MAILBOX: Ron Weissenberg on Gayton McKenzie

Cyril Ramaphosa’s tenure at South African McDonald’s underscored the importance of rigorous managerial training, including psychometric testing, to ensure effective leadership. Yet, the political arena lacks such assessments, highlighting disparities in role prerequisites. Enigmatic figures like Gayton McKenzie exemplify the complexity of assessing leaders without psychological insights, akin to navigating a thriller.

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By Ron Weissenberg*

Are leaders like Gayton McKenzie competent to work at McDonalds?

During his 5-year stewardship of the South African McDonald’s franchise (through the Shanduka Group), Cyril Ramaphosa employed hundreds of managers who underwent intense training, including assessments such as psychometric testing. For good reason – an unhinged manager can lead to the death of an organisation. Leadership roles require specific behavioural, cognitive and personality traits. As a tool, psychometric testing caters for this. It is also a valuable tool in assessing problem-solving and decision-making skills. However, it seems the fast-food multinational excluded Ramaphosa from any of these critical assessment requirements. No different really from our political leaders and parliamentarians. To qualify as a member of parliament, one needs little more than being over the age of 18, solvent, of sound mind and no criminal record resulting in a jail term exceeding 12-months (unless pardoned or rehabilitated ).

To be fair, many crucial societal roles and obligations have no measured prerequisites for competency, education or experience. Voting, marriage and health decisions have minimal aptitude requirements beyond having legal majority. Biological parenting is possibly the most critical action humans can impose on society. All that is required is a functioning set of genitalia, reasonable health and a primal yen. Bringing a child into the world requires no experience, affordability criteria or even measurable ability. In stark contrast, marketing a small funeral insurance policy in South Africa requires eye-watering credentials and competencies.

Most politicians have some recognised competencies – educational, experience or age. Some provocateurs like Julius Malema veil themselves behind a Jekyll and Hyde persona: a fervent and extreme autocrat in public, yet almost genteel and humble within family and social gatherings.

However, what about enigmatic leaders like Gayton McKenzie, the Patriotic Alliance head who seems to flip-flop between alliances, temperament and dogma extremes? His party and persona is now a player in the emerging Government of National Unity.

Read more: SA’s “centre” unites in historic pact

Without compulsory psychological testing, assessing the competencies of politicians who manage your life and livelihood is difficult. However, conferring with a human behavioural expert at a conference where politicians are speaking, can provide a front-row insight into their psyche. Extensive media coverage of speeches, informal videos and interviews assist in the assessment mix.  This is the stuff of forensic psychology thrillers, as fascinating as it can be disquieting.

During BNC#6 In March 2024, enigmatic Gayton Mckenzie was his usual mix of charisma, allure and offensiveness. A psychology 101 student would likely have noticed a well-developed persecution complex. McKenzie’s enduring aversion to anything zeitgeist, Zille, classical liberal or those he perceives to place principles above his worldview is clear. According to the expert, the words we use constitute less than 10% of communication. What was revealed in his body language, choice of words, volume, tone, timbre, posture and gestures was most telling. Mckenzie, perhaps true to his regal Scottish part-ancestry is an egotist or ‘I specialist’.  Deep-rooted insecurities are not always apparent to an amateur, but was there a defining moment in assessing this prominent figure and it occurred from the 60-second mark in McKenzie’s keynote address. See: .

For several minutes, McKenzie waxes lyrical on how he obtained favour from his demanding father who was critical of his poor school grades. Just scraping through his academics, he avoided punishment by making friends with the ‘dumbest boy’ in his class, who failed the school year. The friend would be taken home to compare report cards and show that McKenzie was superior to others in his school grade. Then he would dispense of the friendship until he found a new best friend the following year.

This revelation explained a lot. The detail is in the devil, it seems. After McKenzie’s keynote address, I spoke to him briefly about the failed state of the Knysna Municipality. He promised to meet urgently in Knysna, and deferred the arrangements to a man who introduced himself as ‘Gayton’s protector.’ That was more than three months ago, and like the residents of many local authorities who suffer the results of a Patriotic Alliance/Marxist party-captured municipality, we wait.

One cannot help but wonder: in 2021, was McKenzie’s best municipal political friend the DA? Was it the ANC in 2022 and in 2024? His best white friend in 2023 was probably Rob Hersov. For the 2024 elections, 330 000 friendly voters supported promises of deporting illegal immigrants, military conscription and bringing back the death sentence.

An unattributed quote suggests that dispensable friendships (or coalitions?) can be like pennies, two-faced, with three sides, and worthless. South Africans should have at least as much confidence in the competencies of their leaders as they have in the consistency and value of a fast-food supplier.

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