Business

Friends and friction: Serve with messianic diligence or we’ll fail

2019-08-23 10:00

The Messiah isn’t coming soon. Until then, no one is going to save Africa but ourselves. Salvation will not come from Parliament or the money-making pastors who spray people with pesticide.

For centuries, Africans have been waiting for the redeemer. We looked to the first president of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah – he was overthrown, then exiled until he died of prostate cancer in a Romanian hospital. We looked to the first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Patrice Lumumba – he was executed by military dictator Mobutu Sese Seko’s firing squad. We looked to the first president of Mozambique, Samora Machel – he died in an aircraft crash. We looked to Nelson Mandela, but age was not on his side – his best years were stolen by apartheid. We looked to Thabo Mbeki, but he was recalled.

Africa is sliding downhill again. There is no philosophy to hold it together and there are no original ideas to lift the continent out of poverty.

Until the messiah arrives at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi or Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport in Port Louis – or at any other airport named after a politician – Africa will continue its decline.

The seat of all our troubles is the cult of personality. We must honour the people over the individual, particularly politicians, who are fallible by nature.

This undeserved honour has its roots in royalty, which is why politicians expect to be treated like princes and princesses. During public gatherings, they expect to sit at elevated tables designated for VIPs (which a friend of mine says stands for very insecure person; and VVIP stands for very very insecure person).

When people think they are very important, they do not expect to be questioned by those they consider to be plebeians. What they do not know is that, because they have this heightened sense of self, they fail at their careers and will never become statesmen or women.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma are examples of how politicians should treat the people – with humility and respect. Perhaps their backgrounds equipped them well for their roles as leaders. Mlambo-Ngcuka was a teacher in KwaZulu-Natal and Dlamini-Zuma was a doctor at Mbabane Hospital in eSwatini (formerly Swaziland).

The former is now the executive director of UN Women with the rank of under secretary-general of the UN. I will not be surprised when she becomes secretary-general of the UN, just as Dlamini-Zuma became the chairperson of the African Union Commission – the first woman to hold that role.

People are people with souls that must be nurtured. They are not stepping stones for the politically ambitious.

Things are indeed falling apart, as Chinua Achebe wrote in Things Fall Apart, but to complain will not catapult us out of this quagmire. We need a thorough understanding of how we got here.

When South Africa became free, the world saw an unprecedented number of people becoming millionaires – not only was it enough to be rich, but age also mattered. Many young people became millionaires before the age of 30.

In the past, many rich people preferred to remain anonymous, but Forbes magazine now publishes their names and their worth every year, as if they are rock stars. Service ceased to be the key, and money took the front seat. Even the activists chased riches at all costs.

Like a people who are lost, we have to retrace our steps and return to the highest hill so we can find ourselves. Mlambo-Ngcuka and Dlamini-Zuma served before they collected. Their pride is in their service, and their humility enables them to do more and achieve more.

If you have been given a job, no matter how small, do your work with messianic diligence because you are the one anointed to do it.

Kuzwayo is founder of Ignitive, an advertising agency

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September 15 2019