Dr Iqbal Survé on the urgent need for ethical leadership in South Africa

Business leader and philanthropist, Dr Iqbal Survé’s shares some insights on what lessons the country, and the rest of the voting world can learn and avoid if we are to have a shot at living in some form of harmony.

Business leader and philanthropist, Dr Iqbal Survé’s shares some insights on what lessons the country, and the rest of the voting world can learn and avoid if we are to have a shot at living in some form of harmony.

Published Jun 14, 2024


Around half the world will face governmental elections this year.

Potentially at stake, global peace, which is in jeopardy, provoked mostly by a leadership crisis and a divergence between what ‘rulers’ want and what people need.

That things need to change is a given, otherwise we would not be at the point where the world finds itself now. The common denominator in all this, is leadership.

The recent elections in South Africa are a case in point. They are a stark reminder of how our ongoing struggle with leadership — or the lack thereof— impacts voting decisions and therefore everyone’s future.

They also provide crucial insights that can inform and inspire nations worldwide.

The leadership vacuum

South Africa’s elections have underscored a pervasive leadership vacuum, characterised by widespread disillusionment and a lack of trust in political figures.

Voter turnout was markedly low, reflecting a growing apathy and scepticism among the electorate.

This disengagement is not merely a symptom of political fatigue but a clear indictment of leaders who have failed to meet the expectations and needs of their constituents.

One of the most glaring issues highlighted by the elections is the deep-seated corruption that continues to plague South African politics.

The electorate’s frustration with corrupt practices and unfulfilled promises speaks volumes about the critical need for integrity and accountability in leadership.

Other nations must heed this lesson: without a strong ethical foundation, trust in the political process erodes, leading to disenfranchisement and instability.

The elections have also shown the dire need for visionary leadership. South Africans are yearning for leaders who can articulate a clear, inclusive vision for the future—leaders who are not merely reactive but proactive in addressing the country’s multifaceted challenges.

This call for visionary leadership resonates globally, reminding other nations that effective governance requires foresight, innovation, and a genuine commitment to the public good.

A significant takeaway from South Africa’s elections is the importance of inclusivity in leadership. The country’s diverse population necessitates leaders who can bridge divides and foster unity.

This is a universal lesson: leaders must strive to represent and uplift all segments of society, ensuring that no group feels marginalised or excluded.

Inclusivity not only strengthens social cohesion but also enhances the legitimacy and effectiveness of governance.

South Africa’s elections have also highlighted the critical role of civic engagement in a functioning democracy. The low voter turnout is a direct consequence of political disengagement.

For South Africa going forward, and other nations as they head to the polls, the lesson is clear: fostering a vibrant, participatory socio-political culture is essential.

This involves not only encouraging voter participation but also ensuring that citizens are informed, empowered, and actively involved in the political process, understanding the consequences of their decisions to participate or not.

In South Africa, the decision of so many not to vote, is for me personally, a travesty of all that we fought for during the struggles and our country’s emancipation from apartheid.

It is also a clear demonstration that South Africans do not yet understand what their Constitutional democracy entails. This is an outright failure on the part of the current government.

The importance of resilient institutions in safeguarding democracy has also come to the fore over this election period. South Africa’s experience reveals the vulnerabilities that arise when institutions are weak or compromised by corruption and inefficiency.

Investing in strong, independent institutions is paramount to ensuring accountability, upholding the rule of law, and maintaining public trust in governance – by the people who are elected by the citizens to govern them.

A call for ethical leadership

Ultimately, the recent elections in South Africa call for a re-imagining of leadership - one that prioritises ethics, transparency, and service over personal gain.

This message is universal: the quality of leadership directly impacts the health and progress of a nation. Leaders must be held to the highest standards, and citizens must demand and support those who exemplify these ideals.

As nations around the world prepare for their own elections, the lessons from South Africa are both cautionary and instructive and continue as the country still faces a cliffhanger of an outcome.

Can South Africa learn from its own mistakes and lessons from this last election?

Can we cultivate leadership that truly serves the people, fostering a political landscape where democracy thrives, our leaders adroitly and fairly navigate complex socio-economic issues, and the collective aspirations of society are realised?

This is what is at stake for us, and many other countries that will be voting this year.Ultimately, the journey towards effective leadership is ongoing and requires the collective effort of both leaders and citizens.

It is through this continuous pursuit of excellence that we can together, build a brighter, more equitable future for all.

* Dr Iqbal Survé is the Executive Chairman of the Sekunjalo Group.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.