I was sitting in a municipal council chamber, seven months ago. It was packed. With policeman and councillors, traffic and protection services, local government officials, community policing forum and neighbourhood watch members, security companies, NGOs and more.
Ostensibly, the conversation was all about safety issues – crime and gangs, drugs and danger.
But it wasn’t, really.
If one looked around the cavernous room, one would see a system in motion, this town’s “safety eco-system”. An immune system, just like the human body’s.
The meeting was the Stellenbosch Safety Initiative (SSI) – a municipality-led partnership with SAPS, uniting every safety partner in town. On this Friday morning, there were many issues on the table.
But if one watched, listened carefully enough, one would realise the real focus was re-assessing their collective resilience. Their health of their relationships. The strength of their connective tissue. The renewed relevance of their consensus. And, ultimately, the foundation of their collaboration: trust.
On display was extraordinary maturity, between a wide range of partners. For they understood, deeply: Almost every effort in our public lives requires a “whole of society” philosophy.
This demands an intimate understanding of each other’s roles and responsibilities, ways to compliment each other’s efforts, and hold each other to account.
Once this partnership had been brokered and forged, they’d come to know their single most important weapon would always be: again, the health of their relationship.
And if they got this right, they’d stand the best possible chance of dealing with any challenges which came their way.
Sure, there’d be unexpected threats, which would test their mettle severely.
There could even be disagreements, jagged points of internal conflict.
But this team of safety partners had been smart. They’d nurtured their foundation. If their meetings had been cut to just five minutes, they knew they’d only need to reaffirm one thing.
To say to each other, again: “I trust you.”
On that foundation, they knew anything’s possible.
The model is instructive.
When conflicts surface, what do we ask first? Do we dive into the crossfire? Exacerbate the carnage?
Or do we pause, reflect, summon wisdom, and then ask: “Okay , let’s first reaffirm what we agree upon.
“What unites us. Let’s retrace our journey together.”
And, only then ask: “So what weight does this point of conflict deserve?”
This, of course, requires a specific kind of leadership.
One former South African leader infamously believed himself to be “the cleverest person in the room”.
That worked well.
By contrast, the SSI has demonstrated: Humble leaders who relentlessly unite, are what “whole of society” needs most.
Congratulations to the safety partners in Drakenstein, who have now made incredible progress towards this same unity too.
We salute you.