Ramaphosa's focus on inclusion will ensure that nothing changes

President Cyril Ramaphosa is not cut from the same cloth as the transformational leaders of Asia who took their underdeveloped countries on a path to prosperity, says the writer. /Moeletsi Mabe
President Cyril Ramaphosa is not cut from the same cloth as the transformational leaders of Asia who took their underdeveloped countries on a path to prosperity, says the writer. /Moeletsi Mabe

President Cyril Ramaphosa has delivered a well-received State of the Nation Address (Sona) - after many years of chaos in our parliament.

The spirit of his address was that of national unity and inclusion - hence his promise of consultative summits.

Good as they clearly are at capturing the national mood, Ramaphosa must not over-glorify the wisdom of his spin doctors. Spin doctors can be crafty, but reality always exposes their hollowness.

Ramaphosa must be made to appreciate that there are two kinds of leaders: transactional and transformational. He must choose which of these two categories he wants to belong to.

A transactional leader facilitates dialogue among interest groups to make everyone feel included. Indeed, big consultative summits are an easy instrument in this regard.

People generally want to be included. That is why they like transactional leaders. Ramaphosa is well-received precisely because of his promise of transactionalism.

The problem with transactional leaders is that they are either quick to run out of steam or eventually get exposed as idealess riders of popular waves.

Transactional leaders don't make history, transformational ones do. Transformational leaders study the fundamental problems and craft a clear plan to take their nations to a promised land.

Under transformational leadership, summits are not convened to make people feel included; they are forums in which a leader communicates a ground-breaking vision, and participants are persuaded to identify their role in the plan.

History is not interested in how many people attended which meeting. What is important is the transformational agenda of the leader.

Through his maiden Sona, Ramaphosa left us feeling good; but there was no evidence of him being a historymaker.

Selling himself as our second Mandela projects Ramaphosa as a fong kong, with neither an original agenda nor a unique character.

Here is a simple transformational agenda for our country: "South Africa must be a first world country better than Europe."

There are three transformational leaders in modern history who adopted this kind of "mad" idea and achieved it: Emperor Meiji in Japan, Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore, and Deng Xiaoping in China.

Under Emperor Meiji, Japan was transformed from a traditionalist backwater into a modern society. At one point, Japan was the second-largest economy in the world.

Lee Kuan Yew also did it in Singapore. He transformed a small island into a 21st century city state.

As you read this column, China is the second-largest economy in the world.

Goldman Sachs predicts that by 2050, China will be the No 1 economy in the world. All this manifests the "mad" vision of Deng Xiaoping.

Those who think SA cannot overtake European countries must keep in mind that the countries mentioned above did not have the natural wealth we have.

The population counter-argument is also hollow, since Singapore is far smaller, and China far bigger than SA.

The skills counter-argument, too, does not hold water; for the populations of Japan, Singapore and China were all illiterate when their transformational leaders decided to turn their nations around. There is also the racial homogeneity counter-argument. This, too, is fallacious. Singapore's population is a potpourri of immigrants from China, Malaysia, Indonesia, and as far afield as India.

Like South Africa after 1994, Singapore has been a democracy. Those who claim that transformational leadership is impossible in a democracy are ignoramuses.

It should by now be clear that Ramaphosa is a toddler in transformational thinking. He can fire one or two Gupta-linked ministers from cabinet, but will that make South Africa a first world country?

Such is the state of the nation and the poverty of our feel-good leadership.

Newly-elected President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered the state of the nation address on February 16 2018.