I recently saw a cartoon in The Star which caught my eye as being so apt and relevant in linking the trucking industry to the current political leadership crisis in South Africa. Yes, I know I’ll be knocked for saying there is a leadership ‘crisis’. In fact, the cartoon highlights this denial with ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe standing on the sidelines saying the vehicle is perfectly roadworthy and is been driven by an excellent driver. And this after the vehicle – marked with an election cross next to the words “Zuma – the Party’s Choice’ – had driven head-on into a tree called the ‘Nkandla report’. And guess who the driver is? You got it. President Jacob Zuma. Now what does this scenario remind you of? Remember the Field’s Hill incident where a truck driver lost control going down Field’s Hill in Pinetown and ploughed through a number of vehicles at an intersection killing 23 people. At the time, the owner of the vehicle stated that the vehicle was roadworthy and that before being employed, the driver had been through all the normal checks to ensure his qualifications were up to scratch as a professional driver. As events unfolded, it came out that the driver’s license was actually forged. As to the roadworthiness of the truck, that will come out in the court case which is pending but as mentioned, the owner made a statement ensuring all that it was perfectly roadworthy. Not too sure why he missed the other two in his fleet which were later suspended by the KwaZulu-Natal Road Traffic Inspectorate for being unroadworthy. However, it will all come out in court.
Let’s look at the driver though. Initially he gained huge sympathy – and let’s face it, one could not but help feel sorry for the man as it was an horrific accident. However, that sympathy changed as more and more information came to light showing that he was, indeed, ill-equipped to be behind the wheel of that truck. I have a feeling that even more information will come out when the case reaches the court. What we are all waiting for on this case is similar to what the country was waiting for via the release of Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela’s investigation into security upgrades at President Zuma’s home at Nkandla. All the speculation was put to rest as she issued what was a damming report. If a similar scenario is sketched out in the Field’s Hills tragedy, it will not only be the driver who comes away damaged. Whether its trucks were roadworthy or not, the company will also come away facing a huge reputational crisis. The leader of that company will either be seen to have met his duties in a responsible manner or will be seen to have neglected those duties to the detriment of all – including the entire trucking industry – acting only in the interests of his own gains and benefits. That court case still has to take place.
2014The Nkandla report, however, is out – under the rather telling heading of ‘Secure in Comfort’ – and it is obvious that President Zuma did not meet his duties in the way expected of a President of South Africa. As a consequence, the company he heads, the ANC, has been tarnished and has suffered a huge reputational
set-back. His actions are also impacting on the country as a whole with divisions forming not only within the ANC but also within clerical circles as well as unions. Some have gone out viciously attacking Madonsela’s report as well herself as a person while others – significantly some of the more higher ranking ANC members as well as clergymen – are calling for Zuma to act on the report.
The point I want to make through all of this is that the conduct of the driver of a company’s vehicle plays such an important role in enhancing or tarnishing the reputation of the company for which he works. It is through his level of professionalism as well as conduct that people will often judge the company. However, when the driver is also the leader of the company and acts in a way which is not conducive to ethical or good practise, that company will suffer. In President Zuma’s case, he is not only the driver for the company called ANC but is also the leader of that same company. On top of that, he is the leader of the industry in which that company operates, namely, South Africa. As such, his position requires the utmost adherence to good conduct, ethical practise and visionary leadership as so many people’s welfare, peace-of-mind and futures depend on this. Unfortunately though, in trucking terms, he has acted as a single Owner-Driver taking only his own interests – and those close to him – at heart. As an Owner Driver you can do this. As head of a company and leader of an industry, you cannot. And he has not.
So I ask: How do your drivers stack up in stakes like this? And how do you stack up as a leader of your company in terms of ethical and responsible behaviour in stakes like this? President Zuma and the Nkandla report is a wake-up call to the whole of South Africa. To all of us it reminds us that there is more to life than just ‘self’. There is a bigger role to play than following a narrow ‘self vested’ path and I urge all truck operators who play that role to change their ways in the wider interests of the industry and the country. If you are employing unqualified drivers to save money and putting them in the cabs of unroadworthy trucks which you have not maintained – again to save money – then you are not acting in anyone’s interests but your own. You too then fall under the broader banner of Thuli Madonsela’s ‘Secure in Comfort’ report and I ask you, do you really want to be in such company?