Corporate communications strategist and spokesperson Rich Mkhondo recently said what South Africa needs is a benevolent dictator. Someone who would come in for a limited period and get the country working towards a common goal and provide much needed focus and direction.
The idea sounds appealing and scary at the same time because, although benevolent, dictators have supposedly achieved miracles in Rwanda, Cuba and China.
The human cost of their not-so-benevolent sides has not been tallied up: political repression is the underside of the much-vaunted progress of all benevolent dictators.
But why would such an option be attractive for SA? Why would a country that has barely emerged from a painful past need a dictator of any kind? Because this country is floundering.
Although it’s a bitter pill to swallow for any patriotic South African, the truth is, politically and economically we are caught in no man’s land. The recent election has delivered a president who means well and will keep fighting off the bad guys who used the nation’s finances as their personal kitty.
But therein lies the problem: he has to keep fighting to do even the most basic things. He has to fight within his own party and has to keep ducking bullets from the opposition and state institutions like the public protector just to simply fulfill his role as head of state.
The National Development Plan that was produced a couple of years ago to give this country direction, might as well be lying somewhere gathering dust. This document should be what drives every South African every single day of their life, pulling us together towards a common economic goal.
But the figurehead who should be driving us towards that common purpose is being deliberately dragged off from the path that will get the country moving towards its defined vision. And it’s at this point that questionable options like that of a benevolent dictator become appealing.
The benefits of a single-minded leader with the interests of all South Africans at heart is attractive. The idea that a leader can come in and fix the mess at South African Airways, Transnet, Denel, and all other state-owned enterprises, turning them into entities that serve the nation and not drain it is very appealing.
A benevolent dictator who would not be encumbered by the petty actions of the opposition or the political point-scoring of National Assembly debates, but would choose to focus on achievable short-term economic goals against which everyone can measure his/her performance.
It’s no wonder right now that there isn’t even a single national sports team that is the pride of the nation. The performance of the Proteas at the World Cup in England was disastrous and no one is waiting with bated breath for Bafana Bafana or the Springboks to restore the nation’s glory either. They are merely a reflection of the nation’s current mood.
Maybe President Cyril Ramaphosa should learn a trick or two from his predecessor, Jacob Zuma. Use the legal system to tie up all those seeking to frustrate his focus and while they’re busy with that, he gets on with the business of providing leadership like a dictator who loves his country and its people.