Friday 16 April 2021
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Naming the elephant in the room of Namibian SOEs

Previously, many people have commented, and may have suggested feasible proposals, on possible ways of improving managerial conditions in many Namibian SOEs. Yet, the problem appears to have remained the “dialogue of the deaf”. It could be that the lack of observable improvements might have to do with failure to correctly discern the root cause of the problem.
At the root of many challenges in SOEs could be the broader aspect of positive identity and purpose construction. This is to say, creating an integrated underlying philosophy (or integrated story line) that underpins, or perceived to underpin SOEs.
At this point, it might be fitting to ask: was there an all-encompassing and inclusive philosophy developed about the nature, form, identity and purpose that the Namibian SOEs have to take? Was there consensus established on the best possible ways of optimally managing the Namibian SOEs so as to contribute meaningfully to the well-being of current and future generations?
Recently, Prof Du Pisani (The Namibian, 21 September 2018) observed that Namibians of all races and classes are struggling to define their position in the world.

Sadly, it was further elaborated in the same article that the struggle for self-identification and finding purpose appears to be manifesting in, amongst others, suicidal driving and disrespect for traffic rules, littering and noise pollution, culture of entitlement, alcohol abuse, crime, gender-based violence, extreme form of individuality, poaching, corruption and pervasive delight in trickery and “outsmarting the system” as professions.
All in all, the lack of positive identity and purpose construction seems to coalesce in what again Prof Du Pisani (The Namibian, 21 September 2018) characterised as “borrowed” and “appearance culture” that thrives on excessive display of material standing as well as political and social status.
Earlier before, speaking at the Nelson Mandela Memorial Lecture at the University of Witwatersrand on 29 July 2006, the former President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, described the phenomenon of “appearance cultures” as “the demons embedded in our society, that stalk us at every minute, seem always to beckon each one of us towards a realisable dream and nightmare. With every passing second, they advise, with rhythmic and hypnotic regularity – get rich! get rich! get rich!”.
Though sadly and troublesome it may be, the periodic consternations in SOEs, or in the current broader Namibian realities, should be located within in the cultures briefly sketched above. Attempting to find answers other than in the broader prevailing context could be bordering on illusion and short-termism.

In this regard, the question to reflect on might be: how did we arrive at these apparent dysfunctional cultures in our organisations, or communities?
The conditions in many Namibian SOEs is not a rational problem of lack of understanding good corporate governance, or failure to enact fitting legislation or policies. It is more serious than that.
At the root of it is a deep-seated psychosis of the battle of the mind (reason) and will (heart): a problem of trying to construct a core philosophy and raison d’etre of SOEs as perceived and accepted by a broad, and at times, competing stakeholders.
About what Ashraf and Kadir (2012:81) termed as an attempt of minimal satisfaction of strategic stakeholders’ interests.
The SOE saga is a problem of developing a philosophical perspective about how our country, Namibia, and the world, are envisaged in future.
At simplified levels, core philosophy is about basic sets of beliefs and worldviews that guide action and, as such, informs approaches and methods of solving challenges, such as those of SOEs. Unless, the type of culture, that Prof Du Pisani characterised as “borrowed” and “appearance culture,” are honestly interrogated with a view of transforming the same into authentic cultures, the future in many SOEs might be gloom.
Developing authentic culture is about the heart and mind. The mind is a powerful weapon. Victory or defeat first starts in the mind. Similarly, effective management of SOEs is a function of constructing identity and purpose, which originates first in hearts and minds.
Apartheid was, by all intents and purposes, a destructive mind-tampering philosophy, and method, that had untold grievous consequences to which many people will take years to recover.
Invariably, guerrilla warfare uses, and relies, on the “hearts and minds” to be effective. Most challenges in developing countries, including those in the Namibian SOEs, have first to be correctly discerned as a change in mental stronghold (culture) problem before interpreting, analysing and proposing fitting solutions to them.
A change in mental strongholds can be one of the most difficult endeavour.

Inherently, mental strongholds have long-lasting and devastating effects because they are about mind colonialism. They (mental strongholds) are subtle and difficult to see by both the capturer and the captured.
Emerging from the above, here then, is the final supposition on this matter: SOEs challenges could be solved through consistently seeking and creating higher purpose values. Higher purpose values can include the following eight core values:
•    Altruistic love – Being selfless and giving unconditional service that is based on genuine care and wanting happiness for others.
•    Integrity/honesty – Being truthful and demonstrating alignment between one’s internal values and behaviour.
•    Ubuntu/Menslikheid– Embracing values such as compassion, respect, dignity, empathy and humility with a view of strengthening communities and organisations.
•    Service – Placing the interests of others before one’s own interests.
•    Trust – Establishing reciprocal relationships based on one’s confidence in another’s integrity and reliability.
•    Forgiveness/acceptance – Showing acceptance and gratitude rather than focusing on negative thoughts and experiences such as jealousy, gossip, failed expectations, hatred and revenge.
•    Gratitude/positive use of adversity – Showing appreciation of positive outcomes and extracting positive lessons from difficult experiences.
•    Reflective practice – Engaging in introspective practices such as journaling, meditation, prayer and being in nature to contextualise experiences from a wider perspective base.
Habitually, higher purpose values can be developed and perfected by anyone and are thus not exclusively for the chosen few.
The significance of higher purpose values lies in its ability to generate positive psychology in organisations, which ultimately may create a favourable environment for the achievement of organisational goals.
The author is a business philosopher and practioner with some 20 years plus experience in the Namibian business and corporate arena.
He holds a National Diploma in Accounting, BTech Accounting and Finance, MBA and a PhD specialising in organisational development and design, specifically, business management and leadership, organisational strategy and culture.

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