehended with immense profundity that a plan is sterile, that active planning and a bias for action are potent.
- A daring corporate pioneer, leading champion and exponent for transformation.
- A luminary who illuminated an otherwise racially darkened corporate arena compelling it to pause and reflect.
- An Africa Renaissance man who persistently pushed the envelope in restoring and enhancing Africa’s pride and dignity.
- An African banker who, through executive leadership of Peoples Bank and championing Nedbank’s transformation, made history.
- An African leader who lucidly understood that a herdboy without a herd, a shepherd without a flock, is a wanderer; that similarly a leader without followers is a leader in limbo.
- An African leader who gave credence to the motto: “Lift as you rise,” by practically manifesting this in various walks of socio-economic life.
- A corporate leader who personified our credo that effective leaders are those that are vision-beckoned and value-system predicated.
- A purpose-driven leader who just knew he had a date with destiny and was destined to leave a positive legacy.
- A Drum Major and Flagbearer for change, peace, equality and socio-economic development.
LET GOOD TRIUMPH OVER EVIL, PROCLAIMS LOT’S SPIRIT
Edmund Burke opined: “When evil men combine, good men must unite.” This is the pressing challenge of our time: When evil people plot, good people must plan. When sinister people plunder and loot, well-meaning people must build and progress. When the evil conspire to preserve and perpetuate an unjust and ethically questionable status quo, good people must gather to ensure a society predicated on justice and fairness. Nothing can be more detrimental to the socio-economic health of South Africa at this conjuncture than for its citizens of goodwill to sink into debilitating apathy and placid indifference.
The plea for a concerted effort is not a call for uniformity. There must always be a healthy debate. There will be inevitable differences of opinion in the dilemma faced by our political economy which is so complex and massive that its solution will necessarily involve a diversified approach. But conscientious South Africans can differ and still unite around serving the national interest.
The fruits of a sound constitution will not usher themselves in on the wheels of inevitability. This country’s intelligentsia, particularly the Black intelligentsia, must enter the fray and extract practical fruits from our much extolled constitution.
Lift as you rise: How many black South Africans who are educated and have achieved economic security are oblivious of the fact that they are where they are because of the support of faceless, illiterate and unsung Africans who did ordinary jobs in extraordinary ways? How many of us have forgotten that uneducated and poverty stricken mothers and fathers often toiled until their eyebrows were scorched and their hands bruised, ala the Marikana miners, so that their children could get an education? For any middle class black South African to forget the masses is an act not only of utter neglect but of ignominious ingratitude.
Now is the time for the African haves to join hands with the African have-nots and with dedication and compassion to journey into those sectors plagued by hurt and denial. Now is the time for the putative Black Middle Class to rise up from its seat of placid difference, to retreat from its flight of fantasy, and to bring its full resources, its heart, its mind, and its cheque book or EFT facility to the aid of the less fortunate. The relatively well-off Africans will never be what they ought to be until the underprivileged Africans are what they ought to be. The salvation of the ostensible Black middle classes is ultimately dependent upon the salvation of the African masses. This is at the heart of Ubuntu- not socialism. There is a crying need for a racial restructuring of the architecture of South African society. For its survival’s sake South Africa must re-examine its values-system. For the evils of self-centredness, corruption and downright kleptocracy to die, a new set of values must be born. Our economy must become more person-centred than property and profit centred. Our political leadership must depend more on its moral authority than on its majoritarian hegemony.
We are particularly well placed to do this because we have just emerged from being seared in the flames of the apartheid politics of oppression and economics of exclusion: we have known first-hand the agony of being the underdog. Our painful knowledge is still fresh. We know that it is of no benefit for the nation to gain the whole world of political freedom and lose the end of justice, fairness, economic emancipation and prosperity.
“WISDOM BEGINS IN WONDER”
There is one expression that Lot used to be fond of, particularly when he was about to engage in very serious discourse with a view to drive a significant point home: I wonder! This may very well have been a favourite personal opening gambit. Or it may stem from personal familiarity with and fondness of Socrates’ popular phrase from Plato’s Theatetus: “Wisdom begins in wonder.”
Socrates, when the young Theatetus was introduced to him as a lad of brilliant promise, said to him that he felt sure Theatetus had thought of much. The boy answered “Oh, no – not that but at least I have wondered about much.” “Ah, that shows the lover of wisdom,” Socrates said, “for wisdom begins in wonder.”
Lot would have continued to wonder about a host of challenges facing present day South Africa. His wonder would have propelled him to engage, to vigorously seek appropriate solutions. The Lot Ndlovu I knew, philosophically agreed with Robert J. McCracken that “The world is not perishing for the want of clever or talented or well-meaning men (people). It is perishing for the want of men (people) of courage and resolution who in devotion to the cause of right and truth, can rise above personal feeling and private ambition.”
Lot Ndlovu, a personality enveloped in gravitas and unmistakable dynamic charisma, but vicious in attacking bigotry and racial discrimination in corporate South Africa and the country at large, would have continued to wonder about various aspects of the state of our nation. His wonder would have led to dogged inquiry and exploration, to seeking and finding solutions to vexing challenges confronting South Africa today. These would, I submit, include the following:
- Wondering why South Africa has chosen to elevate mediocrity to the status of virtue. Why unqualified, underqualified, ill-qualified and down-right ignorant people are appointed to the country’s mission critical institutions such as SABC, SAA, etc. He would continue: Wondering about the motive behind the contempt and derision levelled against those who are enlightened and educated? Wondering where this would take our beloved country unless our intelligentsia rise up to provide alternative answers and solutions?
- Lot would wonder why higher political rank, which is not necessarily well-informed, almost always trumps tested and tried wisdom and expertise on issues of managing our economy. His wonder would intensify as he observes this continuing apace. Unchecked I bet, the Lot Ndlovu I knew would speak up; using one forum or another, certainly the BMF platform.
- The Lot Ndlovu I knew would certainly wonder about the phenomenon now known as state capture. Glib blanket explanations such as, “there is no state capture: can’t you see that the legislature (parliament), the executive (some cabinet ministries) and certainly the judiciary are in place?” Lot’s incisive mind would cut through this charade and argue that the treacherous mind of the corporate capturer schemes strategically and chooses to go for the jugular, plants the poisonous seed where it matters, and leaves the rest to cascade through a system otherwise rendered receptive.
- It behoves us to wonder about the efficacy of cadre deployment compared to straight-forward meritocracy-based employment. Cadre development is perforce ideologically informed, necessarily restrictive of the national talent pool, exclusionary to those who are highly qualified and able but resistant to often irrational party political dictates. Excessive dalliance with cadre deployment inevitably quickly reach the point of diminishing returns, resulting in sub-optimal utilisation of our national human resources. How can cadre deployment be good for our developing political economy? We should wonder, and that should be the beginning of our action-oriented wisdom.
- We must of necessity wonder about and seek solutions to what passes for morbid self-flagellation by sections of our society, the sado-masochism manifest in destroying our own national assets; sorely needed assets. It should be self-evident that 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, laboratories, class rooms 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 harm any person cannot bring us any closer to the wholesome goals we seek. Our country needs psychotherapy of national proportions. It behoves our intelligentsia to appreciate this as a national challenge; and to move with dogged determination to address it.
- Ages ago Aristotle observed that “Those who educate children well are more to be honoured than parents, for these (parents) only gave life, those (educators) the art of living.” As we look around the education arena in contemporary South Africa, what do we see? We observe inter alia, teachers affiliated to SADTU, failing to appreciate that teaching is as much a profession as it is a calling. That their core duty is nation building. That if need be they should lay themselves down as a bridge over troubled water; the troubled water of ignorance, poverty and unemployability. Instead we see a union of educators failing to pursue excellence, at times becoming so depraved as to peddle teaching posts and leadership positions in this noble calling; thus hurting the nation where it hurts most: Poisoning teaching and administration. It behoves us as the enlightened of our era, nudged by the living spirit of Lot, it behoves us to wonder and to develop the requisite wisdom for devising a virtuous modus operandi to tackle this core national challenge. Wisdom begins in wonder. Do we wonder at all?
- Among the governance concepts bandied about and subtly applied in our just over one score years old republic is Democratic Centralism. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary defines Democratic Centralism as “a communist system or principle of hierarchic organisation that seeks to combine democratic participation of the rank and file in the discussion of policy and the election of officers and of delegates to the next higher unit with strict obedience by the members and lower bodies to the decisions of the higher units and with absolute authority residing in fact at the apex of the hierarchic structure and strict discipline being enforced.” As we know “Democracy is a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly.” In the light of this, don’t we wonder? Wonder if Democractic Centralism is not an oxymoron yelling for rigorous discourse? Don’t we wonder why the one at the apex, surrounded by a few sycophants, can put together members of the top unit with no known objective criteria; and can at whim fire the best among those for no rhyme or reason?
Wisdom begins in wonder. How often do we wonder?
May I conclude by a brief return to Maduke Lot Ndlovu’s character and what I believe to be the inspirational aspects of his personhood. Of Lot, Confucious would have said: “There are three marks of a superior man: being virtuous, he is free from anxiety; being wise, he is free from perplexity; being brave, his is free from fear.”
Throughout my association with Lot, within the BMF, as fellow Directors of Nedbank and Nampak, even as wholesome competitors scrambling for BEE investment opportunities, I have known Lot to be virtuous and therefore never anxious. I have known him to be wise and reflective and therefore free from perplexity; I have known Lot to be courageous even as we confronted the Apartheid monster from our BMF vantage point. Yes indeed, I have known Lot to wonder, to wonder about a host of vexing issues confronting our political economy; and to proceed from wonder to seeking attendant solutions: boldly, diligently, doggedly, luminously.
Wisdom begins in wonder!! Shall we, in memory of Maduke Lot Ndlovu, WONDER? Wonder about the plight of our nation. Wonder about our National Vision. Wonder about what our generation will bequeath to posterity!!!
Wisdom begins in wonder!!