We need leaders who admit change is needed

|Khaeb (Shaun MacDonald) writes that we need leaders who admit change is needed. Picture: Mike Hutchings/Reuters

|Khaeb (Shaun MacDonald) writes that we need leaders who admit change is needed. Picture: Mike Hutchings/Reuters

Published Mar 1, 2024


Today, 1 March, we observe and celebrate the first recorded instance of resistance as Indigenous Peoples against what can now be described as the “Western Colonial Forces”. This day also presents a moment to reflect more broadly.

First, let’s set the tone for this piece by reflecting on the event that is known as The Battle of Salt River, by relaying reports captured on the SA History website. More than 500 years ago, ||Hui !Gaeb (now known as Cape Town) was already a thriving port within global trading. The relations the local Indigenous Peoples had with those traversing the seas were established and generally on good terms. It was therefore business as usual with the arrival of a fleet of three ships, lead by Portuguese admiral Francisco de Almeida.

According to reports, there was a trade of goods, and all was well. That was until a small group within De Almeida’s travelling party acted outside of the norm, and attempted to steal the Indigenous Peoples’ cattle. Not achieving this without going unnoticed, this group of thieves were driven back to their ships, who then called on De Almeida to act in revenge. In relation to the rest of this piece, I urge you to pause and reflect on this moment in time. Here, De Almeida, knowing that his, uhm, sailors were in the wrong, decided not to hold them accountable for their actions.

Instead, this leader decided to entertain a different path. He marshalled his forces (staff), and set out to teach the locals a lesson. The target was no longer just cattle. Women and children were added to the list of things to steal. This leadership decision resulted in the demise of a reported 64 of the travellers, including the death of De Almeida himself. On a greater scale, this leadership decision was felt into the future, as Portugal’s presence in these lands was shaped differently since the events of 1 March, 1510.

Allow me to take a moment to acknowledge the fact that our ancestors, even though they were up against a force deemed to be greater than them, understood and applied their knowledge of the environment. By implementing their Indigenous Knowledge System (IKS), they are now famously remembered, honoured and celebrated for the first (recorded) act of resistance on the lands now known through the colonial construct as the Republic of South Africa.

Moving ahead, this reflection coincides with two other critical factors: the 7th national elections in the democratic dispensation, and now more than 18 months of apex private sector engagements in the Republic of South Africa through an Indigenous commercial vehicle – The Khoeporation.

To simplify the importance of these factors, the fast-approaching elections will ensure that the administration of the republic will still have a so-called “black face” (politics), whilst the economy is still unashamedly controlled by so-called “whites” (economy).

Noting the story of the Battle of Salt River, we can reflect on the current realities not only of the Indigenous Peoples of South Africa but also of “the others”. To be clear, the others are our brothers and sisters who have migrated to the South (by land), and those who arrived, settled and are now part of the social fabric (by sea).

With the complete lack of laws or policies in place that acknowledge and uphold the rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Indigenous Peoples will again find themselves participating in a system that perpetuates their oppression. Here, our African brothers and sisters, as leaders, have chosen to run with a decision to promote a Constitution that ultimately fails to recognise the Indigenous Peoples of the lands the republic operates on. They have chosen to seek glory within a political system that currently produces a reality that sees its citizens living in the most unequal society on the planet.

Let us not be quick to refrain from highlighting that these very individuals regarded as leaders are the very same ones that grab every opportunity to refer to them being freedom fighters (remember that this piece references the first recorded act of resistance). They too will speak about the challenges brought forth because of a decision made to implement an action such as apartheid.

On the economic front, we still have an elite collective driving the direction of the economy of the republic. As an example, how the introduction and implementation of black economic empowerment (BEE, Act 53 of 2003) plays its role in the grotesque state of inequality is not lost at all. From an Indigenous perspective, our natural resources are still a primary economic target, almost 372 years after the first influx of European invaders (sure, you can refer to them/yourselves as settlers).

Over the past 18 months, in our engagements with the private sector, we have encountered so-called “leaders” who are still making decisions that we deem counterintuitive to our vision of a shared prosperous future. We have had chief executive officers immediately blatantly inform us that they do not see a need to entertain the Indigenous agenda, as well as not choosing to take accountability themselves and passing us on to department heads or the like (to those of you reading this, we prefer the former as it positions a way forward and wastes no time reaching that stage).

This is highlighted as it always counters the company’s own published values relating to inclusivity and transformation.

In conclusion, this personal reflection, influenced by factors more than 500 years old and that of today, is about leadership. Within the republic’s system, annual awards focus on leaders of industries. To an observer such as myself, these awards are a mockery of the causes that our ancestors offered their lives for.

Unlike those Indigenous leaders in 1510, today’s pedestalled-leaders choose rather to make decisions such as that of De Almeida, instead of courageously choosing and sticking to an unquestionable path and holding themselves and their organisation/staff to account.

It is not all doom and gloom though. The Khoeporation is indeed engaging and operating with leaders that identify that change is needed. We are developing a story that, 500 years from now, our descendants can refer to our now extremely differently.

* |Khaeb (Shaun MacDonald) is an Indigenous business leader, and CEO of The Khoeporation (SA’s first Indigenous Strategic Advisory company)

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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