President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa.
As South Africans, we need to disabuse ourselves from sheer aesthetics of power but embrace a leader immersed in finding solutions for people, writes Sibongile Besani.
Once again, some public commentators have resuscitated the debate about leadership in the country, with specific reference to President Cyril Ramaphosa. The narrative has shifted from the being indecisive to being silent and absent in the public discourse, especially with regards to the electricity crisis.
All these are factually incorrect and can only serve to misinform the public. This is also an insinuation that is predicated on a narrow understanding of leadership. South Africa is a diverse and complex economy that requires grit and sophistication to manage her challenges. Leadership is action, and this underscores the qualities of the stewardship of President Cyril Ramaphosa.
The President and his collective have demonstrated in many ways that the best action is to grapple with the challenges at hand and provide solutions. This is not a romantic approach because in the midst of crises, people generally expect positive outcomes in the immediate. The art of leadership is also in the effort of neutralising a problem on a continuous basis. In any situation, leadership is not only experienced at the point of success but is also in taking initiative and making efforts to resolve the crisis. Therefore, action means being in the moment as a leader.
Keeping public up to date
During the State of the Nation Address earlier this year, the President articulated a plan to deal with the electricity crisis and shared his intentions to appoint the Minister of Electricity. Since the appointment, a lot of information and developments in this area have been in the public domain.
Interactions with key role players internally, assessments of the situation, approaches to outline maintenance and repairs of power stations, refining procurement process, and proper delegations are just some of the actions. Most importantly, the Presidency has been communicating through this Ministry in order to keep the public up to date.
This notion of silence and absence is informed by the desire of some to see the president on television screens regularly. Indeed, this is a limited way to underscore leadership presence. Presence is about understanding issues, understanding their processes and acting on them.
The electricity challenge is still with us, but there is no doubt that the matter is continuously being given attention. The presence of leadership in this hour is not something new. It was demonstrated even during the management of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The moment required daily communication from the president and his team. At inception, it looked a bit overbearing with Ministers on television daily. However, this improved and got refined to a point of ‘family meetings’ taking centre stage. Progress was communicated effectively and this inspired our nation during a difficult time. It is the clarity of action and communication that kept the hope of our nation.
One of the most important lessons from Covid-19 crisis is the mastery of delegation. This lesson is therefore becoming handy in the current situation of load shedding. The technical acumen, process and project management are very central to resolving the challenge. In addition, this a resource-intensive intervention, from a financial point of view, so, all these requisite skills are continuously mobilised. Therefore, the reality is that action for its own sake is inadequate. Action should also be a display of focus and knowledgeability about the challenges at hand. Clearly, these challenges have called for a more nuanced approach because solutions are very much involved, calling for all kinds of experts.
Experience shows that such moments do not invite exciting articulations but produce lots of data and synchronisation. To a point of boring tabloid pundits and aspiring celebrity commentators. Some of the commentators are bold to stoop low by decrying dress code of Minister of Electricity; this is consequent to their failure to find any wrong-doing in executing the task at hand. These are sideshows to deflect people from substance.
President Ramaphosa and the team have successfully avoided flirting with populism in the midst of any crisis. His relatability at the level of communication has ensured that ordinary people affected by the crisis can understand the message. Simplicity in using languages of our people has been central to communicating progress and challenges. No moment has been missed to engage and update people on specific matters.
Good leaders exhibit many qualities, but effective leaders have no luxury of shortcuts, but have to keep acting to solve people’s problems. As South Africans, we need to disabuse ourselves from sheer aesthetics of power but embrace a leader immersed in finding solutions for people. Assessing an incumbent is work in progress, and Lao Tzu says, “Do your work and then step back. The only path to serenity”.
The President is hard at work, his leadership and legacy is yet to be fully accounted for.
– Sibongile Besani is the ANC Head of Presidency. He writes in his personal capacity.
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