Delivered under the guise of light-hearted banter, Professor Jonathan Jansen – President of the SA Institute on Race Relations and Rector of the University of the Free State (UFS) – had some harsh words for our leaders this week.
Articulate, but brutal, would be one way of describing Professor Jonathan Jansen’s assessment of South African leaders.
Speaking at a presentation on the Principals Management Development Programme, a collaboration between PricewaterhouseCoopers, Performance Solutions Africa and the Development Bank of Southern Africa that aims to upskill public school principals, Jansen said educators couldn’t be blamed for their “leadership deficits”. South Africa, he said, had leadership deficits in the political, corporate and religious realms, so school principals could hardly expect to be untouched by the affliction.
“We are one of the few countries in the world where the presidential penis has been the subject of such prolonged anxiety in society as a whole. It is a crisis of leadership. … What happens in our schools is a subset of the crisis of leadership in all other domains in SA,” he said.
Jansen added: “When a principal allows Sadtu to come in and disrupt the schooling of those poor kids while his own kids sit in a Model C school, that’s a crisis of values. When principals know that there is a sex-for-marks scandal going on and don’t do anything about it, that’s a crisis of values.
“When two vandals attack a piece of artwork and a whole lot of South Africans cheer them on, that is a crisis of values.”
Using his childhood as an example of the type of upbringing many South African children are not afforded, Jansen said what was “absolutely interesting” was that his born-again Christian parents raised him and his four siblings according to a serious set of values.
“One of the most important things they taught us – even though we grew up poor on 51 10th Avenue, Retreat in Cape Town – was a core set of values that were non-negotiable. These included no sex before marriage and respecting your brothers and sisters, irrespective of what they looked like. So, even though I saw a woman being raped at 16 – something that traumatises me to this day – as well as men beating up women, it didn’t affect me. I saw the horror of it, but in the bubble of the value system I grew up in, I knew what was right and I knew what was wrong.”
He said our leaders – facing a country “on the brink” – lowered the collective bar in an attempt to address challenges. This was true of the education sector, which considered a Matric pass to be two subjects on 30%, as well as the political sphere, which included leaders he described as “clowns”.
“The kids are not our problem. It’s the system in which mediocrity has become normative which is the problem,” he added.
Talking to students at a Free State high school recently, he said he found a student who thought nationalist leader Robert Sobukwe “played central back for Pirates”.
“The kind of leadership we have in schools and in the country wasn’t always like this. And the good news is that it won’t always be like this, if we do the right thing with this generation.
“We graduate 8 000 students a year at UFS. If we can teach them to be both academically and morally astute, imagine the difference that will make when they start working for South African organisations, businesses and the government. This is what we must worry about – the replacement generation.”