Conquest is the way forward

Mugabe Ratshikuni writes on leadership lessons from Shaka Zulu

Out of my fascination with the legend that is Shaka Zulu, I recently picked up a book by the Oxford-educated thinker and business leader, Professor Phinda Madi, titled, Leadership Lessons from Emperor Shaka Zulu. The book itself is about the story of a young consultant operating within the corporate environment in South who is working in a company that is encountering serious problems due to leadership failures/flaws (sounds very familiar doesn’t it?)

Whilst undergoing stress related to his work environment, the consultant’s wife refers him to a family heirloom, in the form of a diary written by his grandfather, purporting to hold the leadership secrets of one Shaka Zulu, a true South African empire builder and legend (it’s often very difficult to distinguish fact from myth when trying to study the Shaka Zulu story). The book contains certain principles garnered from Shaka’s leadership style and it got me thinking a lot about some of the common problems we are currently faced with as a country.

The problems besetting our parastatals owing to serious management failures which have reduced our economy to a state of inertia, the challenges facing the supposedly corrupt, inept and compromised (according to the flawed mainstream narrative) black managerial elite which impact negatively on transformation within the corporate space, the challenge of black excellence within business leadership in a society that automatically associates blackness with incompetence until proven otherwise(and that is a process that may take a lifetime for one to achieve).

One of the principles that Madi highlights in his highly palatable book (principle number three of ten), is that, “to be a conqueror, be apprenticed to a conqueror.” I was chatting to a mate over the weekend, who just so happens to be a leader within the Black Business Council and we were discussing the problems they face in trying to advance transformation of the SA economy and it struck me during that conversation that one of the things that frustrates us in our transformational drive is this lack of a conqueror’s mindset.

Shaka Zulu was a ruthless conqueror who built an empire out of this “conquistador” mindset. History, the world belongs to those with such a mindset, who ruthlessly pursue their objectives and allow posterity and not their contemporaries to judge their legacy. This is why the likes of Cecil John Rhodes, Sir Ernest Oppenheimer et al are legends, despite their highly and rightly contested legacies. Black business, in order to advance transformation within South Africa needs to aggressively adopt such a stance and not wait in frustration whilst pointing figures at government and big business. Of course, it would be interesting to juxtapose this kind of attitude with ubuntu philosophy, which tries to restore communalism and humaneness to all our social interactions and economic activities.

We live in a neo-colonial socio-economic environment, seemingly characterised by a comprador black bourgeoisie, ala Frantz’s Fanon’s cliched Pitfalls of National Consciousness in his book The Wretched of the Earth, because the people who built the economic system that we currently operate in, had such a conqueror’s mindset and it’s going to take a similar sort of ruthlessness at some level to reverse this unwanted legacy. I was thinking to myself, do organisations such as the Black Management Forum even think about developing a uniquely Africanised philosophy of management, as part of their transformational drive to change corporate culture in SA or is that considered a waste of time?

With regards to our paralysed parastatals, how is the Black Management Forum as an example assisting us with producing a patriotic, industrialist managerial class in the mould of the Afrikaner industrialist, Dr Hendrik Johannes van der Bijl, who founded two great SA corporations that are at the heart of the South African economy, Eskom and Iscor as well as being involved in the formation of other key SA institutions like Armscor and the IDC. It’s also interesting to me, since we are permanently surrounded by parochial ideologues on either side of the ideological divide, that Dr van der Bijl, one of the key architects of the SA capitalist economy in the 20th century, appreciated the advantages of state-controlled companies to drive economic development, but run along commercial lines. So perhaps state ownership isn’t the fundamental problem here? Like author Philip Yancey, I was just wondering.

We need to see black managers arising at an executive level, with such a conqueror’s mindset, unapologetically so. We need corporate legends of the ilk of American management titans, Lee Iacocca and Jack Welch, to step up and stand out in order to rescue our ailing parastatals and change the trajectory of our economy. It is easy to also forget that there was a time when the likes of Brian Molefe and Dr Dan Matjila where considered of such an ilk, when looking at their current compromised status.

We have exceptional examples to look up to, the likes of Dr Sam Motsuenyane, the former president of the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce and Industry as well as founding Chairperson of African Bank. We must adopt a conqueror’s mindset in order to build and transform the SA economy and stop apologising for it and trying to massage unpatriotic egos. Of course, the other aspect of having the conquistador mindset is that conquerors are builders, who create their own wealth, their own corporations, their own industries out of even seemingly unfavourable circumstances, conquerors are risk takers, conquerors are takers not receivers.

This is the type of go-get it, ruthless, empire building mindset that will be required to take South Africa forward, not all the rhetoric and dialogues that we seem to excel in as a nation. It is how the barbarians brought down the mighty Roman Empire and it is how we’ll, in the end destroy the colonial and apartheid legacy that we still wrestle with (despite what ahistorical denialists would want us to believe).

It is the type of attitude expressed by the poet Robert Herrick that is required in this regard, “conquer we shall, but, we must first contend. It’s not the fight that crowns us, but the end.”

Mugabe Ratshikuni works for the Gauteng provincial government; He is an activist with a passion for social justice and transformation. He writes here in his personal capacity.