Throwing down the gauntlet to Millennials: Let contemporary Africa Lead

SpeechesBy Dr Reuel J. Khoza  I  23 May 2017

Be master of your own destiny!

Whatever else I say to you this evening may or may not be useful, but if your purpose is a preeminent, prosperous and respectable South Africa, there is nothing else I could share with you that would go to the heart of my message as this does:

Take charge of your own destiny or someone else will.

In a very real sense, as millennials, you stand on the verge of a beckoning future, a future pregnant with potential: great and abundantly rewarding if you choose to make it so; barren and painfully frustrating if you leave your fate in the hands of the ill-prepared, visionless to lead you. I sincerely believe that a sense of excitement and possibility can replace the fear and resignation that so often accompany a nation in crisis.

Amidst the gloom occasioned by lack of a compelling national vision, politics of patronage, creeping kleptocracy and a leadership devoid of moral authority and compunction, I believe it is possible to regenerate a sense of purpose, meaning and direction. I believe that you are, as South African millennials, enemies of entropy.

Every individual / every generation, is willy-nilly in the process of becoming: becoming either an anachronism, irrelevant to the future, or of becoming a harbinger of the future. The choice is entirely yours. William Jennings Bryan admonishes: “Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.”

Take charge of your own destiny. In my experience of three-score years and eight, I have come to believe that nothing is more liberating than becoming an author of your own destiny. That is what authenticity is all about: self-authorship.

The founding fathers and mothers of our democracy bequeathed to us a potentially good nation. Ours was to take it from good to great. The reality is that we have taken it from good to questionable and, if you, as the African Intelligentsia of this country do not intervene, we run the risk of it deteriorating to downright bad.

You millennials, as emergent dynamic intellectuals, should provide the thought-through leadership of society: connecting ideas with deeds. You should ground morality and political strategy in patterns of understanding that give meaning and purpose to social action. You should expound ethical principles and fashion programmes. Yours should be to dwell on problems and find concepts and words to suggest appropriate and lasting solutions that cut through slogans and platitudes. As members of our intelligentsia, you are the consciously critical stratum needed to keep leadership on track and hold institutional figures accountable. (For a more in depth discourse of the role of the intelligentsia, you might like to visit Chapter 8 of my book, Attuned Leadership).

Our hard-earned democracy is unravelling. South Africans of goodwill, young and not-so-young, must perforce rise to the challenge of stemming the tide that threatens to engulf our young republic. Manifestations of this menace include:

  • Lack of a Compelling National Vision
    Some might say the National Development Plan (NDP) is in place. I dare say the NDP merits revisiting with a view to rendering it practical and implementable, with time-lines and deadlines; budgets and committed human resources. Its vision statement needs to be recrafted in brief and memorable terms; such that it can be chanted like a mantra by all of us. A nation with no clear vision and inspiring mission / purpose is bound to flounder.
  • Leadership Devoid of Moral Authority
    The South African Council of Churches has just dubbed R.S.A. a Mafia State. Advocate Thuli Madonsela, the highly competent and respectable former public protector, has declared the state captured; others would lament the creeping kleptocracy gripping our political economy. All these bespeak a leadership devoid of morality and alien to ethical behaviour.
  • Leadership with a Questionable Set of Values
    Ours is a political leadership that derides excellence and extols mediocrity. Cabinet ministers who pursue excellence and adhere to ethical principles in discharging their responsibilities are castigated and cast aside. Those characterised by mediocrity, limited comprehension of the running of matters of state in a fast globalising environment are elevated, feted and protected. The African intelligentsia is dubbed “clever blacks” and derided as irrelevant to national leadership and socio-economic development. What a strange and debilitating value system!!
  • Leadership with Nauseating Naiveté
    As the rating agencies downgrade our economy to junk status, thereby rendering it difficult and expensive for us to borrow from the international money markets and occasioning high interest rates, as well as discouraging foreign direct investment; weakening our currency and more; we have a minister declaring with gay abandon that the currency can be dropped at whim and picked up at will. Nauseating!!
  • Disregard and Utter Contempt of the Oath of Office
    Ours is a constitutional democracy, typified by the rule of law rather than rule of man. This alone should be informative to those who purport to lead this country politically. Flouting the Constitution should be a cardinal sin. But as we look around what do we see? A president who fails to uphold, protect and defend the Constitution and a parliament dominated by a party that puts its interest above the national interest, shielding the errant president. A president who errs with gay abandon.

The above are but a sample of what you, the millennials, have to grapple with to guarantee a sound and prosperous future.

In my book, Let Africa Lead, this is what I posed as a cluster of questions to my generation:

Africa’s Leadership Imperative

If not us, then who?
If not from Africa, then whence?
If not now, then when?
If not for Africa and humanity, why not?
Let Africa rise to this quintessential challenge.
It is our date with destiny.

- Reuel J Khoza

Written aboard an aircraft bound for the World Economic Forum, Davos, 2005.

May I, in complementing this set of questions, cite the profile of the African in My Dream as sketched in the essay: Education for an African Renaissance, in the book The African in my Dream:

In his now famous “I am an African” address to the Constitutional Assembly on 8 May 1996, Thabo Mbeki concluded as follows:

“Whoever we may be, what our immediate interest, however much we carry baggage from our past, however much we have been caught by the fashion of cynicism and the loss of faith in the capacity of people, let us err today and say – nothing can stop us now!”

The unstoppable African that Thabo Mbeki talks about, the unstoppable African who, I believe, is assembled here today shall be:

An African who is master of his / her destiny
An African who has vision
An African who is a profoundly moral being
An African who has integrity
An African who is able and competent
An African who takes responsibility for his / her actions
An African who pushes back the frontiers of knowledge
An African who builds the future
An African who leads a renaissance
An African who, when she looks in the mirror, sees the hand of God.