RAZINA MUNSHI: (Some) SA execs and politicians pass the leadership test
As employees and citizens battle, hard decisions will have to be made
Two weeks ago, the FM reported how landlords and tenants of shopping malls affected by the Covid-19 lockdown were set for a face-off.
You can understand the tension. Mall owners still expect to be paid rent while the tenants – including restaurants, mom-and-pop stores and even the large JSE-listed retailers – were holding out for a rent holiday.
In that context, the decision by Artemis Properties, the owner of neighbourhood shopping centres in KwaZulu-Natal, to forgo rent for 21-days is exactly the sort of leadership we need in a time of crisis.
Artemis owns seven centres, including Windermere Centre in Morningside, Durban, and Empangeni Mall near Richards Bay. Its tenants are a mix of large retailers, food outlets and boutique stores. Most of these stores are shut during the lockdown.
But a rent holiday means the knock of the lockdown doesn’t have to become a permanent hit.
The ripple effect of this decision by Artemis’ owner Charles Liasides shouldn’t go unnoticed. It’s yet another example of sterling leadership, which has revealed by Covid-19.
During what was surely the best speech of his presidency, Cyril Ramaphosa last week said government leaders will forgo 33% of their salaries for the benefit of the Solidarity Fund. We’ve seen this mirrored by similar action from representatives from the EFF and IFP, as well as executives from Nedbank, Standard Bank, FirstRand and Vodacom. And over at Woolworths, executives cut their salaries so that they can financially assist employees affected by the pandemic.
There are plenty of examples of leadership further afield too, like Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who reregistered as a doctor so he can volunteer at a hospital for Covid-19 patients, for example.
On a more philosophical level, Germany’s president (a largely ceremonial role), Frank-Walter Steinmeier, implored Germans to show solidarity with others, saying the pandemic is a “test of our humanity”. The contrast to the entirely self-centred actions of the US, and its president Donald Trump couldn’t be starker.
Steinmeier emphasised the importance of finding a vaccine and helping the world’s most vulnerable countries, while paying tribute to the “invisible pillars” of German society: the cashiers, bus drivers, bakers and garbage collectors.
It illustrates that the way you lead through a crisis matters. So much more will be expected of CEOs and government leaders in the months to come. The ones who display empathy for their employees — those looking after children, those worried about at-risk loved ones, or with family members who’ve lost jobs -will have passed the test.
The local paint shop and cake stores, the corner cafés and fashion boutiques will have hard decisions to make. How will they balance staying afloat with the needs of their employees? Do they have a fighting chance at preventing a temporary shutdown from becoming a permanent closure? At this point, it’s too close to call.
Meanwhile, the voices calling for leadership, in the form of a universal income grant, are getting louder. In an Easter Sunday letter, Pope Francis said a “universal basic wage” would help ameliorate the disruption to workers. This piece in The Washington Post describes how the pandemic has built the political appetite for a universal grant — even if only to prevent global inequality from becoming even more stark.
And if you’re looking for leadership, it doesn’t come more evident than in Anthony Fauci, whom the New Yorker describes as “America’s doctor”. Fauci has been the infectious disease specialist fronting the public health response of the US government. But his days as the sober voice at the frontline may be numbered: this week US president Donald Trump retweeted a call to fire him.
The New Statesman wades into the re-emergence of the nation state, and the trends — already evident for the past 12 years —– that will shape a new post-coronavirus era. “The invisible hand of the market is being replaced by the mighty fist of the state, and national security is rightly no longer considered an exclusively military matter,” writes Maurice Glasman. Don’t expect SA to escape the trend.
* Munshi is the editor of the FM’s Fox section
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