Creating leaders for local government

Yolisa Mashilwane, HOD of Transport in the City of Ekurhuleni
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The session on ‘Creating Leaders for Local Government’ at the recent Tomorrow’s Leaders Convention in Joburg produced some interesting insights, and gave delegates more than enough food for thought.

If it is indeed the case that South Africa is faced with a leadership crisis, the big question is: given the challenges in which we operate and live, how do we make a difference – and on which areas in local government should we be focusing?

Dr Marko Saravanja, chairperson of Regenesys Business School, who has written several books on leadership, said he wanted to focus on the positives pertaining to leadership at local government level and what remained to be achieved in the future.

“We are living in a fast-changing world, and the way we live now, and the organisations in which we work … everything is changing and moving so fast and we are struggling to cope with the change,” he said. He added that people today were living in a digital knowledge economy where everything is cloud-based, and people were talking about cybercities and educational institutions that were vid-show.

“Organisations are changing, and if you look at organisations five, 10, 15 years ago, and how they are now, how they are managed, we cannot use those old leadership styles that we used years ago. We cannot use authoritative management styles and power organisations. Organisations are becoming more feminine and less masculine compared to the past, so men have to learn from women how to manage and how to lead,” Saravanja said.

In terms of education and training, e-learning was resulting in big changes and free education was becoming more prominent and the value of accreditation was increasing.

“So many things are happening in terms of HR practices and everything is becoming mobile and flexible. People are mobile, and there’s less and less loyalty, and there are less and less jobs for life. My colleague said to me recently that if you are looking for loyalty, you must buy a dog.

“We live in a world of brain drains, where people are basically leaving and going to countries where they can get better paid. It’s very difficult to retain talent. In South Africa we are faced with challenges of poverty and lack of resources.

Bureaucracy is a big problem for every government department, also for local government, in terms of the fact that there are a lot of issues around intergovernmental relations, the challenge for local government in terms of getting equitable shares of national resources, and the dynamics between local government, provincial government, and national government,” Saravanja said.

Regarding South Africa’s leadership crisis, Saravanja said the only way we can really make a difference is to utilise our own talents. “If we utilise the power that we have within us – and innovation is one of the things we have that each of us can utilise – we can use this to make a difference in terms of managing our government departments.”

Change, he said, was painful, “but we have to accept the change; it’s a way of life. And we have to learn to become more entrepreneurial. It’s all about entrepreneurship, and innovation – taking risks, starting new things and being different. It’s not about copying other models. We have to learn to change our mindset because that is the biggest problem, the biggest blockage. It’s blocking us from development”.

Saravanja said it was important to dream big, “because big dreams inspire us, they stretch us and they push our own boundaries. If you dream small, you become small, and if you think big, you become big. If you think mediocre, you become mediocre, and this applies to leadership as well”.

Yolisa Mashilwane, HOD of Transport in the City of Ekurhuleni, told the delegates that “leadership starts where you are”.Explaining her department’s role, she said it was responsible for planning, designing, implementing and maintaining public transport infrastructure. “We regulate public transport operations through bylaws. Yes, the bus that you see on the road, and the taxis that you see on the road, are regulated by our department.

We prepare comprehensive, integrated transports plans, which are five-year plans that guide us in terms of what is to be done, in terms of public transport provision and infrastructure, for five years,” Mashilwane explained.

These plans, she said, were revised annually, if necessary, and residents’ input was requested in terms of what the department had got right, and what it had not.

Referring to the country’s Constitution, which calls for a long and healthy life for all South Africans, she posed the question: “Where do we fit in as the transport industry? If you have to be at work at 08h00 and you have to catch the first taxi out at a public transport facility, it means most people leave their homes at 05h00. They leave the office at 17h00, catch taxis and buses. There’s always a connection, there’s never one direct route; they get home at 20h00 again – that’s how many hours? Is that quality? No, you still have homework to do.”

Touching on the clause in the Constitution calling for all South Africans to be safe and free, she asked: “How safe and how free shall you be when you have to go to a dingy public transport facility that we call a taxi rank?” It was important, said Mashilwane, to provide the quality public transport infrastructure that people deserved, so that people could be at any public transport rank, at any given time and feel safe.

“If you’re staying in Nigel and you cannot access a job opportunity in Germiston because there is no public transport system that takes you there, and if it costs you more than your salary, then we’re not doing our job,” she said.She asked which investor would invest in a municipality that did not have proper public transport networks or road infrastructure. “Remember,” said Mashilwane, “investment is about time and money.”

The percentage of households in Ekurhuleni that experienced transport problems was 50%, she said. “From Tokoza all the way to Kempton Park, they have things to say about our public transport. This is based on a survey that we did last year. So what are these transport problems? We honestly thought that they’re going to say to us that it’s the cost; we thought this would be right at the top of the list. But top of the list is availability. People are saying, ‘Don’t worry about how much it costs, it is just not there’.”

She said Ekurhuleni experienced the highest rate of unemployment, and the lowest grades in terms of education. “This impacts on us because it talks to the people we need to take care of within our municipality. It also talks to the level of skills. You’re not supposed to walk more than a kilometre to any public transport mode of choice. And guess what – 50% of our kids in Ekurhuleni walk all the way to school, morning and afternoon, and some of them walk on an empty stomach.”

The municipality, she said, was now starting to build cyclist paths and pedestrian walkways, “because there are people who are walking because they can’t afford anything else. There are people who are walking because there’s just about no other choice for them.”

She referred to the bus rapid transit system being implemented in the city. “It goes without saying that we need to change, and we need a radical change, as expensive as it is, but it has to happen.”

She said the project was “very complex and yet very exciting,” and added: “It doesn’t matter what discipline you belong to in this room, I am telling you now – each and every one of you has a space in this project. It is the most exciting project, second only to the (2010) World Cup, which I have ever participated in.”

David Capel


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