Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS
Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS

The recently released Indlulamithi 2030 SA Scenarios identified leadership and institutional capacity as one of the key drivers that will shape the next few decades in SA.

While listening to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s stimulus and recovery package and reading the response thereafter I wondered whether the kind of leadership most South Africans have been clamouring for is finally being seen. Or will this be another case of kicking the can down the proverbial road?

With desperation to the left, despair to the right, we can lose perspective and talk of the future in extremely depressing terms. Or we place all our hopes in one person and expect him to deliver miracles.

Our belief in miracles has been a part of the SA psyche even before Madiba’s presidency. Found in one of the Griqua generals’ diary was a prayer to God in which he explained that the battle to be waged the next day was really important, and so God was asked not to send his son, but to come personally.

Because the nation had had its most fervent wish granted, we allowed our expectations to soar and to start expecting miracles again.

Until 1994 the Day of the Vow was celebrated as a God-sanctioned miracle after the Voortrekkers defeated the Zulus at the Battle of Ncome.

And since 1994 we have been devout believers in Madiba Magic. South Africans, and all those wishing the best for the nation, heaved a collective sigh of relief and we started dreaming again of a better future when it was announced that Ramaphosa had emerged victorious from the ANC’s elective conference in December.

Because the nation had had its most fervent wish granted, we allowed our expectations to soar and to start expecting miracles again. However, it also resulted in elements such as civil society and business not being as mobilised as they had been over the past few years, thinking that with the removal of Jacob Zuma the reset button to some kind of normalcy had been pressed.

In the absence of magical solutions, Ramaphosa is now being blamed for all the country’s woes: he is too weak, too indecisive, faltering and directionless to implement his new stimulus package.

Painting the president as weak is part of a populist rhetoric from within and outside his party. It seeks to undermine the great strides he has achieved in a matter of months to undo his fight against corruption and his push for the integrity of independent institutions.

South Africans should ask themselves: what can we do now to rise above this populism and act in the interest of the country?

It requires agency of everyone and the emergence of an organic, compacted leadership — one that has legitimacy across broad swathes of society; one that is able to rise above narrow sectoral interests and can place the needs of the country foremost. Come the election in 2019 we must not regret that we should have done more to root out crime, corruption and state capture; develop skills; build the economy and attract investment; and strengthen democracy.

Business, government and civil society should be taking actions that help ameliorate the living conditions of most South Africans, while setting the platform for economic growth and deepening democracy.

Public representatives seem to be wringing their hands and hoping to survive until two key milestones are passed. The first is the list conference of the ANC, when they will know how high up in the food chain they will be. The second is the election, and the sharing of the spoils. Who will get which ministerial post or committee chair, and who will be abandoned to the back benches?

Under its new leadership Cosatu seems to be returning to a sense of public-spirited morality. In her closing speech to the Cosatu conference, newly elected president Zingiswa Losi quoted yet another remarkable female leader, Charlotte Maxeke, who in 1938 said: "Kill the spirit of ‘self’ and do not live above your people, but with them. If you rise above them, take somebody with you."

The private sector is involved in initiatives aimed at growing small, medium and micro enterprises, facilitating employment of young graduates as well as finding solutions for the challenges the government is facing, such as the distribution of social grants. A fountainhead of equally public-spirited South Africans is willing to do their bit. Part of this is exposing populist rhetoric for what it is: short-term, unsustainable, quick fixes to simply gain support. Everyone can play a leadership role in helping repair the morality and capacity of the societal institutions — be it a political party, the workplace or places of worship and recreation.

It is said of Winston Churchill’s rhetoric that he mobilised the English language and sent it into battle. If Ramaphosa were to mobilise the nation’s resources to battle against the various evils SA is fighting, he will find legions of followers willing to join that battle.

• Omar is head of strategy and communications at The Banking Association of SA.