We reward mediocrity and punish excellence

We reward mediocrity and punish excellence

About a month ago, whilst having coffee with my business partner at Ouh la la Café, in Maseru, we happened to be joined by one of our good friends named ‘Moea Makhakhe.

Mr. Makhakhe, as I usually refer to him, came into the rondavel where we had gathered, in his usual energetic self. He came with a mind-boggling analogy on the crux of our problems in Lesotho.
What I like about ‘Moea is the way he usually starts a topic. He usually goes; “haai, lea tseba hona taba eo ntseng ke e nahana”, meaning there’s something playing on my mind.

‘Moea started the conversation about how the Afrikaner community was able to mobilise resources and sometimes very scarce resources in an attempt to empower themselves for a greater good.
‘Moea went on to tell us about how a select group of the Afrikaner community formed a group named the Afrikaner Broederbond (Afrikaner Brotherhood).

He told us that the Afrikaner Broederbond was formed in 1918 and was known as the Jong Zuid Afrika meaning Young South Africa unit 1920, when it became Broederbond.

The Broederbond was formed at a farm somewhere in Bedfordview, Johannesburg. For those of you that are in-touch with the geography of Johannesburg, the farm was located around the Bruma-lake area. The group was instrumental in the formation of institutions such as Sanlam, Sasol and ABSA Bank.

The sole purpose of the Afrikaner Bronderbond was for empowerment amidst the suppression by the British Empire. But how did the Afrikaner community reach significance in order to build their own empire?
It was through a system of scouting for talent, nurturing it and rewarding excellence.

‘Moea was so fascinated about the conversation and continued to tell us about an individual that became a pride of the Afrikaner community. His name was Dr. Hendrik Johannes Van Der Bijl.

Dr. Van Der Bijl was a South African electrical engineer and industrialist who was born in Pretoria in 1887. He is the founder of Eskom and Iscor (Iron and Steel Corporation). As a matter of fact, Vanderbijl Park in the Vaal area, Gauteng, where Iscor is located, was named after him.  
For Dr Van Der Bijl to have achieved what most can only dream about, was through a system of talent scouting as I’ve mentioned and to push individuals that seemed to have an edge or excellence in their field.

Dr. Van der Bijl was not necessarily a product of the Afrikaner Broederbond as he was born way before it was formed. However he was a product of an ethos of what the Afrikaner community believed and wanted to achieve.
Dr. Van der Bijl was scouted by Prime Minister (Jan Smuts) at a time when was working in the USA. He was recruited to establish mega-industries in South Africa.

Dr. Van der Bijl was an over achiever. He even came up with a physics equation that is named after him, the Van der bijl equation. His PhD thesis in 1912 was on the behavior of ionized liquid dielectrics during the passage of electric currents.

Dr. Van der Bijl was also instrumental in the formation of the Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa (IDC) and sat on several boards such Armscor which supplied ammunition during World War Two.
So, ‘Moea went on to tell us that Afrikaners were very smart people. They went to schools to scout for talent at an early age. That talent would then be molded and nurtured until the university years. The excellent students would be taken to universities such as Stellenbosch and the University of Pretoria.

The second tier of students would be taken to technical colleges and the not so smart ones would be pushed straight into industry, either in mining or agriculture. The excellent students would always be earmarked to head corporations, politics or the business/private sector.

In essence, the excellent students or the brightest minds would always be placed in front. A case in point is Dr. Hendrik Van der Bijl. He was the product of Prime Minister Jan Smuts. Dr. Van der Bijl’s father was a close associate of high profile politicians such as Prime Minister Louis Botha and Prime Minister Jan Smuts.

So, ‘Moea ended the conversation by saying you see, the success of the Afrikaners was based on rewarding excellence by putting the smart people in front.
But here in Lesotho, we do quite the opposite. We punish excellence and reward mediocrity. We put the useless people in front. Then he walked out in a hurry to fetch his son from school.

We were left in awe over the short yet powerful conversation. Yes, it is true, in Lesotho, we punish our brightest minds and push them out, either to rust at home or to fizzle out in South Africa.

We place our not so bight minds in high ranking political positions and very strategic positions in Government. Look at the caliber of some of the people we appoint as Principal Secretaries (PSs).  Some of our PSs can’t even write a simple letter.

What about the caliber of people we appoint as ministers? Kannete some of them are shameful to say the least. The selection criterion is to appoint yes men and women for cabinet posts. Comrades that are willing to lick shoes of their political leader at any given time.

This is a big problem in this country. Look at our teaching profession. We take people with very poor grades and hope to produce the best teachers out of them. What are our kids learning? What does it say about the quality of our education?

Look at some of the people we appoint as CEO’s in the private sector or in some of the government-owned agencies? Did you know that some of them attend interviews just as a formality but they had long been handpicked from the political ranks of their parties?

They go for an interview knowing very well that they have already secured the position. This is what I mean when I say we reward mediocrity. Some of those CEO’s know nothing about the job or industry they have been hand picked for.

Nothing! But they will play it safe and do absolutely nothing meaningful for the tenure of their three-year contract. They just go to work to dip tennis biscuits in tea and to cut a ribbon here and there.

I’ve been reliably informed about one CEO that has just been appointed at one of our corporations. The poor fellow does not even know how to send an e-mail or to operate Microsoft Word (in the year 2020).
Apparently that CEO was hand-picked by some of his friends that happen to be board members in that corporation. This also highlights the quality of people selected as board members. 

It is clear that we have a serious problem in this country. This notion of politicising almost every position in this country has brought more harm that good. It has actually destroyed the public sector. It will take years if not decades to clean out the rot and place competent people in key positions.

The order of the day is to appoint loud people that are politically connected and dance like hell at political rallies. Dancing has now become a major criterion in appointing people in key positions. Incompetent people know how to mask their weaknesses by talking loud and big.

Even more worrying is the fact that some of those candidates have to attend secret late-night meetings named “linakeli” or “nakeli”. That is the reason why you often find ministers tired during the day because they had been crisscrossing the country in the wee hours of the morning.
Of late, there is a trend made at a certain house in Maseru West of appointing people in key positions because of their loyalty to the political leader.

That is a cause of endless back-stabbings and gossiping because politicians want to look good and seem loyal to the party leadership. That seems to be a way to attain and even retain a cabinet position. 

Now, the biggest challenge is that competent and highly educated people have a reputation to protect. They would rather risk being at home than to lick the shoes of a political leader. Or even worse, to be seen dancing like a monkey at any of the political rallies.

What is the end result of that? Smart people stay at home and the not so smart, drive the economy. To where, we don’t know.
That is the reason why the most incompetent of the comrades or cadres will be thrown to a ministry that is deemed to be useless.

As I always say in my opinion pieces, a weak public sector results in a very weak private sector. A weak private sector leads to very weak tax revenue collection. The end result will be to run a government without money. More like driving a car without petrol. 

The damage that has been created by our politicians to the public sector and the economy at large is of epic proportions. Most people fail to comprehend the size or magnitude of the damage. It can easily be compared to running an engine without oil or not taking a car for service. We all know what the end result will be.

To be honest, I really doubt that Lesotho will recover economically after the current Covid-19 lockdown. We don’t have the right minds, in the right positions. We don’t have competent and highly experienced people to run the public sector. This brings to mind a question once asked by one of my friends named Thabo Mokhesi.

The question was; should a principal secretary (PS) be a political appointee or a career civil servant? Well, that is a topic I would like to delve deeper into, in the coming pieces. Thabo strongly believes that a PS should be a career civil servant for the sake of continuity.
I think the answer is very simple. It’s time to reward excellence by placing our brightest minds in front.

‘Mako Bohloa

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