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Dear Mr President [An open letter to President Ramaphosa]

BY: Frik Landman|20 May 2019
BLOG| Business leadership and strategy

"If you don't like what's going on right now, and you shouldn't, do not complain, don't hashtag, don't get anxious, don't retreat, don't binge on whatever it is you're binging on, don't lose yourself in ironic detachment, don't put your head in the sand, don't boo. Vote."

 

As the populace, we took Obama seriously when he said the above. And so, we did. And here you are, the president.

 

A role for which there is no comprehensive manual written, yet for which the expectations are so high in leading our country in an increasingly challenging global world where performance and values are required to operate like a hand in a glove. That, however, would be true for any president, yet yours has an extra load: you have to clean up and heal a party that seems to have a split personality (Barney Mthombothi in Sunday Times) and a government systemically infiltrated by corruption, and, and, and.

 

Every presidency is unique in that the time, the political circumstances, the internal and external risks, the people you govern with and the competing political parties that never stop barking up your tree, the business community and the civil society who all watch with bated breath, they are all different. The only constant is your character. That is what those who you lead and may lead is betting on.

 

We congratulate you on this most significant moment in your and our lives. Having a new president is like celebrating a new year, it holds so much promise and it elevates the hope of the people you are to lead. Hope for change. Hope for good life for all. We know you are no messiah, rather a facilitator of life conditions that would allow those you lead to flourish, a conductor of a societal orchestra, who has to select competent players, getting them (government, business and civil society) to participate at times and volumes that maybe only you see in the full score. We empathise with you. We empathise with the ever-present and lingering fears and doubts of a recent past and the cynicism about politicians and their continuous value destroying power games. Yet, this moment of celebration and hope burns away all this cynicism, ashamed to pettiness, because above all this moment allows you to step out of the role of a politician into that of a statesman – an act that only one of your predecessors achieved.

 

Our magnificent Constitution and the presidential oath you are about to take once again allow us as business, civil society and government the opportunity to bind us to a purpose so ravenous that we put all our talent, energy, and resources behind this, all to be consumed purposely towards the South Africa we all long for. Thuma mina. We also know, all too well, that in the absence of a great vision pettiness and corruption prevails. Being at a definite crossroad (yet, another) in our history a normative future, of which we saw real signs of in the NDP, needs to be presented with real practical initiatives and steps, but most of all an authentic, ethical leadership that leaves no doubt that we are dead set on approximating this future.

 

Yet, we must be practical whilst we listen to you uttering the words of the presidential oath. In all honesty, reading the oath, we don’t envy you. It would be impossible to fulfil without a critical mass of us also taking this oath with you and supporting you in the execution thereof as if we are the president. We acknowledge we have constitutional obligation to “heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human right.”

This is where we need to get practical.

Firstly, the social compact with business needs to be restored. Business expect a conducive environment with

  • the requisite security, so that we, especially women and children and those that we employ can live, speak, love and travel feeling safe;
  • well-governed and funded health services, so that we and our employees can have a caring and dignified experience when they are most vulnerable;
  • the relevant infrastructure, built and maintained by capable and quality providers; local government leaders competently leading the building and maintenance of an almost destroyed infrastructure;
  • a form of commercial justice that is stripped of corruption and nepotism in all its forms, allowing us to compete ethically on an equal playing field; and
  • an integrated education system starting from ECD to graduate and where public and private providers work collegially towards this goal.

 

In such a conducive environment business undertakes to invest its capital locally. Business has the ability and willingness to create employment for all, especially for our young graduates who are in desperate need of employment. Business can create wealth, to “improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person.” In all this business makes a significant contribution to state coffers expecting that the government will use it well to fund the very five things required from them by business.

 

So, there you are Mr President. The time has come for all of us as leaders to take your hand and to consciously ‘Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations’. 

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