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With ANC delegates gathering in a couple of days to elect new leaders, the importance of sound leadership to drive economic success has never been more obvious. The South African economy has been battered in recent times by exceptionally poor leadership across both the political and business spheres. Good leaders are driven by vision, and their success is often determined by the extent to which they can motivate others to buy into that vision – through honesty, transparency, and unbridled passion. Great leaders understand that they are only as good as the people they surround themselves with, and their accomplishments will be magnified when they accept that their role is to enable those people to be the best they can be, rather than to exploit those people for their own benefit.

National political leadership should, therefore, be about creating a vision for the future of our country and, through honest and transparent actions, to rally the great talent this country possesses toward building a prosperous future for all of us. The ANC’s elective conference is about much more than simply choosing a new crop of dodgy politicians to lead the party, it is about the future leadership of our country, realising the potential inherent in our people, and claiming our place as the drivers of African economic resurgence. The eyes of the world are on the ANC delegates over the next few days and the judgements will be severe if our ruling party fails in its task to elect sound leadership.

It should not, however, be about personalities and patronage, but instead, the deliberations should consider policies and each candidate’s vision for our national prosperity. SA is plagued by the legacy of a pitifully unethical President, blinded by lustful greed, and seemingly unconcerned with the plight of ordinary citizens. We now need a brave new leader with an unwavering determination to root out the corruption that has become so deeply entrenched under the previous regime. This will require a fearless disposition as some tough choices need to be made, and some uncomfortable actions will be required to ensure that SA never again suffers under incompetent and corrupt political leaders.

Rooting out corruption and holding the guilty accountable is however only the first task of the new political leadership. Equally important is the need to get our economy back on track. If the estimates around how much has actually been looted from State coffers are accurate, it will take decades to recoup the losses. It will also require radical policy shifts away from populist sentiment so that we can get the foundations of a well-functioning economy in place. We will need not only solid, visionary leadership, but also competent and disciplined public servants to implement those policies efficiently.

The problem with poor leadership has however not been confined to the political realm, as we have seen exposed in recent times. SA business leadership is perhaps also due a much-needed overhaul. The examples of Steinhoff, KPMG, SAP, Naspers, and other significant global brands bear witness to the danger of poor corporate leadership. These are all exceptional companies with global footprints and significant balance sheets, employing tens of thousands of loyal, hardworking staff. However, poor leadership has not only put those livelihoods at risk but also caused untold losses to thousands of others who had invested their hard-earned savings and pensions in those companies.

Large business, often viewed as the potential counterforce to rampant political malaise, has also lost its right to claim the moral high-ground. By failing to hold ourselves accountable and turning a blind eye to unscrupulous dealings in the name of higher profits, big business has only served to amplify the problems our society faces. The festive break could not have come sooner for many of us, having endured a particularly bruising economic climate this past year, but perhaps it should also be an opportunity to pause and self-reflect. Much like our political counterparts, we need to break from the SA tradition of glorifying individuals and making allowances for personalities, and instead start paying closer attention when the numbers don’t add up or the moral compass starts swaying erratically.

The next couple of months will be key to determining our national economic trajectory with the ANC electoral conference being closely watched by the business community and ratings agencies alike. A potential perfect storm of economic catastrophe could be averted if we commit to higher standards of governance and accountability, whilst insisting on ethical, competent servant leadership. Every one of us is a leader in some way, so let’s stop looking at only those with leadership titles and start accepting our individual responsibility to lead and inspire – not for our own benefit, but for the benefit of our entire society and those who will inherit our legacy.

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