Dale Williams
Dale Williams

Zuma’s state of the nation challenge

South Africa isn’t short of skills, people, resources or imagination. What it is short of is a common vision. Common implies most of us buy into it and will take whatever steps it takes to achieve it. Sometimes we will need to make sacrifices in the short term for the long.

The world has known a few common visions that have worked. Mahatma Gandhi brought the British Empire to its knees with his (it took 30 odd years). JFK put a man on the moon with his (7 years — watch and listen to his inspiring words).

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.” (Read the full speech from Rice University on September 12 1962)

Nelson Mandela galvanised a generation around his vision which took 27 years to emerge:

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” (Read his full speech from the dock of the Rivonia Trial on April 20 1964)

More recently Barack Obama got elected on the simple promise of “We can”.

Companies have been built on great visions too. Henry Ford dedicated his whole life to “consumerism as the key to peace” and his legacy stands for itself (despite most recent woes).

Bill Gates pictured a PC on every desk and got some people to follow him and look what happened. Larry Page and Sergey Brin saw an opportunity to organise the world’s information and Google continues to live this vision.

The word “vision” has unfortunately in recent years been killed by overuse. Consultants and others have reduced it to a “vision statement”, lost among piles of strategy papers, mission statements, values and principles.

Imagine Nelson Mandela with a “vision statement” on the wall of his cell, neatly framed and repeated every day like an affirmation. It loses some of its effect doesn’t it?

True vision is much more powerful than a plaque on the wall. It describes something which gets our hearts beating faster. It creates a desire to do more. It is compelling. When clear, the last thing I want is to be left behind or left out from that vision.

A compelling vision is also simple. It is not a shopping list or an agenda. It is bold, uncomplicated, accessible and embraced.

Unfortunately over the past years our country has become visionless. We are falling well short of our potential. Mbeki lost the plot once he got into the president’s chair. He became defensive and a petty squabbler. Arguing about the issues rather than raising above them. He fell short of the political leader that he could have been.

South Africa needs a leader who can inspire and unite. There is no place for division among true leaders. The leaders above are remembered for their bold view of the future which united people to join and follow them. Paradoxically it is simple and it is hard.

Today, Zuma will give his State of the Nation address. His task is not easy, what is the single vision that could unite South Africa in 2009?

Vision takes time to emerge. Today may, however, just be the start we need. I believe we are hungrier than ever for a compelling vision. Like a CEO taking over a troubled company, the bad times are sometimes easier to make bold moves and to change course decisively.

Dare we dream that it is possible?

  • Jon

    Abandonment of African victimhood and entitlement might be a start.

  • Richard P

    “What [South Africa] is short of is a common vision.”

    No, what South Africa is short of is competent, non-corrupt, accountable and tolerant leadership at all levels (the DA is about the only party which is able to offer this).

    Until South Africa gets this, platitudes like “common vision” are no more than meaningless hot air.

  • Richard P

    “Mahatma Gandhi brought the British Empire to its knees with his (it took 30 odd years). JFK put a man on the moon with his (7 years — watch and listen to his inspiring words).”

    Bollocks to both.

    Gandhi did NOT bring the British Empire to its knees (if anything the end of the British Empure was hastened by World War 2 and its consequences). He simply helped secure Indian independence. He had bugger all to do with the disamantling of the rest of the Empire.

    And JFK was in his coffin for nearly 6 years before Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon. He may have got the moon programme started, but he was way too dead himself to have put a man on the moon.

    “South Africa needs a leader who can inspire and unite.”

    That would be nice, but Mandela is now too old for the job. If you think that Zuma is likely to be the guy, then your judgment is woefully lacking.

  • Dave Harris

    Dale, I’m impressed by your role models. :-)

    Zuma is certainly a unifying force in our society. I sure hope he can give SA the vision it desperately needs in these hard times. Lets give him a chance.

  • Peter H

    Zuma has promised everything to everyone. Can he deliver? Has the country the skills to carry out his promises? Does the government appreciate what is needed to implement his promises. Grand dreams are all very well but the blood ,sweat, tears and ability to achieve them is entirely another matter. I just hope that we are not about to see him come a spectacular “gutsa”. I have no doubt that his intentions are entirely honourable, but God protect me from those who are ignorent of the nuts and bolts needed to achieve goals. We need a charismatic, strong leader, who can motivate our non productive nation, ill dicilined nation. He has my full support, but I hope he can walk the walk.

  • Richard P

    @ David Harris

    “Zuma is certainly a unifying force in our society.”

    On what planet do you live? He was not even a unifying force within the ANC (hence COPE).

  • http://www.obama.com Phillipa Lipinsky

    @Richard P, Jon and Ian: You are missing the point. Dale is not saying that we should ingore the challenges we are facing, he is saying that we must work together to make our country a better place; that “there is more that unites us than divides us”. Take your prejuidiced blinders off otherwise you’ll hit your stiff heads against a pole!

  • anton kleinschmidt

    I share the hope that Zuma can at last provide the sort of all inclusive leadership that has been so sadly lacking in this country for decades. Will the apparatchiks in Luthuli House allow this leadership to bloom? I have my doubts and the jury is out.

    I will be shouted down, but I belive that Helen Zille has the desparately needed qualities of being a true leader for all South Africans. If I am correct it would be great if Zuma would allow her to use this quality for the benefit of her political domain and call off his clamorous underlings.

  • David James Smith

    A common vision. South Africa has one. I want a job, I want a house, I want to be safe and I want it sooner than later. It’s pretty simple!

    But like the mice trying to put the bell on the cat, who is going to do it?

  • Na’ima

    I’m assuming (and standing to be corrected)that you are white and by virtue thereof, are a beneficiary, if not a direct participant of the gross transgression that was Apartheid. It is therefore not incumbent on you to tell those trangressed to abandon their “victimhood”.

  • ian

    hmm, I didn’t make any comment so what point am i missing?
    the only occasion i know of where one can ‘hit your stiff head against a pole’ is at Mavericks. Which is certainly not prejudiced.

  • http://thoughtleader.co.za/rodmackenzie Rod MacKenzie

    Ian – I think the Pseudo Polish Poodle fantasizes about you, hence your name came up unwittingly. Yes, change your phone numbers and all the locks on your doors.

  • vic

    It is absolutely astounding that anyone can group Jacob Zuma together with Gandhi, JFK , Obama , Mandela , Bill Gates etc.

    Jacob’s only “achievements” so far would in all probabilty have earned him a long jail sentence in most countries.