The first important step

Jannie de Villiers
CEO, Grain SA

My recent exposure to our academic leaders has given me new insight. If I remember correctly, the academics played a very important, leading role in South Africa’s history in bringing us to a true democracy.

They were in fact the people who came with criticism and wisdom to bring solutions for the dilemmas of the 1980s and early 1990s. What surprised me now was that the academics are still fulfilling this role with respect to the situation in which our country currently finds itself. I was under the impression that they had become silent.

There is definitely nothing wrong with their observations and standards: They even have opinions on the poor performance of our national sports teams. The past month was disastrous – regardless of the type of sport you watch. We are just no longer good enough at international level. However, there is still one world cup ahead and I will be very pleased if the trend does not continue.

In the discussions I attended, privately and on stage, the academics are very clear about the fact that South Africa is not in a good place and that urgent change is necessary. They are outspoken about the ability of our current leaders to lead us out of this situation, as they feel that these are the same leaders who have led us into it.

When referring to leaders in the academic world, I am talking about all races and disciplines. Their statements and opinions are based on facts and honest assessment and they do not hold back because of racial and/or party politics. If we compare unfavourably with the world, it has to do with merit.

When was the last time we heard this? What they are doing – objective analyses – are not really regarded as politically correct. Yet it is exactly this honest sincerity that is the first important step in changing direction. This message from them is very good advice to every young graduate (and to the current political leaders).

It may be that the reasonable people in the governing party do not always have the majority vote to change decisions and policy, but if the rest of the country’s reasonable people (and I include myself and Grain SA here) are added, then there is hope. Getting this grouping of people together and having them collaborate will definitely require next-level leadership.

Uncle Fanie van Zyl always says in Afrikaans, ‘Jy het ’n man op ’n perd nodig’ (you need a man on a horse), and during the time of urban warfare in the 1990s it was called ‘one times brave captain on bulldozer’. It is now time for the men and women of our time to step forward. We urgently require change.

I saw the first green sprouting of hope when the new plans were drafted to get the economy to grow again, and in the speeches by our academics to the graduating students. Our belief in people, and particularly in our leaders, has been damaged over the past few years, but it can never violate our faith in our God or make us despondent.

Just as every drought has always ended at some point, I continue to believe that the end of the current political drought will also come. We should therefore till the land now so that we can be ready to plant.