I’ve held my mouth & assessment for a while, thinking let the strategy play out. Let’s be honest, Cyril has been a disappointment. I held my mouth because I have led organizations complex enough to know that change in any complex structure takes time.

Watch this interview context. #RichardQuest #Davos #WorldEconomicForum

What is important though are the following:
1. Clear direction of where things are going
2. Clear assessment of what must change, by when & by whom
3. A single organizing idea around which you can organize your resources & people
4. Early wins to create a momentum for change
5. The ability to capture that momentum so that you can change sentiment from negative to positive

My disappointment is because our President has not been truthful in his consistent shock and surprise at things going wrong.

What are the facts:

Our president should have a firm grip on the issues that the country’s SOEs were facing & a dashboard designed by McKinsey with a live interface of the change required. He should have known better than anyone what was happening & the depth of the problem. The persistent surprise is not only problematic but also doesn’t build confidence for outsiders making an assessment about placing capital in SA.

We are seeing the results of this right now. Our New York office reports a significant drop in interest for investments (venture or private equity) into SA. Whilst we are a small and anecdotal sample, this trend is worrying, to say the least.

So what is the problem? How bad is it? What needs to change? And who needs to change it?

Local Government:

The state of rot is the worst across local government. Municipalities across the country are falling apart, you see it with the collapse of essential services like healthcare, education, policing & water. The infrastructure is not only in decay but worse, revenue collection across many marginal municipalities has been in decline for some time.

This means that the state at the most basic unit is failing to deliver to its citizens.


South Africa has been abuzz with talks, conferences & symposia about 4IR, AI & Machine Learning. Yet our police stations are still full to brim with files of cases being investigated. A visit to your local police station & into the office of any detective would amaze your senses.

So how are our police stations still losing files? But to the point, why do police still have physical handwritten files in 2020? This is the problem with politicians being locked in platitudes with intent. Digitizing the case origination system of the country should be amongst the quickest and easiest wins of our government. Citizens should be able to track their cases online and notifications of court date appearances as pop-ups on their phones like a status message.


The state of our water and water supply has almost collapsed & the governments’ solution is, “drink less water”. Countries like Israel have found solutions to this problem over two decades ago yet we are still, stumped by our lack of innovation & imagination.


Our public education system is so poorly resourced & so badly managed that we are now calculating the number of kids that are completing their schooling rather than how much value each graduate adds to the real economy. This is similar to measuring the number of children playing soccer rather than how many of those are graduating to play at a professional level, yet wondering why your national team is in free-fall.

Wait, we are doing that too.


There are stories weekly on investigating reports such as Carte Blanche, about hospitals & clinics that don’t have crucial equipment or medication. This is a failure in the technical and technocratic functions of procurement, finance management, demand planning & forecasting.

My point is simple: It’s a complete joke and YOU (the ordinary South African reading this) are the punchline. Maybe we should realize that President Zuma was not the problem.

The problem is this: You can’t expect a corrupt system that rewards power-mongering and position worship to produce competence & excellence.

A few have become leaders. But most are only interested in petty point-scoring, advancing their narrow agendas & paying for their lavish lifestyles on taxpayer monies than those that have the best ideas, the best track record & courage.

A brief word on revenue collection:

SARS has been under untold pressure to raise revenue collection so that it can mask the inefficiencies and wastage of government. To do this, SARS has been pursuing the wealthy, companies & offshore assets. Trust me, they are out guns blazing.

But SA doesn’t have a revenue collection problem. SA has an expenditure problem and to be clear, a wasteful, fruitless & irregular expenditure problem.

Anyone not scared or singing for their supper will know this is nothing but the truth. And the truth, whilst sometimes unpleasant, shall set you free.

Here is my thesis: The real problem in South Africa is not politicians or a weak economy.


The party loyalists will follow Neanderthalic politicians to the abyss under the banner of “maintaining party discipline” & sell us all for a “plane landing” in the process.

The self-interest group (which is predominantly but exclusively white) is too worried about what they might lose in the process of redress so they vote for and fund right-wing parties who are holding our collective progress back just to maintain a personal advantage.

These are the people who moan on social media and talk radio about uncut pavements whilst they remain quiet about the destitution of those living in the squatter camps across their electrically fenced estate.

Finally, our most insidious problem, voter apathy.

These are our friends who complain during the braais, the Shisa nyamas and the office kitchens about how poorly things are going, yet are easier to arrive at a Black Friday by Mr. Price sale than at a voting booth during the elections. What they often assert is that their options are poor and forget that a protest or spoilt ballot is allowed in the democratic process.

So what should you take away from this thought:

1. There is no Calvary.

South Africans (and Africans in general) really have a messiah complex. Nobody is perfect. Nobody is clean. Nobody is coming to save us. Even your favorite opposition leader right now has something they are doing that is wrong.

We must stop voting for saviors & messiahs paraded to us in a stadium with your latest assortment of a music group or gospel band.

We need to stop looking for messiahs.

2. Politicians are not leaders, they are politicians.

We also need to realize that politicians are politicians.
Politicians are not leaders. A few have become leaders over the ages. But this is a rare gift. Most are only interested in petty point-scoring, advancing their narrow agendas & paying for their lavish lifestyles on taxpayer monies.

Whichever end of the political divide you sit in, you must realize that we are now in a collective decline and that for those in power and influence, your silence serves nobody, not even you.

What would you like to see change?

What are you doing about it?

Now back to your regular scheduled program.

Vusi Thembekwayo
Global Speaker | Venture Investor