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Must watch: Prof Jonathan Jansen – A journey of passion, opportunity and lessons learnt
In this series on South Africans who have massively outperformed and done great things, South African Professor Jonathan Jansen delves into his background, passion for his profession and the power of education in our nation – all of which have charted his path to becoming an Outlier. This is a story of a man who serves our country as an academic, a teacher, a leader, and an inspiration to many. Jansen spoke to Alec Hogg of BizNews in an interview that Alec has dubbed as ‘one of the best interviews of his career to date.’
Find the timestamps from the interview below:
- Jonathan Jansen on working in South Africa – 00:30
- On growing up and his family background – 02:50
- On the potential and destiny that could have been fulfilled if money and resources were invested in the right places – 11:10
- On where the country is going wrong – 12:25
- On public service: it should be to serve the public and not one’s self – 14:00
- On his circles of influence and whether such influence can ever be so great that you no longer have a society that has a governmental view of things – 16:15
- On our ‘disconnected’ democracy and people voting the ‘same old way’ and getting the ‘same old’ corrupt dislocation of national resources – 19:20
- On his background and the many youngsters who strive to follow in Jansen’s footsteps – 22:00
- On being given bad advice that fortunately he didn’t take – 25:00
- On how Jansen reflects on his failures – 28:15
- On being a leader and ensuring trust, humility and having a sense of who you are in the world – 33:30
- On always wanting to be a professor and nothing else – 35:00
Some extracts from the interview:
On the potential and destiny that could have been fulfilled if money and resources were invested in the right places
My field is in education and one of the most meaningful things a politician ever said, was to Trevor Manuel one day in parliament saying: ‘I’m going to give more money to education because both as a percentage of the GDP, but also of the national credit, we give more money to education than any other country on the continent, even Botswana.’ He says it’s what you DO with that money that I’m worried about. You guys in your business would call this efficiency, right? How do you get the resources to turn into results quickly and efficiently? That’s our problem. Someone from the Free State once told me, and she said this with great sadness, and this is a decent person, “In our province, anything over 1 million, 10 million, we have to budget for corruption.” So if all of that money, all of that investment – whether it is in PPE, health, or the school feeding schemes – if all of that money just went straight to the recipients, we would have had a totally different country.
Read more: Prof. Jonathan Jansen – On advising young South Africans; Elon Musk’s Twitter; the 2024 Election, and more
On where the country is going wrong
I think where we are going wrong is that the people we appoint as leaders, and I don’t just mean in the public sector, I mean across the board, are not the people that have two qualities.
One is a sense of integrity, and the other is a sense of capacity. Capacity is a skills space – you can train people for that. Integrity, that value system we talked about, you either have it, or you don’t. And because of the cadre deployment system in the ruling party, for example, because of our verydeep-seatedd sense of: ‘I’m going to appoint on the basis of loyalty, whether that loyalty is race, or whatever the case might be, or national origins, whatever.’ We choose for the wrong reasons. And I can tell you right now, there are so many competent people, black and white, in this country, that can actually fix it pretty quickly. But we don’t want to see them as part of this country’s solution because of all the other people that need to be fed in the political system.
So that is where we went wrong – we choose the wrong people and then we are all surprised when the car goes into the ditch.
Read more: Prof Jonathan Jansen: Chronic dysfunction in SA universities; consequences of corruption and eroded institutional integrity
On serving the public vs. serving one’s self
That for me is the essence. Unfortunately, I’ve seen all these scumbags in government and so on and so forth. So I have a healthy disrespect for them. Think of how the president in his second term could literally appoint anyone to his cabinet. Firstly, he could halve the size of the cabinet and then have the really competent people within his own party running the show. Can you imagine what kind of confidence that would put in all of us?
But, I’m getting older and I made a decision a long time ago. I do not want a government-centrictric view of the world to dominate my attention. I need to look at people who make that difference on a daily basis and try to leverage that. Now the downside of that is that you never get systemic change. You get a change in the province, in the district and so on. Because to get systemic change, you need a government. It is as simple as that. But I am not going to waste my time.
I know you have to do it as part of your profession and pay attention to the national budget. But I couldn’t care less because it would make no difference for people down the feeding chain. However, I get enormous joy and enormous fulfillment out of seeing ordinary people turning around this country – in smaller ways, true, but nevertheless, being able to get a kid to study, a school to function – a road to be repaired, for it all to be repaired. That’s where I look for my joy and where I can add, I’m not a rich person, but I know people, I’ve been privileged to have networks, and I can draw their attention to where the needy are and make that difference.
Read more: ‘Vote these buggers out of power’ – Prof Jonathan Jansen
On our ‘disconnected’ democracy and people voting for ‘the same old’ and getting the ‘same old’ corrupt dislocation of national resources
We are still too close to the sharp edges of our past. And that makes it very difficult. I talk to friends of mine who are highly educated, who are rational, sane people, who want the things that you and I want – a country that works. They will tell me, even if they’ve been screwed over by the ruling party, they would say, “but under what flag would I be buried?” It’s very hard to understand that if you were tortured in the struggle, if you believe in the party of Oliver Tambo. It is very hard to just walk away and be rational and choose otherwise. I think it will take another generation or two.
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