This is how ordinary people display vision and leadership

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By JP Landman

Our politics are more and more noisy, the Zuma case has increased the stakes, important institutions are under tremendous pressure, and the economic shoe is pinching. As a good friend said recently: “We need a break.”

Under these circumstances it is understandable that the country is yearning for leadership and vision. But let’s assume the country doesn’t get a break or a leader with vision. What then?

Well, we’ll still get up in the morning, do our work, earn money, pay tax, visit friends, enjoy our loved ones, etc. Our personal lives will carry on. And the economy will too. Investment, especially by the government, has increased dramatically and it is unlikely that the next government will change these budgets.

Nearly 4 million jobs have been created over the past 13 years. This progress will not summarily come to an end. At 3% the economy is growing more slowly than in the past few years when the rate was 5%, but the cake is getting bigger, because 3% is higher than the population growth rate.

As the economy is growing and 4 million more people have jobs, tax revenue is available: about R650 billion this year and approximately R720 billion next year. This will finance a wide range of activities that will continue, whether there are leadership and vision or not.

Lots of these activities we no longer even notice. In 1994 only 62% of the people in our country had access to drinking water, today the figure stands at 87%; 50% had access to sanitation compared with 77% today, and 51% had electricity compared with 72% at present.

The process is continuing. By 2014 the entire population could have access to these three basic services – an absolute requisite for modernity. This will mean that we have made up three major deficits in the 20 years since 1994.

Look beyond the percentages and you’ll see millions of people whose living conditions have improved dramatically. Not that people are necessarily more satisfied. Satisfaction with service delivery has dropped from 80% in 2004 to 60% this year. Perhaps we should learn from the Chinese. Over a period of ten years public protest actions in that country increased from 10 000 to 80 000 a year – while tremendous growth and development took place.

Progress does not necessarily bring peacefulness. This is plain common sense. As long as no one in your area has electricity and water, that’s life. But if your neighbours have electricity and water, you’re going to be miffed. We hear more about the protests of those who have not (yet) got it than we do about the quiet progress of those who have got it. How else? But this does not mean that nothing is happening.

We are progressing, even thought there may not be leaders and vision. Obviously it’s better to have good leadership and vision than not to have them. But without them everything is not lost. On the contrary, at this stage of our history it’s perhaps better like that.

Firstly, there are leaders with vision who will not be good for the country. Think about socialism or ethnic mobilisation (also among whites).

Secondly, traditional societies such as ours look for a strong man. But it is men like these that mean trouble, for few are like Mandela. Most become a Verwoerd or a Mugabe.

Thirdly, there might be a shortage of leaders with vision in politics, but there are many of them in our business sector, universities, media, agriculture and elsewhere. Businessmen, for example, are making a huge contribution to the fight against crime while building up businesses at the same time – both to the benefit of the community. We are not that dependent on political vision and leadership.

There comes a time when democracy is built by ordinary people and their institutions. We have reached that stage. Each of us must do our bit. We are not victims, we are participants. Fortunately I come across an increasing number of South Africans who are doing just that. Bit by bit we are creating a better place with more opportunities for more people.

For me this is enough vision and leadership.

Source: JP Landman, Die Burger, August 13, 2008.


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