Duvenage – Leader on a Mission

One of the most commonly accepted leadership principles is uniting people around a common goal, cause or vision, yet it is not practiced effectively by most leaders in leadership positions. As they say, ‘common sense is not always common practice’.

In a previous article we quoted a simple analogy by Heyneke Meyer of two different individuals that end up on a ship: “The first person is newly married and on his honeymoon, enjoying the time with his wife. He falls off the ship, swims and finds an island. Then there is another man that is a convict, sentenced to death, who jumps off the ship and escapes, chains and all. He ends up on the same island with the first man. When these two individuals are threatened by dangers around them the first man will help the convict to take off the chains so that they can survive, live and hunt together. They will do this for ten years, if necessary. They have the same purpose and vision. Then another ship comes past. The first guy wants to get back on a ship to return to his wife. The escaped convict knows that if he gets on to that ship his freedom disappears and he dies. Now the purpose, vision and goals change and these two men will probably kill each other”.

This simple story illustrates the power that a goal or vision has to unite people from different backgrounds, cultures and even beliefs. We have seen this happen in South Africa, over and over, though at times it seems we forget. For decades many different South Africans (black and white) united around a vision of an equal society. In 1994 a nation united at the polls in a first ever democratic election. In 1995 a nation was united around winning a rugby world cup. In the run up towards our hosting of the 2010 soccer world cup we united as a nation to achieve this – even different national, provincial and local structures somehow aligned to succeed, as mentioned by Deputy President Motlanthe: “We were able to meet the deadlines set by FIFA for the FIFA world cup – buildings were mega-projects but there were clear timelines and so we could co-ordinate through the local organizing committee the three spheres of government – national, provincial and local – even though competencies were different”.

Of late we saw another amazing example of unity where diverse groups like Cosatu, DA and business united against the implementation of the e-toll system. But not long after we saw two of these same parties (DA and Cosatu) physically attack one another in the streets of Johannesburg because of differences regarding youth wages – sounds like the two men on the island.

For a society to function successfully it needs, among other things a mature political system, a strong civic society and an assertive and profitable business community.

History may show that leaders like Wayne Duvenage played a significant role in moving civic society closer towards its rightful place within the South African society. He has played a big role in uniting these different parties around a cause of challenging how the e-toll system is to be implemented. This leadership task is an audacious one, which is becoming more evident as emotions subside, the initial victory fades from people’s minds, and the e-toll alliance face certain ingrained societal constraints.

Some of these include the unbalanced power of government compared to for example business; the fear that business has of offending government; apathy of citizens when push comes to shove and the pressures of everyday life takes over.

We decided to catch up with Duvenage:

BRLP:  How did you get involved in the E-toll saga? 

Duvenage:  Our industry has a problem with the e-tolling.  It is very different for us because our driver, the renter, simply drives straight under the gantries and we have to pay and then get the bill to the customer quickly.  So our question to Sanral was really, how are you going to do this, how do you plan to engage big business?  How is this going to work? How are you going to get the money?  What’s the cost of this thing?  And the attitude was a very arrogant one. Eventually we started asking questions like did you really consult properly; what are the laws around this? It was so wrong, everyone was shouting and beating a drum, they were looking at a legal challenge, Cosatu was going to march, everyone was shouting.  DA said they were going to look at whether they should challenge in court, but nothing was happening so I went to our industry and said if there is a strong chance, if our senior council say there is a chance of winning, of a legal case, do you have an appetite to go to court and there was a resounding yes.  By now the Road Freight Association, AA, Retail Motor Industry, were getting on board.  We formed an alliance with some of these guys. 

BLRP: For a society to work there needs to be a mature political system, a strong civic society and an assertive and profitable business community.  What do you think your alliance has done for civil society in general?  It feels like it has lifted it to another level.

Duvenage: I think it most certainly has.  We are generally apathetic in society and we are still polarized – we are still a society where there are people that have and people that don’t have.  And the people that don’t have are not as apathetic as those who do.  They stand up and say listen to us, fix it and do what you promised.  We tend to moan a lot but just accept it and people were saying well what can we do, the gantries are up, it’s too late and I was saying guys, you can stop this, you can challenge it and if you don’t you are sending a message to government saying they can do what they like, our wallets are open. And then what’s next? 

BRLP:  So I guess what you’re fighting is much bigger than just e-tolls.  This is lifting the consciousness levels of society in terms of having the confidence to take on government, when needed.  Often business does not seem to have the confidence – so sensitive about offending government. 

Duvenage: What you are saying is so valid.  What I have learned through this experience is that government is such a big spender that people are scared of them.  We have gone to business, to industry to raise these funds and all of them are saying what you’re doing is right, but if government hears we’ve given you 100k towards your case then we could be in big trouble.  So this is what we’re saying to businesses out there – you belong to an association, if you all stand up, say we’re all contributing because it’s right to do so, then they can’t pick on one of you.  That’s what happened with SAVRALA, they can’t just pick on Avis or Europcar, because we jointly are going to fund this case.

BRLP: Where are we now and where are we going with this E-toll story?

Duvenage: We just met with the legal team this morning. The case was temporarily interdicted until the court had a full review. We maintained it’s unreasonable to ask people to pay for the roads and the collection etc; why have an elaborate gantry system with tags? The Judge said the argument was logical and now we need to prove this in court.  So we are in this review process – sifting through 8000 pages – we are all reading documents to support and strengthen our case.  We will set the date with the high court at the end of this month where we will prove that Sanral has misled the ministers on the collection costs – that nothing was scrutinized, no logical basis for what they’ve done, didn’t take the taxpayers interest to heart.  We believe the case is still strong.

Of course they are attempting to appeal the interdict; interestingly they have gone to the Constitutional court instead of the High court – very unusual move.  The Constitutional court have said we will only see it in August – we could have this review wrapped up by then, in which case the appeal might be thrown out with the court saying – you’re about to have a verdict so why should we stop the interdict now?  So that’s where we are now – we’re trying to get that review up and running.  It has given a new impetus to the strength of the man in the street – that he can stand up – but it really is just sad that we don’t have the financial support.  We’ve got the support vocally, emails and websites saying thank you – but now we’re saying don’t thank us, just put down some cash.  The Road Freight Association for example, we’ve saved them millions.

BRLP: Your view of Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe’s involvement now?

DuvenageWell we’re meeting with him right now and next week.  So we are engaging but we’re sensing – the clear message is they want to toll, but we’ll see what angle they take. But all the rhetoric and the appeals and the court tell us that they’ve soldiered down this road and we should not get in their way.  They’ll just wear you down. 

BRLP:  You have moved into that space where the stakeholders are so varied and I guess people first look at who is involved and then decide if they’re assisting or joining you. A final message?

Duvenage: There is apathy amongst business and my message now is that business associations have a bigger role to play than they think and they must start standing up and be counted.  That’s what SAVRALA has done and if they didn’t, we wouldn’t have had the first million to start the case, we wouldn’t have had a case, e-tolling would be happening right now because no-one would have had the appetite to do this.  The other side of the coin is sadly that people get so excited about this but they quickly forget. We tell them this is just round one and all we need is for 20 000 potential users to give us their first month’s e-toll savings, or if less that 10% of the 300 000 cars on the road gave us half their savings, R200 each, we would be fine. Do you think we can get anything – nothing, nothing – people go back into their lives again and forget and now we have to look at viral campaigns – it’s just madness, we have to go collect money.  That’s the danger now.  Government is using your tax money to fight this, they will just wear us down, and that’s what they’ll do.  They can.  And we will shoot ourselves in years to come if we let this happen.

You know, it is sad when society has to go to court to get the education department to deliver books to Limpopo, when you have to go to court to interdict Mdluli from doing his job.  Now unfortunately you don’t want to rush off to courts every time, but we’re going to have to.

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Do you recognize some areas in yourself or your team that need improvement? Email Adriaan on adriaan@leadershipplatform.com for more on creating “Leadership Fit” leaders that generate successful movement (performance) inside your organisation.




Adriaan, as an accomplished author and leadership advisor, has been interviewing and working with top leaders for more than 15 years. He is the Co-Founder and CEO of Leadership Platform. (Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP)

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