“We have not had a process of societal blacklisting of bad people,” said former deputy minister of finance and MTN chairman Mcebisi Jonas, who was one of the panellists to discuss ethical leadership at the Black Management Forum’s (BMF) 45th anniversary last Thursday.
Jonas was among three speakers with the Chris Hani District Municipality mayor, Wongama Gela, Queenstown Education Foundation stakeholder relations manager Jacqueline Wijtenburg and BMF board member Yonela Mvana, to discuss the state of leadership and governance in local issues.
Extracting facts from his speech, Jonas said he was told of the ‘precarious’ financial position of the municipality and that there has not been any tangible improvement. “There has been an improved audit, moving from disclaimed to qualified. Accountants will know that means nothing. I am told the municipality owes Eskom R500m and cannot honour this debt, has ‘crowded out’ money for basic services, water and electricity is intermittent at best, (among other things)”
In his address he stated: “We need to interrogate our recruitment systems and introduce ethical tests prior to appointing leaders. Institutions are fundamental for development, when institutions are weak, there will be no development. There is a challenge for all leadership. It is about realising the political role you are playing is just a small part. You are working in a sea of capability, in the private sector, in communities, civil structures and so forth. Our role must be to harness all of that. Harnessing it for the greater good of the locality.”
He said it was everyone’s responsibility to ensure the private sector was thriving. “We do not take the private sector seriously, we do not engage with them enough, we do not address their issues and this is a fundamental political point. Seventy-five percent of growth in any local economy is driven by the private sector. If you are to unlock growth, you must unlock the private sector.”
Jonas suggested the formation of crisis teams to allow people in the private sector, civic organisations and communities to volunteer to best deal with the challenges faced by the municipality. Border-Kei Chamber of business administrator, Adre Bartis, during a question-and-answer session, highlighted that crisis committees had been formed since 2016 in the local authority with little or no improvement. “The problem is implementing what is decided in those crisis committees.”
Bartis indicated that when private sector organisations offer assistance, they were met with racial discrimination and questioned on their political affiliation. “If we change the way we think and work with the private sector and really start redefining the character of this municipality maybe we will see transformation,” she said.
EFF councillor Luthando Amos supported the notion of working together in the name of transformation, but highlighted injustices in the town. “There are injustices we are facing today that we do not want to talk about because we want to sugar coat issues. We are unequal, the economy even in this town is still in the hands of the few. We have a monopoly of white-owned businesses that do not want to sell properties to black people. How do we talk about transformation?”
In his speech mayor Wongama Gela referenced reports made by the SA auditor-general on rising figures of unauthorised and irregular expenditure and the deteriorating audit outcomes in local government. “We must acknowledge weakness in our systems, giving rise to fraud and bribery and the mismanagement of government funds…We have used leadership as a sense of status, power, glory and wealth accumulation among others. We use our borrowed titles to promote our personalities and thus develop personality cults. We have been suppressing debates and at times not listening enough to the voice of the people who elected us to office, let alone to be at their service. We must humble ourselves and get back to the basics of serving people. We shall henceforth improve our relationship with BMF to improve challenges in the public service and beyond.”
Wijtenburg who reflected on her leadership journey said: “When I was appointed to QEF two years ago I was tasked with testing if a group of school leaders had the appetite to deepen their collaboration with each other as a way to further realise QEF’s vision of transforming our town into a universally-recognised centre of educational excellence. It is my deep wish to convene a conversation among all stakeholders who feel inspired by QEF’s vision of enhancing educational excellence in this town. It needs basic services. As adults we need to listen deeply and be open to hear each other – all across the community. We need to be curious and accommodating. Sometimes that is a hard ask,” she said.
“It is only when we as individuals and as a collective take the responsibility to ensure that those we elect and entrust with leadership act with integrity, high morals and high discipline. We cannot leave that responsibility in the hands of others. The BMF often says it is you in your own little corner that makes a difference , who has the ability to change the status quo in this country. I must say that currently it does not look pleasant, but I have no doubt that we can overcome and address the challenges,” said BMF board member Yonela Mvana.