The SONA Saga

I, of course, watched the State of the Nation with keen interest. And yes, even though I am a passionate South African and interested in what the President had to say, my interest levels were higher this time round. If I am honest with myself I wanted to see what Julius Malema would do; how the presiding leaders and President Zuma would react. I was interested from a leadership perspective.

As far as President Zuma is concerned, I have interviewed him and, unlike many, believe he has great leadership inside him, but I wonder how active or alive it is. His leadership instinct flame, which we know burned strong once, seems to have faded. One can only speculate why. Is it the system around him that allowed this to happen? Is it weak input from advisors that have lost touch with reality? Is it an inward focus on aspiring towards and managing selfish desires? Is it hubris? Am I wrong and it is in fact bad communication on government’s part? Is it simply the negative relationship he has with the South African media? Who knows?

I think there is a lack of passion for leading, for wanting to leave a healthy legacy, for creative and inspirational behaviour, of authenticity. I will explain why. Here is what should have happened, just one example, if he and his advisors were “in the zone”, in touch with reality, humble and confident enough to embrace what is really going on.

Those closest to him would have explained that since the advent of Malema into parliament the parliamentarian channel has never been so popular, because people are watching Malema and his team. You can choose to brush this off as temporary, a fad, a superficial interest, but it is factual. Also, because of recent developments around Nkandla and speculation around the EFF plans to disrupt SONA, more South Africans would be watching the address. Is this right, wrong or a reflection of our immature nature and craving for sensationalism? Frankly it doesn’t matter, because it is a fact.

With this information at hand an astute leader, one that is passionate, connected, authentic and “in the zone”, would have seen innumerable opportunities here. Instead of planning to block cell phone signals, or reasoning that ignoring the EFF and continuing with the SONA would be the mature thing to do, or planning to violently throw the EFF out, other options would have surfaced.

This is what President Zuma the leader should have done. Setting aside for a moment protocol (which often is the leader’s enemy to following instinct), walk into parliament, shake a few hands, but in particular find a reason to shake Malema’s hand. Now let me digress. My uncle Major General Tienie Groenewald former Chief Director of Military Intelligence for PW Botha, together with General Constand Viljoen and others ended up in parliament after the 1994 elections. He shared with me how President Mandela would enter parliament, everyone would rise and he would walk to his seat. However, on more than one occasion he would stop once to greet one person, my uncle, who was perceived in more than one way as the enemy. The symbolism of this was genius!

Back to President Zuma. The Speaker would then make an announcement that before the President starts his SONA he wants to address the nation. Now Imagine President Zuma rising and saying something to this effect: “I have decided to pay for alterations made to my Nkandla home in the following way… (MP’s clap and rise to their feet). Now, please understand that because of several reasons (might name them), I don’t necessarily agree that this is the way to go. But, as the leader of this nation, with immeasurable life threatening needs, I have to set aside my own views, as well as that of my advisors; I cannot in good conscience allow for us to continue wasting invaluable energy on this matter. We have a war to fight! The enemy is poverty, unemployment, inequality, global economic downturn, global competition, corruption, crime and much more. We cannot win this war if we are not fully united, because the level of our unity will determine the level of our performance! Let us move on from this matter. Let us unite against these ills in our society and move towards our full potential as a nation. I am now going to suggest how we do this in my SONA address”.

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Image courtesy:

If he did this with passion, authority, confidence and sincerity, what would the result have been? His nemesis Julius Malema would have been neutralised – he may even have developed an inkling of respect for his opponent, realised he has been underestimating him. That larger number of South Africans watching than ever before would have listened to the speech with keener interest. The side show would not have stolen the limelight. The newspaper headlines and debates the next day would not have been about Julius Malema being manhandled and the DA walking out, but would have been about President Zuma’s genius, an inspiring, brave, strategic act and the content of the speech.

Why don’t we see President Zuma leading like this, in ways that inspire, unite and immediately drill down to the essence of what people, the country and politics in general desperately need?  Answer for yourself. As a leadership specialist I know that creative, authentic and inspirational leadership emerge only when the leader’s source of motivation is clear to him and he is passionate about it, and he connects with the source of motivations of his followers; when his direction is accurate and simple enough for it to filter all the way to the bottom and his followers can relate to it, see how it will positively impact their personal lives; when relevant structures support this direction and source of motivation.

A leader cannot lead like a Mandela when he allows anyone to overpower his instincts to give substance to that source of motivation; when he has worked so hard to be an ‘organisation’ man that he lost his ability to be true to authentic leadership that his electorate desperately need.

Whether one agrees with Malema or not, he said he would do something and he did. It’s that simple I’m afraid, and one of the reasons his following grows by the day. Yes he is charismatic and fearless. While many would be weary of his source of motivation, he symbolises that strength, steel that current leaders have lost; he represents peoples need for radical change and challenging the status quo that clearly does not seem to be working. His source of motivation he proclaims to the masses seems to connect with their real needs and unfulfilled expectations.

But if his deepest source of motivation is not economic freedom and in fact that of revenge or hate for his previous boss whom he once was willing to die for, chances are he will eventually fail. South Africans will see through his agenda. He will ultimately be exposed, especially if or when in power, where his daily behaviour and decisions will be scrutinised and tested. Time will tell.

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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)

Call: +27 (0)12 653 3022

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Leadership Platform is a specialist leadership development consultancy, focusing on creating measurable impact to the bottom line through the enhancement of leadership understanding and engagement.


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