Lincoln Mali Speech at ISASA Conference


LMLadies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to be here today to represent Standard Bank in such an important gathering of people who are passionate about independent and private education. As is normally the case when corporates sponsor events, they are usually allowed an opportunity to talk about their products and services. I have decided to only spend a minute talking about that but would want to use the rest of my allocated time to also contribute to the fascinating debate and discussion you are having on transformation and diversity.

Standard Bank’s involvement with schools

We are delighted to be part of the sponsors of this conference as we signal a new way of relating to schools as customers. The new way is based on understanding the specific banking needs of schools and adapt what we do for them accordingly. The objective is to, firstly, make banking easier for them and, secondly, enable them to optimize their funds thus enhancing the customer experience.

So, we’re focusing on optimizing value for them through both a more holistic approach and refocusing of our relationships with them.

Our Relationship Managers are briefed to deal with schools on an individual basis, providing advice based on each school’s requirements. They are meant to take speciall note of the school accounts in their care and constantly be making recommendations that will drive value for the schools.

The context of Transformation and Diversity

In reading Richard Stengel’s new book about former President Mandela, I was struck by this passage: “When Nelson Mandela faced the death penalty, in his final testimony at trial, he spoke for four hours, ending with these words – the last words he would speak in public until he was finally released from prison in 1990 after 27 years:

‘During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.’”

There was silence in the courtroom when he finished. They were the words of man who knew that they might be his last. Fortunately for all of us, Mandela was not hanged; he served a life sentence, mainly on Robben Island. Nonetheless, he was prepared to die for the idea of a free, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic South Africa.

Stengel (2010) later states, “But nothing Mandela ever did had quite the risks and dangers of the secret talks he initiated with the white government in 1985 while he was still in prison. It violated every principle of his movement and his own public statements over the decades. He could have been branded a traitor and become a pariah in his own movement, and he might well have pushed the country to all-out civil war.”

Mandela showed leadership, foresight and boldness in ensuring that peace prevailed over war and conflict. He was prepared to sacrifice his popularity, the trust of his comrades and the love of his people for a noble and just peace! In the end, through his principled opposition to apartheid and the efforts of many, South Africans successfully negotiated the political settlement aptly captured in our Constitution.

The South African Constitution starts with the words,

“We, the people of South Africa,

recognise the injustices of our past;

honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;

respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and

believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.”

As South Africans, we have an obligation to achieve transformation, outlined in our Constitution. The current poor representation of blacks, women and disabled people in key positions in the economy can surely not be as a result of nature -it is a consequence of what our Constitution refers to as “the injustices of the past”.  If we recognise and accept this, as the Constitution requires that we do, we, as South Africans, have to act to correct it.

Dr Ramphele strongly argues that the twin goals of promoting equity and excellence in all we do become aligned to the ideals of our constitution.

“Unfortunately, the past 15 years have seen a divergence of views and practices of transformation. For many people, transformation is seen as the replacement of white people with black people in public and private entities. This approach informs the mechanistic implementation of black economic empowerment (BEE) policy to ensure that politically well-connected black people have access to opportunities to enjoy the benefits of wealth creation.”

She concludes, “The unintended consequences of the replacement model of transformation are becoming evident across our society and are undermining the hopes of many committed citizens.”

Former President Nelson Mandela stated his position clearly in a speech on affirmative action that he made in 2001:

“The primary aims of affirmative action must be to redress the imbalances created by apartheid…We are not…asking for hand-outs for anyone. Nor are we saying that just as a white skin was a passport to privilege in the past, so a black skin should be the basis of privilege in the future. Nor… is it our aim to do away with qualifications. What we are against is not the upholding of standards as such but the sustaining of barriers to the attainment of standards; the special measures that we envisage to overcome the legacy of past discrimination are not intended to ensure that advancement of unqualified persons, but to see to it that those who have been denied access to qualifications in the past can become qualified now, and that those who have been qualified all along but overlooked because of past discrimination, are at last given their due…The first point to be made is that affirmative action must be rooted in principles of justice and equity.” (Hugo & Slack, 1998: 51-70).

In the words of John Gardner, “ The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity and tolerates shodinness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water”.

If we implement the transformation well, and embrace true diversity, we will, as Dr Ramphele says “embrace the skills and talents of all South Africans – black and white – to ensure that we become more competitive in our efforts to grow our economy”.

In the end, competent, skilled, empowered black and white colleagues will compete for jobs in the context of the Employment Equity Act and the Constitution. Our work force will mirror the demographics of the country’s economically active population without sacrificing quality and excellence.

The Challenges of Affirmative Action

In the words of David Luth, a CPLO research intern at the University of America: “Racial equality is not an ideal that can be achieved quickly, especially in South Africa, where for decades the entire social, political, and economic spheres of society were based entirely on separation of the races. Affirmative action will assist in speeding up the process but it cannot bring about change faster than society itself is willing to change.”

Change will not be easy, as the implementation of an affirmative action programme is dependent on people and affects people as well. In addition to this, the process is always a political bone of contention, causing huge disagreements, confusion and misinterpretations.

Vincent Maphai describes affirmative action as a strategy, and strategies have both positive and negative repercussions. Affirmative action is not a perfect strategy, but it is the best one we have thus far been able to devise.

Maphai argues, “We can run round in circles arguing whether or not affirmative action is right or wrong, fair or unfair, practical or unpractical, but that should not be the question. What the central question should be is “Is there a need for it in South Africa?” The answer is unequivocally “Yes.” Affirmative action is absolutely necessary in redressing the inequalities created by apartheid in South Africa. In a democratic society citizens are guaranteed equal treatment under the law. However, equal treatment does not equate to equal opportunity.”

I fully concur with both Luth and Maphai: our current legislation is fair, balanced and consistent with both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It gives employers the freedom to implement affirmative action in a way that suits their circumstances best as long as they have the agreement of their employees and trade unions.

The future of affirmative action is going to depend on how companies, insitutions, schools etc choose to implement affirmative action and whether they have the will to improve it and adapt it to changing needs.

In our areas of responsibility and influence, we must ensure that all South africans are part of a constructive dialogue about transformation. This includes talking about our understanding, our fears, our anxieties, our hopes and our aspirations. This must be done in a safe, non-judgmental and respectful atmosphere.

I firmly believe that if we do this, transformation will take place in a fair, transparent, dignified and sensitive way that benefits not only all our employees, but also the bank and the country. We owe it to our children to give them a better future, free of prejudice, conflict and strife.

The best gift we can give to Nelson Mandela, FW de Klerk, Bishop Tutu and other co-founders of our democracy is a united, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa – a true rainbow nation in our schools, universities, places of work, sports teams and general society.

If you think this is impossible, remember the two miracles South Africa has already achieved – the peaceful transition of 1994 and the glorious achievement of successfully hosting the soccer world this year.


“No policy – no matter how ingenious – has any chance of succeeding if it is born in the minds of a few and carried in the hearts of none.”  – Henry Kissinger.

1. Open discussion, debate and dialogue

Discussion about transformation and what it entails often ends in labelling, threats, and hurt feelings. We must create a new culture, where we are able to talk and debate these issues in a sober, frank and dispassionate way.

This means that we must all make a supreme effort – particularly those of us who are leaders – to allow all points of view to be heard and discussed in an atmosphere that permits the free exchange of views.

In his inauguration speech as the new vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town in 2008, Dr Max Price had this to say, “It means that one may not call someone a racist as a way of challenging their views since this closes down the space for constructive debate and the expression of different opinions. It means one may not label someone an affirmative action appointee since it communicates diminished respect for that individual and assumes their individual intellectual contribution and contribution to the institution to be less worthy without evaluating the substance of their views.” These issues hurt, these labels are demeaning; we must all commit to creating the space, safety, and conducive environment for people to express themselves; to speak about their fears, expectations and disappointments.

2.    Address white fears and black expectations

One of the most balanced, yet forthright speeches on our challenges was delivered by former President Thabo Mbeki at the opening session of the National Conference on Racism in Johannesburg in 2000.

“…it is also clear that we have to address the seemingly two-sided phenomenon of ‘white fears and black expectations‘.

“Many within white society harbour fears that our country will slide into the abyss, if it has not already begun that slide. They fear that they will be the worst and perhaps the express victims of the impending catastrophe.

“…Out of all this comes the advice – move gently with your transformation processes lest you worsen white fears about the future!”

Mr Mbeki continued: “For their part, the black people watch and wait in expectation that real change will come sooner rather than later.  “They, too, are fearful that sensitivity to the reality of white fears might translate into insensitivity about their expectations speedily to end the pain they have endured for centuries.

“If white South Africa is fearful of the future because of what it might lose, black South Africa looks forward to the future because of what it will gain.

“In the end, what it expects it will gain is, fully, its human dignity, based on an end to poverty, ignorance and inequality, and based on the creation of a society in which its blackness will no longer be a badge of subservience.

“Out of all this comes the advice – move speedily with our transformation processes lest we lose confidence in everything that has been said about democracy, non-racialism and national reconciliation!”

He concludes, “…we have no choice but to act together to address both the fears and the expectations, without allowing that these fears are used to perpetuate racism, without allowing that the justified expectations are addressed in a manner that will create new crises.”

Out challenge is clear: Do we know each other’s fears, hopes and aspirations? Do we stereotype one another as racists, trouble-makers, and so on without seeking to understand and empathise?

We owe it to one another to be teams that show honesty, care, empathy and understanding in spite of our different opinions.

Our responsibility as leaders is to create a bright future for all South Africans while driving the necessary change towards equity and transformation.

3.    Leadership that knows how to manage diversity

In the words of Thabo Mbeki in his speech at the opening session of the National Conference on Racism, held in Johannesburg in 2000: “The very act of getting together in pursuit of a common cause would both reduce the fears and remove any confrontational attitude attaching to the expectations.

“It would surely confer a universal benefit if those who might despise and fear others because of their race, our history and its legacy, no longer had cause to do so; while those who might carry anger in their hearts against others because of their race, our history and its legacy, also no longer had cause to do so.”

This cannot be achieved unless leaders in our institutions, organisations and schools,  both black and white, transcend their own backgrounds, prejudices, opinions and experiences to lead all stakeholders towards the ideal that Mandela was prepared to die for.

As a South African leader, you have to love and care as passionately about Van der Walt, as you do about Mkhize, or Reddy or Abrahams, or Smith, or Rabin or Chen.

Dr Price aptly described what is required from leadership: “Transformation requires a recognition of the weight of the past and its implications for an agenda of redress, including measures to ensure equality of opportunity and access and efforts to change organisational cultures to become more inclusive and tolerant; and a capacity to change the way people think – about our heritage, culture, values and sense of self. Transformative leaders value diversity, build self-esteem, nurture talent, mentor, listen and respect, along with the leadership they provide.”

In our country we currently have few of this kind of leader ; people who are accepted as leaders across the racial, cultural, gender and religious divide. They have diverse teams; they understand different backgrounds; they make everyone feel included and treat all people as they would like to be treated. They epitomise the hope, dreams and aspirations of our founding fathers; they work towards creating an equitable and fair society without prejudice.

4.    Empathy and understanding

The transformation journey is difficult, complex and emotive. It requires empathy, honesty and transparency from all of us. We must not under-play the difficulties ahead. We have some very difficult issues to face. But face them we must, to ensure that we can build South Africa, whose fortunes and future we all share, regardless of our personal history of advantage or disadvantage.

All of these people require honesty from us as leaders. They need to hear that we do not have all the answers; we understand the hurt and disappointment associated with a contest for positions; that the policy if badly handled can cause more division, conflict and suspicion and lastly that we all have prejudices that cloud our judgments.

Difficult as this journey may be, we must resist the temptation to take short-cuts. Equally, we must resist the notion that we can continue with the unequal status quo. We have no room for failure.

Former President Nelson Mandela said at his Inauguration as President on 10 May 1994: “Out of the experience of an extraordinary human disaster that lasted too long, must be born a society of which all humanity will be proud. Our daily deeds as ordinary South Africans must produce an actual South African reality that will reinforce humanity’s belief in justice, strengthen its confidence in the nobility of the human soul and sustain all our hopes for a glorious life for all.”

5.    The will to create a better future for our kids

In the words of retired Judge Arthur Chaskalson, what is demanded of all South Africans is: “that we commit ourselves completely and wholeheartedly to the transformation that has to take place. This calls for more than pious statements or resolutions at the end of a conference… (It means) seeking solutions and not recrimination. Pragmatically this is what we have to do; ethically, this is what we are obliged to do, and in good conscience we can do no less.”

In conclusion, if we successfully navigate this difficult path, then we have a hope of making Mandela’s dream society come true for our children and future generations. Should we fail, then we would have no-one else to blame as our country slides back into strife, conflict and racial hatred. These are our stark choices.

Others may be pessimistic, others may dread the path ahead, yet others may be able to see only negatives. My job as leader and the job of other leaders is to be purveyors of hope.

I want to end off with a comment made by Mr David Knowles, the headmaster of St Stithians College, to his students about the future of this country:

“You see, to be a leader means to be a dealer, a purveyor and deliverer of hope. And it is our job – yours and mine – to be deliverers of hope. Because we believe in this school that all can and will lead and because I believe in the talent and potential of the young men sitting before me – I believe in that hope. So am I optimistic? Yes.”

He continued, “So what am I saying? Yes, there are concerns and challenges, but there are also many positives. There are no easy answers or solutions and 2008 will be tough. However, we have had it tough before and we handled it and boom years will come again – such as in 2010.

“So what do we do? Emigrate? An option for some, I suppose, and I am always sad when I hear about people leaving. But where to? Is it guaranteed that it will be cherries and rose blossoms on the othe other side of the fence?

“Or do we toughen up, get creative and get active, as the ‘new’ South Africans? By ‘getting creative’, I mean this – there are massive opportunities here and we will be more aware of issues, especially financially and environmentally. By ‘getting active’, I mean thinking about what we can do.”

I agree with Mr Knowles, we have the miracle of 1994 to guide us, we have 3 Noble Peace Prize winners to inspire us; a diverse and united nation to support us!!!

What we must do is to use our 1994 and 2010 miracles to spur us to the destiny outlined by former President Mbeki in his speech: “Thus shall we have a future of hope for the black and white children of our country, to whom we must bequeath an adulthood as free of hate and fear as they were free of hate and fear when they were born.”

I thank you