To follow on the footsteps of the anti-colonial liberation struggle leader, public servants should forever serve citizens with humility, sacrifice and respect all the people. Nthambeleni Gabara draws lessons from the inspirational life of the founding father of Zambia?

What is the key lesson public servants should learn from the legacy of Dr Kenneth “KK” Kaunda?The public servants in the African continent should serve citizens beyond expectations even in the most difficult and frustrating period of the COVID-19 pandemic in the same way that KK championed Africa’s independence.

Dr Kaunda, who passed on during the week aged 97, fought colonialism with zeal when it was not fashionable do to so. In fact, KK was our continental public servant par excellence! He was the full embodiment of servant leadership.

Now, instead of looking for reasons why government cannot do something, public servants have to find better ways to deliver what people need.

This momth, as Africans, we recognise the heroic self-sacrificing public servants who continue to serve citizens at the risk of their own lives that are threatened by the highly contagious COVID-19 pandemic. 

Despite the disruptions and chaos caused by the outbreak of COVID-19, public servants in the African continent are continuing to deliver critical services to citizens. 

The services are water, education, healthcare, social welfare, transport, sanitation as well as refuse and waste removal, to mention but a few. By braving the COVID-19 pandemic, African public servants manage to raise a sense of trust in their respective governments amongst citizens. 

As Africans, we can proudly tell the world that we have a well-functioning public services and effective public servants who do not view serving others as slavery in a civilised form.

In Africa, public servants are encouraged to network, collaborate and share best practices for possible replication within a country as well as across the continent. 

We all know that Africa Public Service Day (APSD), which is rooted in the African Union (AU) calender, originated in Tangier, Morocco 27 years ago following a session of African Public Service Ministers. 

The APSD is celebrated on June 23 annually throughout the continent. It is the day on which men and women whose responsibility is to serve the people of Africa showcase their innovation with respect to service delivery.

This year, the APSD will be held in Zimbabwe next week from 21-23 under the theme: “Building the Africa We Want through embracing an ethical culture that underpins purpose driven leadership in the Context of a Crisis”.

In South Africa, the Public Service and Administration Department is the custodian of the day. As a result, Public Service and Administration Minister Senzo Mchunu will share the country’s plan to professionalise the public service space at the upcoming 8th continental APSD.

The continental APSD has been celebrated previously in these countries – namely, Namibia (2007), Tanzania (2009 & 2011), Ghana (2013), Congo (2015), Rwanda (2017) and Kenya (2019).

High on the APSD agenda is to mark and appreciate the work being done by the public service and to recognise their positive contribution to the socio-economic development of the continent. 

The 2021 APSD celebrations take its cue from the declaration by the African Union (AU) that this year’s programme would be a one-day main event on June 23. 

Since APSD is also aimed at discovering innovations, African leaders will also focus on enhancing their preparedness or develop contingency plans that will enable public servants in future to render services in crises moments such as the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. 

In South Africa, the APSD will be implemented as a weeklong programme from 23-25 June 2021, where all spheres of government will holding multi-sector dialogue sessions on the theme and sub-themes of the day’s event.

This year, public services in the African continent will use the APSD platform to learn from each other’s successes and failures in their ability to respond effectively to COVID-19.

Just like elsewhere in the world, COVID-19 has also transformed the work and workplaces of the public service space in the African continent. Therefore, it will be appropriate for the public services in Africa to consider investing in digital skills so that they can be in a better position to manage future pandemics or any other crises.

The outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic left most public servants across the continent with no option but to embrace new technology in rendering services, so adoption of digitisation of the public service space to experience less strain caused by pandemics will be a progressive move.

Earlier this year, the South African government unveiled the consultation process with regard to the National Implementation Framework towards the professionalisation of the public service.

The framework, aims to entrench a dynamic system of professionalism in the public service space as well as to ensure meritocracy in the recruitment and career development management of public servants, which are in line with the National Development Plan (NDP).

It will also focus on initiating consequence management for irregularities through the transgression mechanisms available to professional bodies. 

It is also through the APSD where leaders remind public servants to continually recognise and enhance the culture of being servants of the citizenry as a prerequisite of public service delivery programmes and promises to the voters. This should be based on upholding professional and ethical standards at all times.

Ethical leadership in the public service space must always be based on professionalism and adherence to the legislative prescripts and frameworks governing public service and administration in the continent.

The idea of an ethical leadership that brings about a highly productive public service to meet the basic needs of citizens and contribute towards the development of the economy is critical as the backbone of the state.

In the changing and evolving public service space, what is needed is dynamic leadership acumen that can transform departments into institutions of effective service delivery within a developmental state.  

Matters that relate to poor productivity, maladministration, governance failures and at times corruption are ethical challenges that continue to undermine state legitimacy. 

One of KK’s friend, South Africa’s first democratically elected President, the late Nelson Mandela, once said: “For the majority of South Africans, the Public Service was seen as a hostile instrument of an oppressive minority. We have an immense challenge to build a state that is truly oriented towards the service of all South Africans; that is equitably representative of our society; that is guided by the broad vision of a better life for all; and that is dedicated to making efficient use of public resources. No less demanding are the tasks of rooting out corruption and safeguarding merit.”

Therefore, public servants should be committed to have a world-class public service space in honour of Africa’s public servant, KK.

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Nthambeleni Gabara is a professionally-trained journalist who holds a Bachelor of Technology in Journalism degree from the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT). The journalist-turned government communicator has almost two decades of experience in the media space.