While my wife and I were enjoying an idyllic holiday with our children in Singapore over the Christmas season, we were notified that our home in Centurion was burgled. This was a rude reminder of a negative side of our great country. The news of the burglary was particularly unpleasant in the light of our Singapore experience. Those people that know Singapore well will confirm that it is an amazing testament to the drive and ambition of motivated leaders. For 30 days we visited many amazing world class sites in this City/Island. We did not experience one unfriendly person, we did not see a single beggar, we were amazed at the cleanliness of the city and surrounding island, and we did not experience even the slightest tinge of crime. I cannot remember seeing a burglar bar! The service all over Singapore was faultless and the variety of quality products offered were amazing, most of them expensive and imported. We understand that one in every hundred persons in Singapore is a millionaire and the number of Maserati, Ferraris, Lamborgines, Jaguars and many other luxury cards we saw was staggering, even though the import duties on the cars made them more than two or three times as expensive as what we are used to locally. The food is varied, glorious and very clean. We saw very few obese people in the country. The city is known as the shopping centre of South East Asia and this we can easily believe. In the famous Orchard road there are more than 20 magnificent skyscraper shopping malls standing wall to wall with the best that the world can offer. We found no contention in the media, probably because the media is government controlled.
Now comes the rub. What does our country have to offer in comparison to this island paradise? Just bear with me for a few minutes as I discuss the difference between South Africa and Singapore. On the surface it would seem as if I was comparing an island paradise with a struggling and danger infested third world country.
But things are not necessarily what they seem.
While we were visiting the beautiful Singapore botanical gardens, we wanted to rest our weary feet and found our self in the shade of a magnificent tree. I moved closer to see what kind of tree it was and it turned out to be a large tree from West Africa. It also had a plaque at the foot of the tree. This was the Tree of Fame dedicated to the visit of Nelson Mandela who visited the island in the late nineties. There is no doubt that Nelson Mandela is revered by Singapore as one of the all-time greats in history. Yet it was startling to me to realise that in important ways Nelson Mandela symbolises values that Singapore does not agree with. I am speaking of the direction that South Africa has taken regarding democratic rights. Singapore is not a fully democratic country if compared with South Africa for example. Their government has rigid control over the country and they seem to have a benevolent approach resulting in world class economic prosperity for the citizens of the country. They have hundreds of thousands imported workers from Malaysia, Philippines and other countries who do not enjoy citizen status. I am wary of criticising Singapore; they are obviously doing something right.
But we in South Africa have chosen a different route and many of our troubles are caused by the route we have taken. We are paying a very expensive price for our demand for freedom of the individual, a free press and a democratic form of government. Would I like to see in our country the tremendous benefits that Singapore offers the world? Yes of course. Would I like to see us abandoning our Mandela (and other great leaders) inspired direction? No, I would not.
Let me illustrate what the leadership difference is between South Africa and Singapore. This illustration was given to me by fellow passengers on the plane on the way home. I was sitting next to Dr. Ncoza Dlova and her husband who is also a medical doctor. Dr. Ncoza Dlova is a principle lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. We were sharing our appreciation for the magnificence of Singapore and also our agreement on the leadership imperatives of our own country. They were told a story indicating the difference between a child in Japan and a child in Singapore. The father of the Japanese child would ask him to fetch a hammer. He would fetch the hammer and then think that his dad will probably require a nail as well, and he will bring the nail. The Singapore child is also asked to fetch the hammer and when he comes back his father will ask him: “But where is the nail?” And the child will answer: “You did not ask for a nail!”
In a society with an authoritarian form of government people may get used to being told what to do, and they may well lose their ability to be proactive and innovative. I believe that we have chosen the leadership direction of teaching correct principles and allowing our people to govern themselves. Do we have a long way to go? For sure, as indicated by the burglary of our home!
The biggest need in our country is quality leadership at all levels. We can do it. May the year 2014 be a year of great leadership!
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