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The rise of the institution

As I write this second-to-last letter as President of the SAIMM, we are midway through the year and more than 100 days since the first lockdown was announced on 26 March 2020 in South Africa. It’s early July and the coldest winter in ten years, and I chose one of the coldest days of the month, on a Saturday morning, to ride 50 kilometres around town. I was prepared though, covered head to toe in winter gear, including a buff cloth as a mask. There were fewer cyclists than normal (perhaps because of the cold?) but a lot more runners than I had expected, also in winter gear and masked as a protocol in response to COVID-19. Everyone was covered and therefore unrecognizable, and it was difficult to see the determination or strain in their faces from their efforts.

Wearing masks has become normal and may prevail for longer than we would wish for. We have become unrecognizable to each other as people and so we easily walk past one another, and at a distance for additional protection against the virus. Conversation and collaboration now take place only through online meetings – from my own experience, the benefits are limited because person-to-person interaction as we have known it before is required in order to find solutions to the many challenges that are ahead of us.

While we may not recognize one another at an individual level, we recognize institutional brands – I’m referring to the many institutions that have thrived through this period of the pandemic; the brand does not wear a mask as it stands resilient and responds to the challenges from the virus. The ‘new normal’ provides an opportunity for institutions to rise to the challenge and opportunities that are emerging from this period in our lives. They will be able to do so because of the invested capital within their organizations, viz., intellectual capital from the human resources and innovation; financial capital as a result of strategic and prudent management of operations and balance sheet; relationship capital invested with employees, customers, suppliers, communities, civil organizations, shareholders, and government; and lastly and most critical, leadership capital, which will provide the vision and bold actions required to overcome the socio-economic and environmental challenges we are faced with.

The SAIMM is a brand more than 125 years old which has prevailed through the challenges and tribulations of the mining, minerals, and processing industries. We are transforming and responding to the damage done by the virus, by adopting technology innovations to continue our important work of professional development and crafting a new value proposition for our members and stakeholders. It is a difficult period, but we will prevail as we harness the intellectual, relationship, and leadership capital within this institution

M.I. Mthenjane
President, SAIMM

Lessons from ‘rona’

As the first week of June 2020 approached, the ‘R’ word had adapted to a more positive form with the ‘Recession of lockdowns’ in many countries around the world – the number of coronavirus (‘rona’) infections were beginning to slow down and so the curves were flattening and lockdowns being lifted. However, South Africa, despite the increasing number of infections (as more people were being tested), moved from level 4 to level 3 in terms of the National Disaster Act, driven by the need to alleviate the effects of the lockdown on economic activity.

As we emerged, hesitantly, from the frustrations of selfimposed isolation into a semblance of normality and greater mobility, I reflected on the many webinars that I listened to and asked myself the question – what lessons have I learnt? Quite a few, and I’ve captured them into five distinct messages for this letter.

Before laying out the lessons, let me set the context with a quote from a book that I’m restarting1 to read: ‘… creating community, the most valuable form of social capital – the intimate, supportive relationships that spur collaboration while deeply satisfying our human need for connection, belonging and meaning’. Otherwise put, ‘a life-long community of colleagues, contacts, friends, and mentors …. social science research tells us President’s Corner that satisfying these relational needs isn’t just about some soft notion of “the good life”; these are the hard prerequisites for creativity, innovation, progress – and, at the end of that chain, profit.’2

The excerpt provides a backdrop and reference for key human traits that we at times take for granted. These are the traits which, in my humble view, have been temporarily suspended by the presence of ‘rona’ in our lives.

Thus, the first lesson from ’rona’ was the imperative of our time: to safeguard lives and livelihoods. In the absence of a vaccine, adhering to appropriate protocols to ensure safety and hygiene is our only chance of preventing further infections and transmission of the disease. The ability of people to live normal lives has been shattered as if by the force of Thor’s hammer. It is public, private, and civil society leadership, in an unprecedent response, that has been carrying these imperatives, high above the shoulders, in either hand – the balance maintained while we trudge towards a vaccine will determine the ‘new normal’.

The pandemic is described firstly as a humanitarian crisis and secondly an economic disaster. The former arises from the extent of devastation on the poor and destitute; the inadequacy of health facilities and potential increase in poverty and inequality. However, the response to these challenges was amazing. The unbounded combined action to save lives has never been witnessed on this scale and depth in South Africa. This brought to mind the second lesson and confirmed that life is a value – we have realized what matters most, viz., safety and health, wellbeing, love and care for ourselves and others … all the emotional and mushy stuff that we often forget about.

At the same time, we must show care for what we have become and created as a society, the economy – our livelihoods and source of purpose. This creates the connections beyond family, gives us hope, and it is where innovation happens and where we seek fulfilment because what we do in this realm makes a difference – not only to our own lives, but to others’ lives too. ‘Rona’ has been the sobering antithesis to this life experience.

Now enter lesson number three – politics are the other side to the economy on the social coin, and therefore one cannot exist and act without the other. A thriving economy makes for political gain and the economic recession expected for the balance of 2020 and into 2021 will make for interesting politics over the next twelve to twenty-four months, both domestically and in several other countries around the globe.

Then there was the lesson of what the new normal may look like. While we await a viable vaccine to be found, we will need to learn to live with ‘rona’. An interesting lesson from Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus, is how the population has been colour-coded into red, amber, and green depending on the extent of exposure to the virus, which then determined the degree of mobility allowed by the state. Enter the surveillance society, where with the use of technology our every movement will be monitored, for better or for worse. Further, given the unprecedented levels of stimulus funding provided, the role of government in markets will be different, but how different only time will tell. Business will be a more active and responsive participant in society to address key issues, viz:

  • An inclusive approach to economic development that ensures a meaningful reduction in inequality. Pay parity will become an area of public scrutiny; co-investment in infrastructure that enables greater mobility and reduces the cost of living, to name a few. Business will be judged by its impact in a way that changes lives.
  • ‘Rona’ has elevated the urgency for response to climate change – the cumulative and systemic impacts from climate change and ‘rona’ demand a coordinated regional and global response. ‘Rona’ has demonstrated the ability for collaboration, which will be expected in relation to climate action.
  • The tech race will intensify, but all participants will win. Based on the coordination and cooperation witnessed in response to ‘rona’, technical collaboration should enable developing nations to transcend current challenges and progress for the benefit of their citizens.

Lastly, I believe we are moving towards an era of increasing engagement because of a combination of the factors that I’ve described earlier, such as the state of the fiscus and debt troubles faced by governments post the lockdowns, he recessionary state of the global economy and social consequences, and policy response and effectiveness to manage economies out of the economic trough. Government or business cannot manage this situation individually. For our society to emerge strong from the effects of the lockdown, the acknowledged imperative of safeguarding lives and livelihoods must persist. Leadership from the public and private sector, with the support of civil society, must strengthen even further to build a foundation of trust amongst these social players and in society in general, which will then provide for better collaboration.

M.I. Mthenjane
President, SAIMM

1 This is this common ... right?
2 Excerpt from ‘Never Eat Alone … and Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time’. Keith Ferrazi and Tahl Raz., Penguin Random House.

COVID-19 Lockdown

It is two weeks since the Level 5 lockdown was lifted by President Cyril Ramaphosa. And on the evening of 13 May he gave indications of a possible further reduction of restrictions – some modest relief is imminent, but more importantly, this is offering hope of eventually being able to change from the daily routines established over the past seven weeks. It has been frustrating, but educational and necessary.

The global pandemic statistics continue to rise and so are our national infection and mortality rates as testing picks up pace, but the trend in South Africa is encouraging in terms of a slowing rate of increase and what will be a pragmatic approach to the lifting of the lockdown. Of interest is the low mortality rate of 1.8% in South Africa compared to the 6.7% globally. We have to continue the discipline of social distancing and other preventative behaviour as the lockdowns are relaxed in order to ‘live with the disease’ and prevent infections and deaths.

The mining industry, as represented by the Minerals Council South Africa, has been reporting on infections within the sector. As at 13 May, the total number of reported infections stands at 18, with zero fatalities. The industry has demonstrated impressive and co-ordinated action among its members and collaboration with government in response to the need to protect the safety President’s Corner of employees and surrounding communities. The leadership of the mining Ministry from Mr Gwede Mantashe is commendable. It’s a moment to be proud of working in this industry. Further details regarding developments and activities of the industry related to the COVID-19 response can be found at

The world will not be the same when we emerge from the lockdowns – consequently, the SAIMM is evolving and preparing for the ‘new normal’. Of critical importance, the members of staff of the SAIMM remain safe and well while working from home. We continue to work on the strategic direction of the Institute to address our financial challenges. You will have begun to experience some of the changes through the launch of our webinars – this is a milestone for the SAIMM in terms of our digital strategy. There is still much more scope for development and progress that can be achieved.

The lockdown period provided various opportunities for learning, discussion, and preparation for the easing of the lockdown restrictions. The impact of this continuing set of circumstances on livelihoods and wellbeing will be unprecedented. Counted among others are the higher unemployment rate. which may reach 50% as a result of a possible 13% contraction in the economy. Government will not succeed on its own, even with the most brilliant economic recovery plan. As an industry and along with the private sector and other social partners, we have a huge task at hand and a role to play in rebuilding the country’s economy and stitching together the social fabric that will unite us and see us through this challenge.

I wish you safety and health during this challenging time, and urge you to maintain a positive attitude. This situation, too, shall pass.

M.I. Mthenjane
President, SAIMM

COVID-19 and the National Lockdown

I ’ll remember the month of March 2020 for two events that happened in tandem – the first one was my birthday on the 26th when I turned 50 years (half-century) old. Turning 50 years is significant in anyone’s life and mine was no different. However, I did not expect it to be as dramatic as it turned out to be, which leads to the second event, the beginning of the country’s 21-day lockdown from midnight on 26 March to midnight on 16 April.

At the time of writing this letter, we were on the third day of the lockdown where, other than persons involved in essential services, we are all in quarantine within our homes or isolated if we have been infected by the coronavirus disease, also known as COVID-19. Most industries remain closed during this three-week period – the South Africa’s mining industry production levels are down to about 30% and globally, we are headed for a recession, the Global Covid-19 Recession (GCR). The impact of the pandemic is unprecedent in the modern world and its effects will be long-lasting in several ways; including, to name a few, how we work (and play), the nature of economic activity, and specifically for the SAIMM, how we pursue our primary objective of providing continuing education and skills for our members.

 A fundamental and immediate change that has happened in how we work is the huge exodus to (home fitness and) digital platforms to continue with ‘office work’ (work from home – WFH). Work at the coal face (no pun intended) continues with minimal people resources to ensure the continued supply of coal for our electricity generation (imagine the double whammy of being isolated at home with intermittent electricity availability) – to prevent infections and transmission of the disease remains the primary objective. For those operations that are already digitalized, this period of lockdown, such as is prevalent in most countries where infections have been recorded, the transition to digital is vindicated. This is the beginning of the future of our lives and we need to adapt promptly or suffer the consequences.

The SAIMM, as with other organizations that convene conferences and meetings for learning, has postponed and will likely cancel some conferences during this year as a result of the lockdown and possible continuing consequences of the COVID-19 disease. Alternative and innovative avenues to continue to deliver our services, such as webcasts at scale’ (i.e. for a large number of people), are being explored. This is the upside of the pandemic and we will take advantage of the opportunities presented to us to thrive in this new way of thinking and acting.

There’s no telling whether the three weeks will be sufficient to arrest the spread of the disease in South Africa. It’s the minimum and scientifically proven method of preventing further infections and we must adhere to this advice with military discipline for the sustainability of the nation. We are all under varying degrees of emotional and mental strain, the domestic economy is under recession, and as at Friday 27 March, Moody’s Investor Service finally downgraded South Africa’s sovereign credit rating to junk status with a negative outlook. Livelihoods are at stake - I dare say that we have reached the bottom in our social and economic development. It is now the time for leadership, not only as I have discussed in earlier letters, to rise up to this occasion – ‘the greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things’1. Wishing you all safety, health and resolve. Please do take care.

M.I. Mthenjane
President, SAIMM


Focus on environmental, social and governance

The beginning of February marks the annual Investing in African Mining Indaba Conference, which takes place in our beautiful Cape Town. This was the 26th event and remains Africa’s largest mining investment event. It brings together investors, government, junior miners, mid-caps, and the world’s largest companies – all under one roof.

I was privileged to attend the event this year, which was aptly themed ‘growth and investment in the digitized mining economy’. The conference had a positive vibe given the number of attendees, estimated at over 7000. However, the theme did not capture another topic that was high on the agenda of many presentations and panel discussions to promote the growth of investment in mining, viz., sustainability and the topic of ESG (Environment, Social and Governance).

There was a heightened attention to ESG during 2019 and specifically the topic of climate change, owing to some severe weather conditions and natural disasters, such as the fires in Australia and floods in various parts of the world. ESG has shifted from periphery to the mainstream among the investment community. It is a primary filter for investment decision-making and selection of shares on the stock market. This is a significant shift in the mindset of investors and will result in material changes to the conduct of mining companies (and other industries) and allocation of capital investment.

It is therefore pleasing for me to highlight and compliment the SAMESG Committee for receiving the United Nations Intergovernmental Working Group of Experts on International Standards of Accounting and Reporting (ISAR) Honours Award on 30 October 2019. ISAR reviews developments in the field of international reporting and promotes best practices for corporate governance. Within the context of Agenda 2030, ISAR contributes to the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals through enhanced transparency and sustainability standards for companies. Now in its second year, the ISAR Honours 2019 attracted 33 entrants from around the world and SAMESG received the Award for an Outstanding National Initiative to Advance the Sustainable Development Goals. The SAMESG Committee, who were present to receive the award said: ‘The development of the SAMESG guideline was seen as an imperative considering that resources companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, at that time, were not subjected to a formalized standard for reporting on ESG matters and determining their impact on mineral project reserves, resources and valuations … ‘We believe that this guideline, when applied diligently, has the potential to significantly improve the quality of information made available to investors in and shareholders of mineral resources companies in respect of environmental, social and governance considerations.’1

Hence, ESG is providing an opportunity for deeper alignment between shareholders and corporate leadership to share both on the upside and downside performance of the company arising from capital allocation decisions. Mining is a long-term investment with positively transformative qualities in terms of its impact on society, therefore the focus on the long term that is emerging through ESG is absolutely welcome. The individual ESG elements are integrated and represent an aggregate of the several individual and material indicators of a company’s performance.

Consequently, the future of mining, not only coal mining, was topical (and frankly looks promising given this changing perspective). Given the emphasis on digitalization and ESG, with a focus on climate change, mining and its role in society was extensively discussed at the Indaba. Amazingly, the discussions were not all on the technical merits of the future of mining. The most spoken about issues included the ‘future of work’ in terms of the future profile of a ‘mining employee’ and the related skills, how mining will take place in terms of automation and remote mining, as well as the accountability to society that mining will conduct itself with2. This latter issue is already evident in terms of the EY’s top ten business risks facing mining and metals in 2020 (, where License to Operate (LTO) is the no. 1 risk for the second year in a row. The publication is an interesting read for emerging risk trends in the mining sector and I recommend it.

A high-level assessment of the top ten risks for 2020, compared to the previous year, is a clear indication of the changing nature of mining. Sustainability is the prevailing theme in terms of license to operate, employee wellbeing (future of workforce), productivity in terms of cost performance, technology and innovation, and return on investment. As the industry evolves, and it is doing so in a big way, so should we as the Institute in order to remain relevant and worthy to our members. Are we sufficiently grappling with these issues and evolving as an institution? Please share with me your thoughts at


M.I. Mthenjane
President, SAIMM

2020, a year ringing of hope

I have a positive outlook on 2020, also referred to as 20Plenty. And so let me wish all SAIMM members and readers in this corner a blessed, safe, and prosperous New Year; may you find plenty of joy and happiness in your relationships and all that you do.

It’s a fortunate position that I find myself in – writing the first of the year’s President’s Corner article at the beginning of the second decade of the century, 2020. There is a hopeful tone in the pronunciation of the year which bodes well for our country. We were delighted to see the back of 2019 as Christmas approached – it was a ‘hard’ year that demanded the most from us. My hopes for 2020 are, among others, that it will be a year of living ‘smart’, enabling us to achieve a better balance of all the plenty that lies in store. It will be no surprise, then, that technology will play a greater role in my life to enable this great ambition, both for work (inevitably) and private life, with expected outcomes of more time to myself and strengthening relationships.

I’m also excited about 2020 due to the prospect of the 8th International Platinum Conference. The conference has been held every two years since inception of the series in 2004; however, owing to unforeseen constraints, the last conference was held in 2017 in Polokwane under the theme of ‘Platinum: A Changing Industry’ and was a success. So it will be three years since the last Platinum Conference and much has happened in that time in this precious sector – surely it’s time for an update!

I was intrigued by the themes of past conferences, as listed:

  • 2004 – Platinum, Adding Value
  • 2006 – Platinum Surges Ahead
  • 2008 – Platinum in Transformation
  • 2010 – Platinum in Transition: Boom or Bust
  • 2012 – Platinum, a Catalyst for Change
  • 2014 – Platinum, a Metal for the Future
  • 2017 – Platinum, a Changing Industry.

A closer scrutiny of the themes left me with an impression of an industry that is forward-looking and anticipating the future, responsive to its operating environment in both commercial and social terms, and conscientious in terms of its positive impact on society. There’s no doubt that in the past decade, since the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis and the event of the 2012 PGM industry strike, the sustainability of the industry (in South Africa) has been in question – but it has prevailed and the fortunes of the industry have turned for the better since 2019. This has been attributable not only to a weak exchange rate against the US dollar, but also strengthening prices for the by-products gold, palladium, and rhodium and continued management of costs. Further, the role of the 3PGM metals (platinum, palladium, and rhodium) in improving our environment through reducing emissions from automobile exhausts has been strengthened as societies have become more assertive on the issue of climate change. Climate change risks are numerous and indiscriminate in who will be affected – we will all be affected to varying degrees.

So, platinum and its cousin elements remain important commodities in South Africa’s and the world’s socio-economic and environmental contexts. It will be nice to get an update on progress in this regard.

In relation to the Institute, we remain challenged by our financial performance, attributable largely to declining revenues from membership fees and unsatisfactory performance of our conferencing offering. We need a fundamental review of our strategy and tactical plans to arrest the decline in performance and emerge from the trough we are in. Discussions in this regard began in the latter half of 2019 and action plans are being implemented to enable us to harvest some low-hanging fruit in terms of cost reduction.

However, revenue growth is what we require for a more sustainable development of the Institute, hence the focus on responding to membership needs and expectations and developing insightful and relevant educational and technical content for our conference offering. We are also investigating the opportunity of hosting brief webinars (not longer than an hour), with relevant and focused topics for discussion and exchange of ideas.

I’m confident of our endeavours to reinforce the SAIMM as an enduring organization, continuing from the past 125 years. The Institute remains relevant to the African and global mining and minerals sectors, and we will leverage our regional and international networks and relationships for mutual success.

Wishing you the best of outcomes for 2020 and hoping to see you at our events.

M.I. Mthenjane
President, SAIMM

A great start to the year end

Seems like a contradiction, but it’s not.

It’s been a great start for me as President of the SAIMM, since mid-August 2019. However, the rest of the year has passed at a dizzy-speed to December but I’ve been able to maintain my ‘wits about me’.

Some key insights from these first four months of my Presidency include the financial status of the Institute. It’s dire and requires urgent attention, which it is receiving from the Office Bearers in terms of seeking better and additional revenuegenerating opportunities. Cost-saving initiatives will never suffice and therefore the efforts from the TPCs, our largest revenue generator, are encouraging.

In addition, the SAIMM has a great network of relationships, both in terms of its membership as well as with local and global associations. However, we have to demonstrate our value-add to both these networks for our continued sustainability. We are evolving to take advantage of opportunities around us of providing a better service to members, as well as to reinvent the organization in terms of its operating model. Today’s technologies and innovations, such as webinars and social media, offer numerous advantages that can improve the reach and delivery of services to members. We are exploring, and planning on implementing, these innovations.

The SAIMM remains a crucial institution in the industry as regards technical and academic development of its members. However, we recognize the importance and advantage of partnering and collaborating with ’like-minded’ institutions to achieve this objective, in order to share resources and reduce the risks of over-expenditure in implementing membership development initiatives. This development effort remains a core capability of the Institute, and one which I will continue to promote and grow.

The year 2020 is now in sight – the numerical tonation’ rolls off the tongue very smoothly, but realistically this year will not be such a smooth ride. Firstly, looking back at 2019, the macro environment has been dominated by the trade-tennis match’ between China and the USA, which has wreaked havoc on business sentiment as a result of the uncertainty it has created for business planning and volatility in the
equity capital markets. The socio-economic and political context in South Africa, epitomized by the fiscal situation of the country, has been a true test of resolve for our society. In the midst of all this despair, some shoots of hope are emerging, such the South African Investment Conference, led by our President, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa. An additional R300 billion was raised in this second year, bring the total over the two years to about R600 billion. While this may not be new money, it’s playing a role in arresting the growing negative sentiment towards South Africa as an investment destination. More is still required in terms of policy to reach the billion rand target. More can be achieved through, inter alia, mustering the courage to make the difficult decisions to implement the necessary state and policy restructuring, and to invite collaborative relationships between private and public sector to share the resources, risks, and upside of these efforts. The year 2020 should be about realizing the benefits of these efforts and for the South African society to begin growing that sense of hope. There are signals that the resources sector will begin to see reinvestment. Although this is in the equity capital markets, this positive sentiment should filter to the ‘real’ mining activities of investment in exploration and mine development, which is something for members to look forward to.

So then, until 2020, let take this opportunity to wish you rest and restoration and safe journeys where ever you may be travelling with your families during this festive season. I’m looking forward to an exciting 2020, and hope that you will return rejuvenated to help make the SAIMM and South Africa great again.

Merry Christmas.

M.I. Mthenjane
President, SAIMM

Leadership: Vision, then courage to act

In this second instalment of the leadership series that I initiated in my previous article, I’m discussing the leadership trait of courage/boldness (for the purpose of this letter, I’ll stick with the word courage). In the first article, I used the March 2019 Presidential SONA as a base to discuss the importance of visionary leadership for the social and economic development of South Africa. However, vision alone is insufficient. A vision or ‘a dream (goal) without a plan is just a wish’, said Antoine de Saint Exupery. I ended the previous article with the next big question – ‘Do we have the leaders with the courage to take on the required bold actions to make this dream a plan and reality for South Africans? Yes, we do!’

It was a bold assertion on my part to conclude that we do have such leaders. I followed up by posing the question by way of what I’ll confess was a limited survey amongst some of my WhatsApp groups. The emergent reality is rather disappointing. Three key observations struck me from the feedback that I received: -

Firstly, the names that were proposed reflected recent actions in the public and political arena. The political environment of the past ten years has had a great influence on the perception of who is a courageous leader. This should not be surprising because it is real and current in terms of the most concerning issues that need to be addressed in the country. You would have guessed by now that Ms Thuli Madonsela and our Chief Justice, Mogoeng Mogoeng appeared frequently in my respondents’ replies to the question at hand. No surprises there, given the unfolding corruption scandals and party political battles; on enquiry whether any political leaders in South Africa display courage, there was an almost unanimous NO! Just one lonely respondent bravely suggested Julius Malema as a courageous leader.

Secondly, there were no business leaders put forward. One respondent expressed a very disappointing perspective towards business in terms of lack of voice, proactive action, and response to challenges facing the country. This has been a long-held view about business in South Africa and was aptly captured by the Centre for Enterprise and Development, who stated that business has established a cosy relationship with government in terms of engagement which has not put the interest of the country first (The Growth Agenda. Priorities for mass employment and inclusion: business and government ‘Going along to get along’, page 2).

Despite the above views on business, I’ll throw into this discussion a list of names that were put forward at the Joburg Indaba recently, through the SA Mining Hall of Fame. The purpose of the Hall of Fame is to honour individuals who have shown exceptional leadership in the South African mining industry since democracy. The list includes the following – Mark Bristow, Ian Cockerill, Barry Davison, Con Fauconnier, Brian Gilbertson, Bobby Godsell, May Hermanus, Marius J. Kloppers, Gwede Mantashe, Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, James Motlatsi, Patrice Motsepe, and Sipho Nkosi. These are well-known men and women who have built great companies and shaped the South African mining industry; I’ll let you, the reader, be the judge of their courage.

Thirdly, there was no mention of youth leaders who could play a part in the socio-economic transformation of South Africa. It is unfortunate that there are no youth leaders who immediately come to mind; however, I do not believe that it is a reflection of our reality. For example, during the ‘fees must fall’ campaigns several student leaders emerged who displayed boldness about an issue that is of national concern. A quick Google search revealed, among others, Sithembiso Ndlovu (Tshwane University), Alex Hots (Rhodes University), Shaeera Kalla (Wits University), Naledi Chirwa (Pretoria University), and Nompendulo Mkatshwa (Wits University).

Tjoe! The above observations are concerning in my view, although based on a limited survey – a few questions were raised in my mind as I was contemplating this article.

  • While there are many who can be regarded as leaders, not only from a position perspective, few are the kind of leaders who have a propensity for action, willingness to follow the courage of their convictions, and boldness in translating vision to tangibles. South Africa needs action-orientated leaders to drive the transformation, in all its dimensions, that the country needs. Is the persistent underperformance of the nation a function of this lack of ‘leadership for action’?
  • It’s difficult to understand where the difficulty lies in translating leadership vision into action – is it fear or incompetence? Both require courage to overcome, including ‘knowing what you don’t know’ and seeking assistance and collaboration. Are the visions, dreams, and aspirations that we hear from our leaders really a concern for the nation or rather a camouflage for the concern for self and how one will benefit?
  • Will the country’s leaders only emerge from our youth? The breadth and depth of issues require all demographies to play a role in learning, teaching, perspective, experience and the ‘energy to do’ that you find in diversity. What kinds of action would show a concern for the nation, rather than the self, from our leaders? President’s Corner That will be the subject of my next article, selflessness as a leadership trait

Selflessness in Leadership

This is my third installment on the topic of leadership and specifically the leadership characteristics necessary to achieve sector and national objectives. In the first two articles, I discussed vision and courage, respectively. South Africa has visionary leaders, in both public and private sectors, who have acted with courage during the toughest times in the sector and development of the country. However, the country remains in that descriptor of “having so much potential” for the past 10-15 years, why is this if we have such great & courageous leaders?

This question leads me to my discussion on the third trait of leadership, selflessness. What do I mean with this expression – simply put, it is the act/action of a person without regard for self-gain, but rather to benefit others. It could be a distant reference to the servant-leader. It is not my aim to cast judgement on selflessness, to its presence or lack thereof, especially on the individuals listed in my previous article. I’ll let you, the reader be the judge for yourself.

Leadership, Vision, and Dreams

In this first article, I pick up on the topic of leadership that I initiated in my Presidential Address, in which I listed three key leadership traits that I believe are required at this time in our society and our industry. I firmly believe that the continuing (and increasing) inequality and poor social cohesion in South Africa is attributable to the ‘poverty’ of leadership and lack of or ‘unemployment’ of imagination to lead this country to fulfil its potential as a leading player in the socio-political and economic spheres, both regionally and globally.

What are those traits, then, that we as leaders need to begin South Africa’s journey of development? Firstly, vision, a rather obvious characteristic which has always been associated with the role of leadership. However, it requires specific mention in our national context – what is our national and common vision for the future? There is no right or wrong vision, but rather the desire and ambition for progress and better life for many South Africans than what we are experiencing today. Then I put forward courage or boldness – this is essential in order to, firstly, avoid conforming to populist rhetoric and rather to take action that breaks out of the norm and is transformational in many respects, and secondly, to take people along on this journey and translate that vision into experience. Not everyone will be convinced of the common good and the responses will be both amazingly negative and positive, despite the benefits that could be obtained. Lastly, the character of self-leadership, and specifically selflessness. I describe this trait as the ability to act on behalf of others rather for one’s own benefit. As leaders we are exposed to many resources that we must apply for the creation of value for employees and community at large. However, we have witnessed how these resources have been abused for personal benefit, resulting in permanent destruction of value and disruption of the lives of many people.