30 August 2020
Too many died at 30, waiting to be buried at 80
iN the book The 5am Club, Robin Sharma uses a character styled the Spellbinder to stimulate the mind to think beyond limitations, to pursue greatness or to be more helpful to others.
Sharma writes about how life is too short to be comfortable with a mediocre existence and how adulthood has put paid to most dreams. And then the Spellbinder throws in this line: “I need to tell you that too many among us die at 30 and are buried at 80.”
So pregnant with meaning.
I immediately thought of Steve Biko, who died in his early 30s, and the impact he continues to have. I also thought of Jesus Christ and how he continues to shape the world. I also thought of Tito Mboweni and the legend he was in his 30s.
When Mboweni became labour minister in Nelson Mandela’s cabinet, he was one of its sharpest minds. The labour unions disagreed with him on how to rescue an economy that had, for all intents and purposes, collapsed. By the time he became the first black governor of the Reserve Bank at 40, Mboweni embodied a new era with his name on our money! When the youth of today, like Casper Nyovest, sing about Tito Mboweni, they do so in deference to the star, the czar Mboweni was in his 30s.
As Sharma puts it, many of us do great things in our 30s. We then just literally live off our names until, as he puts it, we get “buried at 80”.
At the beginning of Ramaphosa’s dawn, Mboweni sought to pour cold water over suggestions he might return to active politics, saying: “I am not available for minister of finance. You can not recycle the same people all over again. It is time for young people.”
Not in so many words, he too acknowledged the potency of his younger self.
Today, the country’s economy is rated junk by all three credit rating agencies – Fitch Group, Moody’s and Standard & Poor. COVID-19 has pummeled our finances, with corruption eroding the little left to reignite spending. And the youthful energy of Mboweni has escaped him. He died in his 30s.
While the country awaits the ANC national executive committee meeting of this weekend to find out what will be done about the spectre of corruption, including the COVID-19 contracts for pals saga, the problem may well be that the nation is expecting solutions from people whose energies and ability to solve societal issues “died at 30” and are waiting to be “buried at 80”.
Just think back to the glorious 90s. Yes, Mandela was old but the world loved Mandela anyway. He had just been released from jail. His ministers included a few old men like Alfred Nzo, Joe Modise, Joe Slovo and others. But Jeff Radebe was young. Not the old man asking for images of clits from young girls he has now become!
A friend reminded me that Robinson Ramaite, the former public service and administration director-general, was in his 30s when he ascended the post. Ramaite, in his 30s, articulated a paperless state at a time when Y2K was still a thing.
Ramaphosa was a charming, smart, witty and articulate young man in his 30s. He was a chief negotiator of the ANC and a chief spokesman of the negotiation process.
He inspired confidence and many expected he would step up to succeed Mandela, if the ANC would let him. Today, the old man Ramaphosa walks in the mornings and writes letters to complain about problems like corruption he should be resolving.
In our celebration of the best that this country produced, we must also pause and ask ourselves why our idea of a young cabinet got stuck around old Fikile Mbalula and Malusi Gigaba (and doesn’t he have a lot in his hands to deal with? Apologies if this conjures up wrong images of what might be in his hands)!
The truth is Mboweni is now considered a sugar daddy whose infamy includes a role in that love triangle featuring Gwede Mantashe.
But our country cries out for inventive and eager-to-serve young people. Around the world, young people are doing great things. Austria’s Sebastian Kurz is, at 33, the youngest head of state in the world.
The point is not that all politicians who are over 65 must be replaced because of an overdue age-based revolution. There must be room too for some late bloomers.
Similarly, it does not follow that all young leaders will be great. What’s to be said of Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni? Erratic or just delinquent? Minister of Small Business Khumbudzo Ntshavheni? CR election funds? Phalaborwa?
Ronald Lamola, however, has been a breath of fresh air, hasn’t he? Ramaphosa gifted him a senior position in cabinet and Lamola, with humility and a steely resolve, has executed his work with aplomb. Sputla Ramokgopa, Parks Tau, Collen Malatji and many other capable leaders are waiting in the wings for the pensioners in the ANC to alight from cabinet. Panyaza Lesufi and David Makhura should be leading ministries already.
Over all, Ramaphosa has done well to try out young leaders. The time has come for him to look at what has worked and what has not. The quantum of young leaders must be increased. To deselect older people is not to devalue experience.
Our challenges as a country are many and need nimble-footed and intellectually agile men and women who are ready to push boundaries to make ours a country to be proud of.