Make tough calls and don’t screw it up, world leaders tell SA
Former British and American heads of state warn that hard decisions are needed to turn the economic tide in SA
Real leadership means making tough decisions, then explaining why.
This according to former UK prime minister David Cameron, who was speaking at the Discovery Leadership Summit in Sandton, Johannesburg, on Thursday.
The annual event brings together world leaders, who share their strategies and insights.
The former head of the UK’s Conservative Party said leaders should not be afraid to make unpopular and difficult decisions.
“Real leaders are teachers. Never give up on making tough decisions,” Cameron said, adding, however, that to avoid losing elections, “leaders had to listen to people’s concerns”.
He said people should not feel economically or culturally marginalised either, and that during his tenure he had lowered taxes, increased minimum wages and decreased Britain’s debt.
Calling for real democracy in the world, Cameron suggested there was a rise in populism and dictatorships. He said real democracy was not merely earning a majority vote, but upholding the rule of law and protecting minorities. He said good governance created wealth. “In tough times we must remember the importance of real democracy and real success.
“Why do some countries do better than their neighbours? Why is Columbia succeeding and Venezuela failing? Why is Botswana doing well versus your neighbour, Zimbabwe?”
He said wealth was not related to geography, but to good leaders. “It is not climate. It is not ethnicity. It is not geography. Geography is not destiny. Governance is destiny.
“Here in South Africa you can write a story that is just as inspiring as (Nelson) Mandela's journey.”
Cameron faced a tough home crowd when he lost a 2016 Brexit referendum, with 52% of votes favouring the UK leaving the European Union, a decision he didn’t agree with, but allowed.
Defying the Conservative Party eventually led to his resignation. On Thursday he again defended his decision, even though he disagreed with the outcome of the referendum.
Cameron praised President Cyril Ramaphosa for speaking convincingly to investors abroad and locally, saying he could help SA’s economic recovery.
Former US president Bill Clinton, who also attended the summit, said: “You have a great country, you have great potential. Don’t screw this up.”
Former Investec CEO Stephen Koseff said it was a good thing South Africans could speak directly to their leaders, something that had surprised his Indian counterparts at a global event he recently attended.
But he said SA had to make “tough decisions” and deal with state-owned enterprises, adding that SAA and Eskom needed to be privatised.
If SA sorted out its policies it could become an “inclusive economy” and turn the tide after the past 10 wasted years.
“In life you have to learn from the past and go forward. Understand your history and look to your future. We can’t undo it. Now we have to move forward,” said Koseff.
“We need an enabling government, which we have. Now we have to fix it. We went off on the wrong track, but who doesn’t make mistakes? We have huge opportunities if we get our policies right.”
Discovery founder Adrian Gore argued that South Africans had reason to be optimistic, but said the economy had to do much better. He said SA would be about 25% richer if it had grown in the past 10 years, as it had in the 10 years to 2007.
He called 2007 to 2017 the “lost decade”, saying had the country’s growth not stagnated, “we would only have unemployment of 16% and poverty would have halved”.
Injecting some optimism into proceedings, chairman of Africa Rainbow Minerals Patrice Motsepe said SA was a good country in which to do business.
“We have serious challenges, but we have absolutely no doubt in the quality of people we have in this population, both black and white, who believe in the future of this country and that we will succeed.”
Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton cautioned that freedom was fragile. “Democracy can be lost as well as won. You have a stake in good government. Demand transparency and stand up against corruption.”