‘A country needs intellectualism’

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Caroline Southey’s article in the Mail and Guardian a week ago on the need to have hybridised leaders in South Africa resonated with me. “Big problems need smart thinkers”. The point Southey makes is leaders need a mixture of expert knowledge and worldly know-how from the business world, trade unions, government and civil society.

Howard Gardner proposes there are nine types of intelligence. In my opinion, leaders need a minimum of four: Logical-mathematical intelligence (number/reasoning smart), linguistic intelligence (word smart), intra-personal intelligence (self smart), interpersonal intelligence (people smart). The first two I would call intellectualism and the last social intelligence. These are indispensable in running the country, big corporations, trade unions and non-profit organisations.

We have had interesting phases in South Africa, which might be easier to analyse by looking at the various ANC administrations from former president Nelson Mandela to President Jacob Zuma.

The Mandela era engendered hope and excitement in building a nation, including leaders from all spheres of society. I think we had some balance between intellectual and social intelligence at play in the different spheres of our society, even though it would not be sustainable before we addressed some of our country’s shadow issues that emerged from years of social and economic inequality.

Mandela showed a good measure of intellectual and social intelligence, which had a spill-over effect in the country.

During former president Thabo Mbeki’s administration the reality of governing the country set in.

The paradoxes of having a broad-church constituency of the ANC became apparent and choices needed to be made about which ones Mbeki would satisfy.

Mbeki’s choice was more centrist. He focused on the growth of the economy, while at the same time driving aggressive black economic transformation.

This choice resulted in growth. Unfortunately it was not distributed equitably, as the economic transformation lagged behind due to a lack of enthusiasm from business.

Furthermore, the trade unions and Communist Party felt left out and started plotting for Mbeki’s downfall.

The clear message in the Mbeki administration was intellectualism was valued and rewarded.

Working for the government in this era had the effect of gold-plating those people. The private sector snapped them up at great salary multiples because of the intellectual standards that were set. The output of legislation during this time can attest to this intellectual supremacy.

The unintended consequence of this was that it bred a level of arrogance and loss of reality at grassroots level.

During this time the government was strong, but in comparison the ANC was weaker.

In the Zuma era, the ascendancy of social intelligence interspersed with musical-kinesthetic intelligence is strongly felt in order to appeal to the lowest common denominator in our society.

This is great in getting collective buy-in from everyone. But it also comes with a price as social and intellectual intelligence are starting to be seen as mutually exclusive.

The results of too much social intelligence to the detriment of intellectualism are becoming evident in some of the challenges we face in South Africa today.

Parliament expressed its concern about the quality of legislation.

National Assembly Speaker Max Sisulu eloquently stated the problem: “I am concerned that more and more legislation is returned to the National Assembly for correction. This speaks both to the constitutionality of the legislation passed, as well as its quality.”

He also said: “The poor quality of legislation is often the consequence of inadequate scrutiny. As the subject matter of legislation becomes more sophisticated and highly technical, our Parliament and members must become more professional.”

Auditor-general Terence Nombembe also expressed concern about the lack of implementation of his recommendations. This disregard will slowly erode South Africa’s fiscal integrity.

The reality of the Zuma era is – based on the great harnessing of social intelligence rather than intellectualism at its core – the ANC is much stronger than the state.

The bottom line is you cannot run a country, a trade union, a business or any organisation without intellectualism, because at their core they are intellectual constructs that need to be optimally maintained by fresh thinking.

Intellectualism and social intelligence are not mutually exclusive and we must stop demonising intellectual abilities in South Africa as it is detrimental to our future sustainability. - Vuyo Jack


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