Election day is an opportunity to set the country on the right path


I am not proud of this, but given the choice between Jacob Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa, I would likely not choose Ramaphosa. Which is not the same as choosing Zuma. But no less worrying.

In this vein, I asked my listeners two questions: Are you going to vote in the coming elections and if so, do you know who you are going to vote for? The predominant answer was “yes” and then “no”, with many qualifying their answer with something along the lines of: “I don’t know who I am going to vote for, but I know who is not getting my vote.”

Whereas the “survey” will not withstand scrutiny by those who take these things seriously and might not be a perfect reflection of a cross section of South African society, the more we look at the polls, the more this does seems to reflect a broad view.

In a telephone conversation with analyst Frans Cronje, chairman of the Social Research Foundation, on the findings of their institute, he mentioned the following: “In most cases, around a week before an election, we tend to see the graph stabilising. Voters normally come to some sort of finalisation in terms of who they’re voting for.  Yet in the case of this election, with five days to go, this has not yet happened.”

In fact, at the time of writing (24 May) based on a 62% voter turnout, the ANC continues to slide, reflecting a 42.4%, the DA at 24.4% the EFF slipped to 9.30% and MK has improved to 13.20%.

South Africans are clearly still not yet convinced who deserves their support. 

The indecision of voters can be interpreted in several ways. Where I would love to believe that they are spoiled for choice, the reality might be just the opposite, with each party presenting challenges that make the decision to place the “X” on the ballot paper an imperfect one.

The reality is that it also reflects a maturity of voters who in many cases are not rushing to make an emotional decision. The indecision, I believe, reflects an appreciation of the importance of the choice as it will impact the future of the country.

In this regard, it might be worthwhile to consider asking what type of leaders South Africa needs. In doing so, it is worth considering the idea of “servant leadership”. This has become popular in the workplace over the last number of years and provides criteria that should apply to leaders of a country.

The servant leader seeks not just to lead, but to serve those they lead by continually building positive influence (not positional authority) with team members and investing in their success. This idea is at the heart of servant leadership, according to Robert Greenleaf, founder of the modern servant leadership movement and author of The Servant as Leader

Greenleaf says: “The servant-leader is servant first. It begins with a natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first, as opposed to wanting power, influence, fame or wealth.”

Not to point fingers, but even before we look at the principals of this style of leadership, voters are immediately able to strike a number of parties off their list.

Which is where many of us get stuck. And which is why we find ourselves knowing who we are not voting for, but not who we are voting for.

The principles of Servant Leadership might assist us in solving the second part of our challenge. In this case, it’s worth considering seven of the principals: authenticity, strong communication, integrity, compassion, empowerment, continuous learning and putting others first.

The reality is that our emotions do influence our choices, the support for Jacob Zuma being an example. Data shows that support for his party improves on his losing his Constitutional Court case. Instead of this discouraging voters, the perception of him as being cast out of the ANC, rejected and mistreated served to his advantage.

Which, along with his image of a “lovable rogue” and the fact that at least with him we know what we get, makes me more partial to him than to Ramaphosa.

Even though, to be clear, I will not be voting for either Ramaphosa or Zuma.

29 May is an important day in South Africa. It is an opportunity to take control of our future and to set the country on the correct path. If – like so many South Africans – it is not clear who to vote for, perhaps be guided by the principles above to choose a party that best reflects who we want to be.