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A guide to leadership
Rapaleng Thale
Published: 05-DEC-06

Reuel Khoza’s latest addition to his ensemble of published literature is a rather odd combination of personal history in his attempt to set out the philosophy of Ubuntu and African business.

To define what Ubuntu means, he writes in his introduction, is simple. “Ubuntu is a simple, big idea,” writes Nelson Mandela in his Foreword to the book. What matters for Khoza is the articulation of Ubuntu as a moral philosophy and set of practical precepts for leadership and community cooperation.

These themes recur throughout the book, a lot of it writ large in Khoza’s own personal accounts as an intellectual and businessman.

Let Africa Lead — the book’s title — is therefore not an autobiography, although the reader may confuse the personal with what is in effect a discussion of African principles as they relate to organisational stewardship, transformation and empowerment. Khoza’s reasoning is that, “It is important to contextualise (the book’s) ideas in both personal and historical terms.”

So we are exposed to the lessons of Khoza’s own corporate experience during three decades of turmoil and change in SA. From running a management consultancy under apartheid to chairing Eskom, Africa’s largest energy utility, in the first decade of democracy, Khoza has explored and led business transformation and black economic empowerment.

Let Africa Lead aims to get a debate going on the role of leadership based on traditional value systems in the rejuvenation of Africa.

The book’s purpose, Khoza writes, is to make two bold assertions. “Firstly, Africa can summon the world to take a better view of the continent and its people. Secondly, in so doing, Africa may show the world a better way to develop its human potential.”

Khoza’s message is simply that men and women of vision and purpose, in a context where the self-esteem of most Africans is at a low ebb, are needed to recover what is best in the past and project this heritage into the future.

This is precisely what Khoza sets out to do by articulating a view of African leadership that’s been largely embedded in African oral history. On the whole, the book is well structured and easy to read. The first half deals with Ubuntu as a moral foundation for leadership, starting with a definition of the pragmatic philosophy of Ubuntu (simply put, Ubuntu means humanness), then summarising the approach to leaderhip based on Ubuntu.

The following chapters cover the revival of intellectual and institutional traditions through the African Renaissance; the notion of sufficient consensus as the basis for fair practice under African democracy; differing ethnic traditions of leadership; and the implications of this for administration and ethical behaviour in business today.

The second half of the book looks at how the African value system plays out in daily affairs where leaders must take real decisions affecting people in the real world. Here, Khoza covers his life as a catalyst for technological innovation at Eskom; the significance of Black Economic Empowerment in developing trust between leaders and the led for the sake of all; and the importance of business leadership in turning vicious political cycles into virtuous wealth-creating cycles in Africa.

The final chapter is a review of the main arguments, part of which is the perception that tradition can act as a brake on change, and under the wrong leadership can force people back into the dark ages of fundamentalism.

Yet Khoza sees no problem with heritage: “You take your heritage of idealist practises and beliefs and turn them to good account, not in a mercenary way, but proudly rejoicing in the spirit of difference, and in so doing, turn the values of your ancestors into a living force for change.”

His conceptual tool is something called “transformational leadership” — what is in fact a business leadership philosophy that accords recognition of differences, showing respect for languages, customs and beliefs of an organisation’s people.

In the corporate environment, Khoza argues, Ubuntu is a “source of effective teamwork”. “It provides modern business with a means of attaining a shared vision to drive efficiencies and spur innovation…”

Then, in another passage, “As far as business is concerned, Ubuntu can inspire a collective work ethic, offering leaders a way of winning over followers to a shared vision and creative teamwork.”

The philosophical reference point is essentially the incarnation of a traditional African belief system where the collective supersedes the individual; interdependence is seen as a superior value to independence.

In essence, “All of humanity has a common origin and ipso facto belongs together. This creates a common bond and destiny. The individual is absorbed into the collective, yet retains an identity as an empirical being.”

And there we’ll leave it. A recommended read by a deserving author. -Business in Africa Magazine

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