There have been 569 protest marches over the past three months in Gauteng and the writer says demands need to be addressed. Picture: Nokuthula Mbatha

“Not quite yet”, but beware that complacency does not bring about a major crisis for all in the country, says Richard Woolfrey.

Johannesburg -

The country reels under a spate of negative developments in terms of weak economic growth, industrial strife, worrying government deficits and rising interest rates against a background of a weak currency and an understandable adverse shift in sentiment on the part of outside investors.

Rising prices, high unemployment and lack of service delivery further aggravate civil unrest. The police report that over the last three months in Gauteng alone there have been 569 protest marches, 122 of which were violent.

There are outside factors which aggravate the situation but so much is self-inflicted by a government that reflects indecisiveness, clinging to policies that were meant to address the grievances of the past but do little to meet the aspirations of those who wish to move on, harnessing the talent of all the people and the powerful resources that South Africa undoubtedly possesses to uplift living standards.

The list of what has to be addressed needs no repetition. The urgent need is to see a display of leadership. In the political arena, though not a supporter of his policies, I nevertheless applaud Julius Malema for the speed with which he reacts to developments of public interest and addresses his audience directly in a simple, clear manner so that regardless of their background his listeners understand the message.

Where, particularly in times of unrest, are government and provincial council leaders? Scared, perhaps, of facing those to whom promises have been broken?

In the corporate world there seems all too often a bankruptcy of leadership on the part of business owners and management. As a former staff officer in the British Army, I never knew a commander who would not insist on addressing all under his command when a situation so demanded. That was apart from routine visits to learn for himself the views of all ranks, problems needing resolution as well as monitoring living conditions, equipment and family welfare, often discussing issues within a social setting.

In other words, whatever the bond between soldiers and their immediate superiors, there were those occasions when interacting with the overall commander and key staff further cemented the understanding of their role and worth, adding to mutual trust and respect team spirit, motivation and morale.

Where do we see those heads of public services or management of major corporates engaging in similar manner? In the mining industry, do we hear of chief executives speaking directly to miners at major rallies, preferably alongside union leaders? Many in the workforce reveal, on interview, total ignorance of how businesses operate and as a result are often misled into making unrealistic demands that ultimately trigger forced redundancy.

Simple communication and openness with regular updates direct from the top could do so much to further understanding and mutual trust, avoiding many of the strikes and much of the animosity that occur in wage negotiations. It can also lead to better appreciation by the work force of the stance adopted by the unions, a powerful check at times.

Finally, nearly a year ago the public protector, Thuli Madonsela, warned of the possibility of an “Arab Spring” in South Africa, adding “though not quite yet”.

There are those who claim that South Africa now has an established democracy and strong constitution so such an occurrence is unlikely. Without wishing to be alarmist, if civil unrest extends across the nation, from where can we expect strong leadership and dependable security services?

“Not quite yet”, but beware that complacency does not bring about a major crisis for all in the country.

Richard Woolfrey

Bryanston, Sandton

* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

The Star