Mr President, Why Should we Believe You?

Photo by Yan Krukov

“Authentic leadership is revealed in the alignment of what you think, what you say, and what you do.” — Michael Holland

The Nation eagerly (or maybe not) awaited President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) on 10 February 2022. Many may recall his adoption in 2018 of a phrase from a song by the late Hugh Masekela, “thuma mina” (“send me”), as his manifesto. At the time he asked 57 million South Africans to allow him to decisively deal with fraud and corruption, lack of service delivery, and other endemic social ills such as poverty. The Nation was excited and hopeful, and who could blame them after the dark years of the Zuma reign?

Unfortunately, his promises since – especially regarding addressing fraud and corruption – have merely become the chorus of a badly-written song that invokes brain/earworms: we’ve heard the same refrain so many times that we could almost sing it in its entirety by rote. We were, therefore, also not surprised when the same song was played yet again at SONA 2022.

It is said that trust (that which is ‘uncompromised by doubt’) is a leader’s currency. If leaders are not trusted, subordinates will not believe that they have their best interests at heart or that they will deliver on their promises. We are all familiar with the saying that trust is earned, not given. It is earned when leaders show authenticity, when they lead by example, and when they act on their words and their promises. Authentic and trustworthy leaders inspire others, talk about their values, and put said values into action and apply them in their decisions.

President Ramaphosa has been described as a strategist – a remarkable and invaluable trait for any person in a leadership position. However, strategies need to be focussed into action plans in order to achieve the strategic outcomes. Since the inception of his term as president, little action has been observed. Stating, in his 2022 SONA, that “none of our efforts to revive our economy will succeed if we do not tackle the scourge of corruption once and for all” is not an earthshattering revelation. Everyone already knows that, Mr President. Telling us that corruption has weakened the ability of the State to deliver services is also not unknown.

To be worthy of trust, leaders need to be clear about their purposes and the principles by which they lead. They must not succumb to pressures that could divert them from these principles and their ethical beliefs. Over the last few years, many of South Africa’s citizens have stood in disbelief because clearly corrupt, high-profile individuals are still walking free. Is that part of the strategy for the governing party to remain in power? Is the president of this country submitting to pressures that lead him astray from his values? Alas, only he can answer that.

Maybe one can start believing the President’s promises about addressing the endemic fraud and corruption in South Africa again when he consistently demonstrates the essential characteristics of authentic leaders, namely:

  • Being focussed on serving all constituents;
  • Placing the interests of those they serve above their own;
  • Showing integrity, telling the truth, and admitting mistakes;
  • Quickly adapting to new realities;
  • Being resilient and bouncing back when things go wrong;
  • Deeply caring for those they serve;
  • Encouraging constructive feedback and acting on it; and
  • Demonstrating moral courage, i.e. doing the right thing even if it is not self-serving to do so.

Stephen Covey commented in a recent article, ‘The New Role of Trust in the Pandemic’, that “trust is baseline humanity … and we need it to solve our problems”. Trust in the President and the law enforcement agencies stands central to addressing fraud and corruption in this country. The new dawn seems to have come and gone; we are still waiting to understand where the President wants to be thuma mina-ed to. We are still waiting for action to give effect to the promises of the last four years.

Having an epiphany that “we must now do everything in our power to ensure that [State Capture and the erosion of State institutions] never happens again” means nothing until South Africans see the corrupted in orange overalls. We are waiting with bated breath for 30 June – the day when South Africa

will be presented with an action plan for dealing with the corrupted responsible for stalling South Africa’s economy growth and denying citizens their Constitutional rights.

The onus is on you, Mr President, to show that you are an authentic and trustworthy leader.


Liezl BA Circle

Liezl Groenewald is a Senior Manager: Organisational Ethics at The Ethics Institute. She is also the author of the Whistleblowing Management Handbook, and co-founding director of The Whistleblower House NPC.