Programme Director, Ms Bongiwe Zwane;
Chairman of the Maduke Lot Ndlovu Legacy Trust, Professor Wiseman Nkuhlu;
Black Management Forum President, Mr Andile Nomlala;
Mr Monde Ndlovu and Family;
Excellencies and all Eminent Persons present.
I thank the Maduke Lot Ndlovu Legacy Trust and the Black Management Forum (BMF) for inviting me to deliver this Annual Lecture on the life and times of Maduke Lot Ndlovu. This is a singular honour and a privilege for me to address you in memoriam of our leader, brother and comrade, Lot Ndlovu.
Lot Ndlovu, whom we remember, celebrate, and draw lessons from, at this Annual Lecture, was a universal man. With a benevolence as expansive as the cosmos, he was a free-thinker, skilled in various disciplines, who was as comfortable talking about hard numbers in the bottom line, as he was about conversing in matters of philosophy and sociology.
His warm heart and curious mind created a space and environment conducive to wide-ranging knowledge in many fields. His was a spirit that referred to human beings collectively, a compassionate and humane totality that brought about fundamental solutions to the problems of the day.
As we understand it, the universe itself is an aggregate of all things, the totality of everything across space, including the earth itself. But when considering what it is that allows for habitable conditions for plants and animals, we are given the opportunity to discover the natural phenomena of the world. A complex combination of air, water, and soil: elements that blend and brew to imbue a primordial soup in a delicate balance that allows for life on earth.
Such phenomena is well articulated by Gordon Childe in his seminal book entitled, “Man Makes Himself”, in the following words:
“Man’s emergence on earth is indicated to the archaeologist by the tools he made. Man needs tools to supplement the deficiencies of his physiological equipment for securing food and shelter. He is enabled to make them by the delicate correlation of hand and eye rendered possible by the constitution of his brain and nervous system.”
In simple terms, the intricate survival and development of society, is a function of securing food and shelter by acting upon nature. Arguably, this is the essence of the creation and evolution of technology for productive economic activity. The story of tools in the narrative of humanity, is very much the story of the accumulative development of technology in modern terms. Another precarious balancing act that gives way to an ecosystem of human activity that can either transform us or destroy us.
In South Africa, at the forefront of the transformation landscape, is the Black Management Forum (BMF). A well-established organisation that is to be commended for representing the cause of black professionals and executives in top managerial positions in corporate companies.
With their strategic focus that emphasises the implementation of the Employment Equity and Affirmative Action Acts, the BMF continues to work towards producing well-trained black professionals who are able to help transform the socio-economic ecosystem of the country.
The BMF’s ongoing hard work reminds us all that positive action, no matter the size, can have a catalytic impact on the balance of our collective vision.
Among the early leading lights of the BMF was Lot Ndlovu, whose valuable and outstanding contributions to the organisation, brought about a focused confidence and determination, to achieve broad and meaningful change.
Understanding the influence and impression that the private sector has to play in effecting societal change, is a notion that Lot Ndlovu succinctly captures as being at once an individual and collective responsibility.
In his own words, Lot Ndlovu said:
“The connection is critical in that the influence that business has on the lives of the community is overwhelming. And so, those whose hands are on the levers of power in businesses, ought to tremble each time they exercise their responsibility because what they do now affects, eventually, the community out there.”
And, it is the “community out there” that in turn affects the economic structure of society. Through our lived experience on the ground, we observe how the material conditions determine our consciousness. This leads to the understanding that communities are inspired by different pressures and objectives, both in our recent past and present.
The historical context we refer to here, covers the era of apartheid with its racially- based discrimination that penetrated all facets of life, as well as the corollary struggle for a humane socio-economic system. Repression opposed by resistance; fascist brutality opposed by fierce determination and resilience; white supremacy opposed by the just cause for freedom.
Something was boiling beneath the surface. A disorder of famine and hardship, burning like lava and pushing through cracks and fissures of the bedrock of South Africa. An urgent sense of uneasy impatience, fuelled by a latent panic that underpinned the doubt, despair and distress of millions of people.
Simmering with a toxic mix of economic, political and social discontent, the mountain of struggle exploded into protests that spewed massive columns of anti-establishment smoke and ash across the skies of South Africa. Protestors looking for food and freedom; police shooting at youth; the blood of the poor shed; an outpouring of public anger; the fingers of perceived corruption pointed in every direction; international criticism; a call for lasting change; and reforms promised.
And that was on the eve of the democratic dispensation in 1994.
The volcanic activities leading up to 1994 were in the pursuit of a just and noble cause, whereas the recent happenings of last month, were but mere riots.
In the words of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr:
“The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win and their participants know it. Hence, rioting is not revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of futility.”
We are told that tensions are beginning to die down, and that in the aftermath of mass unrest, the country faces new concerns, namely a disaster management programme and a fiscal meltdown that will no doubt have further ramifications on the poorest members of society.
However, it is important for us to remember that the tensions are still incredibly high and at a boiling point: the tension of a mother unable to feed her family; the tension of millions of young men and women unable to find a job; the tension of business owners wading through the mud of a country in junk status; the tension of a child unable to access an education and the internet; the tension of political mistrust; the tension of gender-based violence lurking around every corner; the tension of food insecurity; and the tension of humanity facing a global pandemic, to name but a few.
These tensions are not beginning to die down, on the contrary they are only rising.
The need for survival of families, further exacerbated by rising poverty and agitated by the grief of COVID-19, has fuelled this ongoing sense of rage below the surface. But the accidents of history are sometimes not incidental at all, and it is crucial that we pause, take a step back, and look at the bigger picture. By doing this we give ourselves the space to ask some pertinent questions on what has changed South Africa in ways that we can learn from?
The Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection’s (MISTRA) recent summit on the Indlulamithi Scenarios and economic modelling offers some scientific insight into the lived experience of South Africans through research and quantified data to understand what needs to be done to save South Africa’s people from injustices.
The Scenarios paint a picture of a pre-COVID South Africa that was already in precarious circumstances, accompanied by job losses, and the anticipation of further economic decline that was already entrenched in the psyche of the nation. While the current global focus is on recovering from COVID-19, the studies show that South Africa has neglected some of its existing threats and solutions, and one such oversight is the influence of the private sector on the recovery and healing process of the country.
As the compound effect of multiple crises gush onto the harsh historic weaknesses, the promise of nation building and inclusive economic growth become somewhat out of reach.
The people of South Africa are being continually inflicted by the pangs of poverty which are exacerbated by rampant corruption, seemingly with no consequences for the culprits. So, what is this subterranean tyranny on the people of South Africa? A cruelty of seismic proportions that seems to endure through the ages and now coupled with crises that widen underlying fault lines.
All of these calamities were matched by fierce determination to usher in democracy.
We now all enjoy universal suffrage and are in the course of building a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous South Africa.
We call upon all those in positions of power, to pledge their help and active citizenship as a symbol of renewal; to embrace a South African identity that promotes social cohesion, democracy and human rights; to advance economic transformation and participation of the people.
However, the absence of national discourse around our humanitarian heritage, robs us of realising the values that are enshrined in our Constitution. Values and ethics that guide us when we struggle to find good leadership. Values that we uphold in the knowledge that only through united and concerted effort, can we prosper.
If we adopt a historical approach in our work, we no doubt notice how this timeline highlights the persistence of inequality, revealing dimensions of ongoing economic and exploitative imbalances. And, by assessing our past and its reflection on our present, we also examine our conscience and the efforts we have made or have not made as leaders, to foster equitable and inclusive growth in the lives of all people.
Despite the progress made in the era of democracy, what progress has been made in understanding why a lack of economic transformation has persisted and even escalated since 1994. This continuum of poverty and lack of entrepreneurial access to capital, is a glaring expression of our failures as leaders.
As James Baldwin reminds us:
“History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history. If we pretend otherwise, we literally are criminals.”
With the words of James Baldwin as encouragement, let us go back in time for a moment and explore the lessons of our history.
But, how do we understand this perpetual violence, the exploitative nature of capitalism and corruption, the racial exclusion and the ongoing economic inequality experienced by the majority of South Africans?
Since we have taken a step back to view a wider context to the situation, allow us to take our cue from Lot Ndlovu’s career and conviction, and let us try to unpack what we mean by ethical leadership and a commitment to service, in order to interpret concretely what it means to be personally transformed and what it means to contribute to the empowerment of the people.
Throughout his active participation as a corporate leader, Lot Ndlovu personified the idea of unity in action and represented a detachment of liberation fighters that did not distinguish between their professional work and political outlook. There was no distinction between his work as a business leader and his principled attitude towards uplifting the nation. Economic emancipation to Lot Nldovu, was a concept of the collective, not an avenue for self-enrichment.
Entrepreneur, executive, mentor, manager par excellence, humanitarian, and former president of the Black Management Forum, Lot Ndlovu’s devotion to life-long learning is an image in the evolution of African intellectualism.
His understanding of purpose-driven productivity, critical thinking, and introspection, were pathways for his innovative approach to problem solving, and a mind-set that pioneered Black Economic Empowerment (BEE).
His discipline of education and out-of-the-box thinking are some of the tools needed to innovate and invent ourselves out of future crises. His ability to strategize and use the aptitude of the mind, were his weapon of choice, a choice that inspires so many of us to inquire further, to go beyond what we think we know, and to discover truth. Lot Ndlovu’s command and skill of study, scrutiny and solution, cultivated a certain freedom of thought within his ambit of consciousness. His deep thinking led to focused and meaningful action.
It is here, in his humanity, where his advocacy for BEE, was a driver for change in transformation policy. His sensitivity to the limitations of BEE, affirmed his sentiments around the importance of developing genuine transformation that includes the majority of the people.
As we remember Lot Ndlovu, we recognise that his contributions open a window to the history and accomplishments of economic transformation in South Africa. This window offers us a viewpoint to commemorate and appreciate the lineage of black citizens and freedom fighters who struggled for and contributed to the development of economic empowerment within our democracy.
It thus remains important for us to reflect on the perspective of equal economic participation over the past three decades. Collectively we need to identify the obstacles that continue to restrict the effective and sustainable implementation of inclusive growth and equitable distribution of wealth.
As leaders, we hope to make sense of the long distance ahead in achieving progress.
It is through dialogue and platforms such as the BMF’s Annual Lot Ndlovu Lecture, where the private sector, public sector, and civil society are offered important opportunities to map out a future. These discussions allow us to test the application of these policies and further drive the agenda of transformation on an evolving basis.
Championing economic empowerment in South Africa is significant in its strength to contribute towards realising the macro vision of equitable and inclusive growth. Tackling the widespread concern about the scale and consequences of inequality, and addressing the failure of economic growth at a grassroots level, are the touchpoints to engage, in this Forum.
When considering the milestones on this complicated path, it must be recognised that in order to achieve anything of significance, people should come first. This is a principle that Lot Ndlovu championed for employers, employees, young entrepreneurs, and all stakeholders. People should not be left out, marginalised or unheard. People do not only have concerns, complaints and requests, but they also have suggestions – they need to be heard and considered. Lot Ndlovu was cognizant of the value of listening and giving a voice to those who are often unheard.
In his sensitivity to the entire business supply chain as well as the end user, Lot Ndlovu understood the importance of reflection and analysis, to learn the lessons needed to improve business practice, in the quest to strengthen social cohesion. Acknowledging the weaknesses of business policy, are small steps towards sustaining a constitutional democracy, Lot Ndlovu was a leader who took giant steps in this regard.
However, the market price of lessons learnt by the public sector and private sector, are open to debate.
How far the needle has moved in the economic landscape is a cost to the poorest, with an expenditure sheet that lists the expenses of the monopolistic tendencies of even the most altruistic businessman.
A yawning gap to traverse, and the mounting impatience with rising unemployment and worsening income inequality, sometimes obscures our vision of the pathway forward.
Understanding Lot Ndlovu’s trajectory is to appreciate his context. Like his colleagues and peers, and like all of us, Lot Ndlovu is at once a product and creator of history. A child of his environment that shaped his impulse, responses and reactions. South Africa was and is a country that faces a constant crisis of leadership, and it is within these ethical crises that Lot Nldovu’s model of leadership shone bright.
His was a model of contextual leadership. He had the humility to accept that perhaps for far too long we may have been wrong in how we measure and prescribe leadership. His honesty exposed that it is not merely one’s attributes that makes one a successful leader, rather he understood leadership as an instrument to create a context in which others are enabled to succeed.
To him, true leadership was an expression of empathy, integrity, and morality, where he became what his team and the people of South Africa needed him to be, at the time.
To ignore context is to ignore the data and hence the truth, and the glaring question that then stares us all in the face, is:
Are we the leader that our team and our country needs us to be, at this time?
Some may say that there is no way of effectively quantifying context, but luckily for South Africa we have a guide book that evaluates the steadiness of the hand of those in power. “Tremble not”, some may tell you, “but at your own peril”, our leader Lot Ndlovu would certainly assert.
For society to collectively steer through uncertain times, we rely on an ability to navigate with a moral compass that encourages public service and civic responsibility as fundamental building blocks for social-cohesion, human development and a robust, inclusive future.
Through the BMF and similar platforms for dialogue and change, individuals and communities are given a chance to embody the values and spirit of leaders such as: Lot Ndlovu; Jabu Mabuza; Don Mkhwanazi , Eric Mafuna, Reuel Khoza; JB Magwaza; Gibson Thula; Nolitha Fakude; and their peers. Theirs is a mirror through which we must reflect ourselves, draw our inspiration and moral ascendancy.
They breathed life into and walked the values of our Constitution.
The principles within our Constitution are therefore sacred – they underpin the social values that leaders such as Lot Ndlovu lived by and serve as a guide to an individual’s actions, beliefs and emotional systems.
To quantify context is to appreciate that an individual cannot be separated from the broad society she or he is a part of.
We see ourselves in each other through shared values. They bring legitimacy to the rules and laws that govern us, they are the essence of what it takes to create social cohesion and an inclusive future.
Returning to the sirens of danger beneath the surface, alarming us to the constant threats that the people face, these warning signs ask us to examine the unfulfilled promise of freedom through the prism of social, economic and political decay.
Against this suffering, we are reminded, now in Women’s Month more than ever, that gender discrimination deepens the roots of impoverishment, which imposes a disproportionate burden on women.
While both men and women suffer in poverty, gender discrimination means that women have far fewer resources to cope, are likely the last to eat, and the least likely to access education, healthcare, equal pay, and the respect that they deserve.
What must be highlighted, amplified, and placed at the centre of discussions at the Black Management Forum and across society, is the fact that having more women in leadership positions could set South Africa, and indeed the world, on a more sustainable path.
Women have proven to be leading the way towards more equitable and sustainable solutions to climate change; women tend to share more information about community wellbeing and are more willing to adapt to environmental changes as their family lives are impacted; and women often take the first step in recognising the power they have to effect change through their roles not only in business but also in their homes, communities, government and environment.
Contextual leadership is very much the domain of women.
By bringing gender equality to business-management positions, grows the country’s economy and creates new vistas of opportunities, through equal pay and safe spaces for women in the workplace, to boost the private sector and advance the potential for prosperity.
Sensitive to the time we are in and the kind of leadership that the country needs, Lot Ndlovu’s conviction would echo the sentiments of Women’s Month, and the need for women to lead from the front.
Using one’s privilege as a leader and in business, is a lesson to be learnt on moderating our egos and conceit, undermining our weaknesses, and reinforcing our strengths.
It is of our peers and mentors that we must ask the most difficult questions. What Lot Ndlovu taught us, is that he was never a man who asked of others what he was not prepared to undertake himself. And so, it is in his spirit and in the heart of the BMF that we should all ask of ourselves:
What are we prepared to do to achieve good for all people, and how do we close the gap between our social values, our actions, and beyond?
As I conclude, allow me to leave you with the refrain from the lyrics of Desiderata which reportedly was found in Old Saint Paul’s Church, Baltimore, dated 1692:
“Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.”
That was the Lot Ndlovu we knew and so revered: a man that belonged to the universe and who did not need validation, for he knew that he belonged.
I thank you.