A conversation with Pinky Sishuba – Manager Future Stream Lead Business Integrated Solutions Transactional Products and Services in Corporate and Investment Banking, Standard Bank

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PS:

My Leader, Thank you so much for this opportunity to discuss some issues that face us as young leaders in the corporate world. 

LM:

My dear Sister, these conversations are important for all of us, they create a platform for further conversations within our homes, places of work and social settings. 

PS:

Describe the kind of leader that is required to take South Africa forward (from 2018 and beyond). In the late 90’s and early 2000’s we had the “struggle icons” in many leadership positions. What are the characteristics of the type of leader that will build this country, and are the struggle icons still relevant in corporate South Africa?

LM:

You see Pinky, South Africans have vastly different experiences, interests, hopes, fears, aspirations and views. We need leaders who are willing to build on what South Africans have in common – a deep desire for a better life, a powerful yearning to live in peace and harmony, and a fervent hope for a brighter future for their children. Such leaders should craft a vision and a rallying cry that states clearly that: we hope for a common future in which more people prosper, rather than fewer.

Our responsibility as leaders is to create a bright future for all South Africans while driving the necessary change towards equity and transformation. It will be our ability to take all constituencies with us, our skill in building a guiding coalition of change, and our capacity to create understanding and consensus among all our people that will be the true measure of our leadership ability. 

Plainly speaking, Pinky, this means we must have leaders who can persuade those fortunate enough to have access to resources, skills, education, assets, wealth and positions of privilege that their future prosperity lies in a society that grows its economy and spreads its wealth. We have to demonstrate through word and deed that these fortunate few belong to  this country, can contribute greatly to its success and deserve recognition for their efforts: past, present and into the future. Our leadership responsibility is to create an enabling environment for them to invest their excess savings, plough back their hard-earned skills, share their wealth of experience, use their ingenuity and give of their precious time towards the creation of a better society.

Genuine and effective leadership would require us to use all the persuasive skills at our disposal, with all the humility we can muster, we must make a cogent case for all who are part of this privilege sector of our society, irrespective of their race, to promote genuine change and economic transformation. We must make the case, which I’m sure many will accept, that our common future lies in growing an economy that creates more jobs and increases the prosperity of those less fortunate. We must solicit their support for that journey and harness their human and other resources for the betterment of our society.

Although this may seem a hard sell, I have come across many men and women of goodwill in this sector of society, who are only too willing to contribute, in various ways, to the creation of a winning nation. I say this as one who has the privilege of belonging to this social group and who is not alone in seeing success as more than capital accumulation, conspicuous consumption and living a life of luxury without regard for our fellow South Africans.

I know that many of us are seeking even better ways to engage the government, civil society, and other role players, as individuals or as organised bodies, to join in building a better life for more people rather than for fewer. I hope and pray that these genuine gestures of outreach, these sincere attempts to close the gap, no matter how small they may appear, will be embraced and will help to build a solid foundation of shared prosperity. I firmly believe that any steps, however tentative, any acts, however few, can help to galvanise support from many of us who are blessed to have more than others to contribute.

As you can gather Pinky, it will require a Herculean task to lead South Africa towards joint prosperity. We therefore need are men and women of the highest calibre to lead us into a new dawn. These are men and women drawn from the religious, cultural, academic, government, business and civil society. 

What will distinguish them is what the well-known South African public intellectual and commentator Songezo Zibi described as “rational, transcendent leadership.” Such leadership is “either unburdened by the dogmas of the past or able to manage them effectively.” It is such leadership that can reach out to others, make principled compromises, build towards a greater future and always strive for broader rather than narrow interests.

PS:

How do we change the dialogue at our dinner tables to shape our thinking in a way that will add value in the work place and South Africa at large? What messages should we be imparting to our children around the dinner table? 

LM:

This is a very difficult question as our dinner tables are shaped by our personal experiences and stories. In my case, because of my own upbringing, my personal values, and the teachings my wife and I try to instil into our children – the dialogue at our table and the lessons we share with my children are: 

  • People are created in God’s image, any discrimination on the basis of race, gender, class, sexual orientation or ethnicity is wrong. It only leads to suffering and conflict.
  • To know a people, is to know their cultures, their religions, their traditions and their perspectives. I therefore encourage my children to build relationships and links beyond their natural community. It’s a great way to grow and broaden their knowledge. Their friends are from different parts of the African continent and belong to different cultures and languages within South African society. 
  • An unequal society, where fewer people rather than most people are prosperous, is not sustainable. That is why I hope my children will play their part in improving society. I also hope they will never define themselves in terms of material riches and will always treat everyone with respect and afford them dignity, no matter what their station in life.
  • It is vital for my children to understand, appreciate and know their history, culture and language. Nonetheless, pride in their own culture, language and heritage should never prompt them to undermine or denigrate the culture, language and heritage of anyone else. Instead, I encourage my children to take care of, to be sensitive to and to accommodate the rights of others.
  • If any of my children is involved in a dispute, no matter how heated, or a disagreement, no matter how fundamental, they should never, ever, let it degenerate into racial, ethnic, sexist, homophobic or xenophobic slur– and they should never try to solve such disputes through violence.
  • I give my children regular gender focused lessons to prepare them for a more non-sexist view of the world. Firstly, we demonstrate our equality as husband and wife in our family as the equality that should be there between males and females. Secondly, I teach my two girls to be assertive, confident, independent, and be comfortable in their identity and choices and lastly, I teach my son to be respectful and loving towards women, to see himself as an equal to women, and someone who will fight against women abuse in all its forms. 
  • I teach my children to always embrace fellow Africans who come to our country as brothers, sisters and fellow travellers on the road towards prosperity and they should never condone, promote or be involved in xenophobia; and lastly 
  • I teach my children important values I was taught by my parents and other elders such as selflessness, service, integrity, probity, humility and diligence. 

Our history Pinky is full of pain and injustice, yet I believe it must serve as a source of knowledge and enlightenment and not a lightning rod for revenge, hatred and bitterness. We have a huge responsibility to guide, teach and socialize our children to grow up in a more caring, sensitive, equitable and democratic society. This dominates our dinner table and I hope this will be our small contribution towards a better South Africa. 

PS:

Is servanthood / servant leadership still relevant in 2018 and why?

LM:

All of us have been exposed to various theories and definitions of leadership. Servant leadership is one those theories. The leadership standard that resonates most with me, that inspires me daily and that I ultimately hope to achieve and sustain is espoused by Kouzes & Posner. It is very simple, yet deeply profound in its implications:

“Each leader or potential leader has to place the people at the centre, be responsive to their needs, respectful of their wishes and accountable to them. This requires us as leaders to be selfless in our contribution, inclusive in our decisions, humble in our behaviour and inspiring in our actions. If we do this, our joy will not be in how exalted we may be; how elevated our positions are, how much wealth we can amass, and how much power we can have … it must come from a deeper and special place, where others benefit, grow, or prosper because of our actions … that’s true leadership.”

You see Pinky, this definition not only captures the exemplary behaviours I believe should be expected of leaders but also the pure motives they must have. It sets a standard whereby leaders can benchmark themselves and, most importantly, whereby followers can judge their leaders.

It is not a new approach of leadership. It is an approach that has worked and changed the world for the better since time immemorial, as some of the stories many of us have heard and retold illustrate.

The story of the Barotse King

This story was shared between two eminent African elders, Eric Mafuna and Thabo Mbeki, sitting under the African sky in Maputo, Mozambique:

Once upon a time, a Barotse or Lozi leader was elevated to the position of a king or a Litunga. He was brought from his village to the capital, whereupon the great tidings were conveyed to him. What did he do in response? He did not pump the air with his fist, he did not puff up his chest with pride nor did he recline on his throne with a self-satisfied smile.

Instead, he sighed deeply and declared: “Now you’ve gone and killed me.” What he meant by that, was that the “me” in him, his sense of self, had been surrendered, and had been sacrificed, for the greater good of the people over whom he would now rule.

Who, in their right mind, would kill themselves for the so-called greater good when power, glory, riches and fame beckon? Who would simply surrender their individual freedom to the people they would now rule? The answer is that many are doing that daily, far from the media spotlight, the selfie culture and the constant quest for recognition and honours.

As I travel on this beautiful continent of ours, far from the capital cities, in places that you won’t find in the weather reports, I have discovered that this beautiful continent works in spite of those who claim to be its leaders. It works because of men and women who have, like the Barotse leader, surrendered their personal ambitions and aligned their futures to those of the people they lead. I regularly meet and learn about these amazing people, who daily make a difference in the lives of many. These are truly servers if the people. 

Each one of their words, gestures, visits, chats, speeches, decisions, plans and meetings helps this continent to move forward. As they do all this, they face many problems and stumbling blocks along the way. No matter what obstacles they encounter, something deep inside them drives them on past the challenges. Their students, community, constituency, supporters or team may believe this is a step too far, but their innate ability to influence, to inspire, to motivate, to cajole, to persuade and to drive people forward enables them to get the group to see beyond the obstacle ahead towards the ultimate goal or objective. Some of the words, gestures or speeches they employ during these trying times are immortalised and passed on from generation to generation.

Each one of us has come across such leaders in our lives, in our homes, schools, universities, sports teams, places of worship, community forums, the public service, civil society groups or the corporate world. We have fond memories of their influence on us; we vividly recall their words to us during dark times and we remember their life lessons. They, in words or deeds, inspired us, drove us, pushed us, motivated us to achieve much more than we thought we could. Some of them were there in our hour of need; some helped us regain our self-worth.

Through it all, it was never about them; it was about us. They did not seek the limelight; they wanted us to succeed. What they did was not for their personal gain, but for a higher and nobler ideal. As Kouzes & Posner put it, their joy was not in “how exalted they may be; how elevated their positions are, how much wealth they can amass, and how much power they can have…. it came from a deeper and special place, where others benefit, grow, or prosper because of their actions”. That Pinky is true servant leadership and not the peacock- like self-serving brigade who call themselves leaders in our corporates and our politics. 

I am a proud beneficiary of such leadership, as I outlined in an article published in the Sunday Times in April 2012, titled, ‘Yes, it takes a village to raise a child’.  It is such leaders – during my schooling, at university, in sport, in the church, in my family, in my community and in my work environment – who contributed and continue to contribute to who I am today. Every time I meet them, their joy is unmistakable. Their pride knows no bounds, because they wanted the best for me. 

So before anyone calls themselves a servant leader, we need to ask ourselves whether they pass the test: 

  • Do they place the people at the centre? 
  • Are they responsive to their needs? 
  • Are they respectful of the wishes of the people they led? 
  • Are they accountable to the people they lead? 

Over and above this, we need to further ask: 

  • Are they selfless in their contribution? 
  • Are they inclusive in their decisions? 
  • Are they humble in their behaviour and 
  • Are they inspiring in their actions? 

You see Pinky, as we search for leadership answers in all the wrong places, our real leaders are hidden in plain sight, these are men and women who have accepted leadership as a calling, a mission, a responsibility. They lead from the front with a flag, rather than behind with a whip. 

PS:

Why are we still discussing gender and race in 2018, 24 years after democracy – what have we missed, and what do we need to do to deem this topic redundant /irrelevant.

LM:

This is a leadership issue, that requires concrete action, passion and drive and sensitivity and care whilst driving towards a clearly defined outcome – ensuring that our teams, business units and the overall Standard bank reflects the demographics of our country at all levels. Plainly speaking, we need to see a more representative bank, with Black people and women in particular being represented in the key strategic roles and the culture of the organisation being truly African. In the 17 years I’ve spent at the Standard bank, I have personally driven this agenda hard, not because of some decree from the top, nor to comply with some legislation, but because it resonates with my core being of diversity and inclusiveness. 

There are 6 key components of the strategy I have tried to pursue: 

1. Open discussion, debate and dialogue

Discussion about transformation and what it entails often ends in labelling, threats, and hurt feelings. In my teams I have sought to create a new culture, where we are able to talk and debate these issues in a sober, frank and dispassionate way. This is easier said than done, this tests everything about you as a leader, your vision, your values and principles and your leadership behaviours. 

This means that as a leader I must make a supreme effort to allow all points of view to be heard and discussed in an atmosphere that permits the free exchange of views. In his inauguration speech as the new vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town in 2008, Dr. Max Price had this to say, “It means that one may not call someone a racist as a way of challenging their views since this closes down the space for constructive debate and the expression of different opinions. It means one may not label someone an affirmative action appointee since it communicates diminished respect for that individual and assumes their individual intellectual contribution and contribution to the institution to be less worthy without evaluating the substance of their views.”

As a leader, you must be the first to recognize that these things hurt,  that these labels are demeaning; and as a leader you must commit to create the space, safety, and conducive environment for people to express themselves; to speak about their fears, expectations and disappointments. Sometimes it has meant creating special conversations with Africans, Indians, Coloureds, Whites, women, young people, older people etc. on how people feel as individuals or as part of groups. 

You see Pinky, our staff look up to us as leaders, at all levels, to have these conversations, but many of our leaders and managers are very uncomfortable with these conversations. If they are uncomfortable now, how much more when the conversations may be characterised by more polarisation, conflict and threats. We must create an environment for our leaders to understand that this has to be part of their core competence. The fact that a leader does not talk about gender issues or about race, does not mean the conversations are not taking place in their team. With every appointment and announcement, there are discussions that take place, with or without the leaders. 

 In my current team, we have changed our demographics almost completely in 3 years, and this change has been greatly assisted by a very dynamic, active and vibrant Diversity and Inclusion committee led by Julian Turner. That committee has senior managers, executives and staff members from all races, genders, cultural groups and different age groups. They regularly discuss some of the most contentious issues. 

2. Leadership that knows how to manage diversity

In the words of Thabo Mbeki in his speech at the opening session of the National Conference on Racism, held in Johannesburg in 2000: “The very act of getting together in pursuit of a common cause would both reduce the fears and remove any confrontational attitude attaching to the expectations. It would surely confer a universal benefit if those who might despise and fear others because of their race, our history and its legacy, no longer had cause to do so; while those who might carry anger in their hearts against others because of their race, our history and its legacy, also no longer had cause to do so.”

Given our past, we as leaders in the bank, both black and white, have to transcend our own backgrounds, prejudices, opinions and experiences to lead all our employees towards the ideal that Mandela was prepared to die for. Practically speaking Pinky, as a leader in Standard Bank, you have to love and care as passionately about Van der Walt, as you do about Mkhize, or Reddy or Abrahams, or Smith, or Rabin or Chen. You cannot be a leader of one group of staff members, you have to be a leader of all of our staff, in both words and deeds. 

I spend a lot time talking to all our staff or to different teams and to individuals about transformation, what it is, and what it is not, to all our staff. I fully appreciate the high levels of anxiety and uncertainty from white employees, I fully understand as well the high levels of frustration and expectations from black employees. This understanding is important as transformation requires a lot of empathy and understanding. As a leader, you need to know how women feel about patriarchy in our organizations, how coloured and Indian staff members feel – the sense that they were not white enough in the past and may not be black enough today. These are real emotions, real fears and real feelings, they need us as leaders to create a safe atmosphere for people to express them, to discuss them and sometimes to debate them. 

We, as leaders, have a huge responsibility in this regard, we must be transparent about how appointments and promotions are made. This will help to destroy rumour-mongering and to separate fact from fiction.

Lastly, we must as leaders rise above petty squabbles, rivalries, and prejudices to lead towards a vision of a diverse and united team. We currently do not have enough leaders and managers who lead quite diverse teams, who inspire confidence in staff across racial groups. As we accelerate transformation, managing diversity will become an even more desirable skill for our leaders and managers. We must position our people for success. I agree with you Pinky, this is 2018, we can’t be still be having all white Excos; all male excos, all Black excos, we need leaders who employ people who are diverse. 

3. Empathy and understanding

The transformation journey is difficult, complex and emotive. It requires empathy, honesty and transparency from all of us. We must not under play the difficulties ahead. We have some very difficult issues to face. But face them we must, to ensure that we can build South Africa, whose fortunes and future we all share, regardless of our personal history of advantage or disadvantage.

These issues are indeed painful. They cause pain among:

  • Young white children who are not responsible for, or even grew up after, apartheid. They feel that they are being punished for the sins of their parents.
  • Young black children who see no benefit long after apartheid has ended. They feel that they cannot get opportunities or employment because of their educational background or through sheer prejudice.
  • White employees who feel there is no future for them in the bank in spite of the assurances of leaders. They feel they have no chance for promotion, appointment or advancement.
  • Black employees who hear announcements about transformation but see no tangible change in their lives. They feel that they are stereotyped in spite of their qualifications and achievements.
  •  Coloured and Indian employees who feel that they are as discriminated in the new South Africa as they were in the old one.
  • Black employees whose cultural and professional needs can’t find expression because of bad management, favouritism, prejudice and downright racist behaviour. 
  • Women who feel that our organisations are still a male dominated club and they daily experience prejudice, discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace. 

 All of these people require honesty from us as leaders. I have spoken to and try to make all our staff to understand that I do not have all the answers; that I understand the hurt and disappointment associated with a contest for positions; that the transformation policy if badly handled can cause more division, conflict and suspicion and lastly that we all have prejudices that cloud our judgments. I have these same discussions with my own team, my fellow leaders and those lead our teams to make sure that they fully understand the importance of their roles and are sensitive in how they implement transformation with humility and lots of humanity. 

You see Pinky, difficult as this journey may be, we must resist the temptation to take short-cuts. Equally, we must resist the notion that we can continue with the unequal status quo. We have no room for failure.

4. An effective communication plan

According to Thomas and Robertshaw, it is vital for all employees, at every level of the organisation to understand the company’s employment equity strategy and plans. This ensures that employee buy in; separate fact from fiction; become part of the change process; know how it affects them and are able to monitor progress or lack thereof.

I’ve always believed that communications enable all employees to understand how the plan would impact their jobs, career advancement, and their future prospects with the bank.

My principles are rooted in non-racialism, fairness and justice, I therefore strongly believe that I would rather have met the targets through a better understanding of the Employment Equity Act; an inclusive approach involving all our employees in dialogue, rather than through coercion or mechanical implementation.. The communications on transformation and diversity should not be impersonal, insensitive, or be corporate speak. This communications must always be a two way engagement on such a difficult subject. 

We must ask ourselves, 

  • Do we get feedback from staff on their frustrations, fears and anxieties? 
  • Are people free to talk about how they feel? 
  • Are we involved in corporate speak? 

While we have started with Courageous Conversations, we now need to cut a bit into the skin and discuss real hard-hitting issues such as the assertion that: “prejudice is not evident to those who have it” and seek to understand why decision makers fail to appoint black people, especially Africans mostly at senior levels; why decision makers can’t find suitable women to fill senior executives roles and why we cannot appoint young people into roles of responsibility. 

5. The will to create a better future for our kids

 In the words of retired Judge Arthur Chaskalson, what is demanded of all South Africans is: “that we commit ourselves completely and wholeheartedly to the transformation that has to take place. This calls for more than pious statements or resolutions at the end of a conference (it means) seeking solutions and not recrimination. Pragmatically this is what we have to do; ethically, this is what we are obliged to do, and in good conscience we can do no less.”

You see a Pinky, If we successfully navigate this difficult path, then we have a hope of making Mandela’s dream society come true for our children and future generations. Should we fail, then we would have no-one else to blame as our country slides back into strife, conflict and racial hatred. These are our stark choices. We have the miracle of 1994 to guide us. What we must do is to use that miracle to spur us to the destiny outlined by former President Mbeki in his speech: “Thus shall we have a future of hope for the black and white children of our country, to whom we must bequeath an adulthood as free of hate and fear as they were free of hate and fear when they were born.”

Finally, this will be a long, difficult and taxing road but I have enough confidence that South African leaders in various companies will do the right thing with diligence, professionalism and great integrity.

As we embark on this, others may be pessimistic, others may dread the path ahead, while others only see the negatives. Our job as leaders and the job of other leaders are to be purveyors of hope.

This is a leadership issue Pinky, each one of us should reflect deeply about the steps we should take to bring about this change, but more importantly, what teams are we trying to create, what people are we trying to build and what society do we want to build. I am inspired by the evergreen words of the preamble of the Freedom Charter, adopted in 1955, 

“We, the People of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know: that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white…”

6. A special and extraordinary effort is required to deal with gender issues 

I think that the issue of gender representative in our corporates requires an extraordinary effort from all leaders. This is not a women only fight, this requires all of as leaders, particularly male leaders to champion the cause of women in the workplace. We have to go beyond just accelerating the promotion of women to senior roles, we must also focus on: 

  • supporting women and set them up for success; 
  • address gender pay disparities; 
  • address the policies and rules that make women to choose between their careers and their families;  
  • make sure that women have a voice in our organisations and are not silenced ; and 
  • address sexist behaviour, sexual harassment and any forms of gender based abuse in our organisation. 

I think that if each leader genuinely and honestly take these 6 steps and goes on a journey with their team, we will change the face of corporate South Africa to represent its diversity in a manner that still makes everyone to feel understood, appreciated and respected as an individual and as part of a group. If we do this well, our children will not have to deal with the sins of our horrible past. 

PS:

What role do we need to play to enable our continent to move forward, all of us – corporates, government, schools and society at large?

LM:

In the past, people only knew Africa as a continent of wars, famine, disease and coups. In 2000, The Economist, in one of its most infamous headlines, labelled Africa the “Hopeless Continent”, condemning us to a bleak future of misery and under-development.

As Africans, refusing to be written-off, a lot happened after 2000 – so much, in fact, The Economist dramatically changed their tune, proclaiming “Africa Rising”. In 2015, Sub Saharan Africa’s GDP is expected to grow 4,5%, making it the fastest growing economic zone in the world. When considering the longer term, continued steady growth in Africa will result in an economic bloc with global impact over the next two decades. Although this is impressive, we must remember and always caution that this growth, though impressive, it is still from a low base, but more importantly, GDP growth alone is not enough to see our Continent rise, such growth must be accompanied by long-term economic transformation. You see Pinky, we as Africans, must capitalise on our assets, and promote a coherent and consistent story as Asia and Europe and other continents are doing. The following are some key assets and strengths:

  • We are blessed with large quantities of natural resources, which have been behind much of the economic growth that we’ve witnessed over the last 10 years. The strategic management of these resources, the sound exploiting of beneficiating opportunities and the leveraging of these resources in our relationships with India and China must give Africa an advantage.
  • As a Continent, we have a lot of arable land that is not being used. This is a very important asset in a world faced by food security considerations. We need the best brains on the continent to tackle some obvious obstacles such as the proper utilisation of our land, improve irrigation, introduce modern methods of farming and promote the development of the necessary infrastructure that will ensure our produce reaches the markets. In addition to the above, we need to be more forward thinking about subsidies, protection of farmers, security on the farms, land reform and rural development.
  • In a world seeking alternative energy sources, we are blessed with access to a number of renewable energy sources within Africa. We currently have enormous hydroelectric possibilities along the river Congo, this could power up so much of our Continent. Others have pointed out to the massive opportunity to put up solar panels in the Sahara desert, which is virtually unoccupied and could produce so much energy that it could even be exported to Europe. These opportunities could potentially boost our continents economy however they need massive long-term investments, which depend on stability, security and the rule of law.

The potential use of the water that surrounds the continent – the Mediterranean Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic are also opportunities that require, in equal measure, ingenuity, leadership, and huge investments.

  • Another asset is our young population. We don’t have an aging population resulting in fewer workers and an increasing number of older people like in Europe and Japan. We have this workforce, however the challenge is that they need proper education and to develop skills, as well as job opportunities. Without this, they will become a threat to the stability of the continent.
  • The image of Africa can be better enhanced through the promotion of tourism, so many Africans, who can travel, do not travel within their countries or within the Continent. We need to promote tourism to see, the Masai Mara in Kenya, the Grand Mosque in Djenne, Mali, the Sossusvlei Dunes in Namibia, the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe/Zambia, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the Marrakech in Morocco, Bazaruto Archipelago in Mozambique, Kruger National Park in South Africa, Lake Malawi, Victoria Lake in Uganda, the Sphinx in Egypt, the Nile River, Zanzibar in Tanzania.

These are great assets, wonderful opportunities, and building blocks for the future, but they need leadership, from all sectors, to take advantage of them. We however have to acknowledge some real problems that need to be addressed: 

Our reality as Africans, is that we cannot fully be free and independent;

  • While many still suffer daily through poverty and under-development,
  • While so much infrastructure is needed to make life better for our people and their trade,
  • When our resources and commodities are not being fully utilised to develop our economies,
  • When diseases that can be overcome still ravage our populations; 
  • Whilst millions are displaced, young people are made to be soldiers and while women are being raped due to conflicts and wars are fought by elites for the plunder of resources. 
  • Corruption, nepotism, arbitrary taxation and mind numbing red tape is killing small businesses and the spirit of entrepreneurs- these are critical for economic growth. 

Given all the above, we need a practical African Renewal. Those of us who seek to be the midwives of an African Renaissance beyond the “easy headline”, the “catchy soundbite” or social media activism, must accept the responsibility to create the conditions necessary for Africa to rise. Our inaction will inevitably result in Africa faltering. That means we must, in the words of Al Gore, “come to believe in hope over despair, striving over resignation and faith over cynicism.”

A great Ivorian proverb says: “The outsider doesn’t know the path through the calabash trees.” In other words, we know our continent better than others; it is our responsibility to be the primary movers in the rebirth of our continent, with help and support from others. The future we create must and should be a future of our own making. The inescapable fact is that this is our responsibility; no-one else’s.

This time, this moment in Africa’s history, requires what Robert F Kennedy described in his seminal speech at a Nusas seminar in Cape Town in 1966:

“This world demands the qualities of youth; not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.”

He went on to say: “There is,’ said an Italian philosopher, ‘nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.’ Yet this is the measure of the task of your generation, and the road is strewn with many dangers.”

Africa cries out for men and women of great promise, who are willing to take on the Herculean task of changing the fortunes of a continent, who are prepared to take steps, however small, to change our trajectory and who are willing to stand up for their ideals regardless of the difficulties they may face. There is no shortage of people who profess to have these qualities, who confess to a desire to bring about change, but fewer and fewer are taking any steps towards this noble goal.

My hope, Pinky, is that we would use all of our power and influence to address the following key issues: 

  • Take urgent and active steps to diversify our economies and reduce our over reliance on commodities;
  • Invest in appropriate education and training that responds to the demands of the modern economy and modern society;
  • Promote intra-African trade and integrate our economies;
  • Invest in infrastructure to drive economic development;
  • Improve the execution of the policies; and
  • Ensure that crime and corruption are not allowed to derail economic development.

Each one of us, in our spheres of influence and in line with our capabilities and interests, can play a meaningful role in our families, communities, societies, countries or across the continent to bring about change. Such change will not come from one heroic action by one individual or a chosen few brave souls; change across our continent will come because, in the words of Robert Kennedy, “It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped.” 

Robert Kennedy concludes, “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

My plea, Pinky, to you and other likeminded Africans, who are moved by the plight of our continent, but who may feel that your efforts would be futile, to start today to focus on one or a few areas of change that you may influence. I would urge you to focus and concentrate on these with purpose, passion and determination. I assure you that each act will send forth those tiny ripples of hope Kennedy referred to.

Africa’s precious future is in our hands, we dare not fail. 

PS:

Thank you Bhuti for your comprehensive and deep conversation, I truly appreciate your insights and reflections. 

LM:

It’s my pleasure Sisi, I truly hope that these conversations will move more people towards action and change.