Monday, February 9

The known unknown

Thabo Mbeki gave an interview on SABC 2 last night. I was only able to watch for a brief period, but what he said caught my attention. He laid out the program by which all data on deaths the government has collected since 1996 is being analyzed, so that the government will finally "know" how many people are dying where in South Africa, and that it can respond accordingly. He emphasized that this is the first time that such a thing is being done in South Africa, and that once it has been done we will be much more able to tackle our health issues.

I thought this to be an eminently reasonable proposition. I've always been a sucker for Thabo. He doesn't always talk sense, but he always seems to be going somewhere. It feels as if any minute something profound will be said. Only it never seems to happen, and when it does it is almost always an anti-climax.

Something bothered me about this however. I wasn't sure what it was at the time. Reading this post by the Belmont Club, it became obvious however. Government, and people in general, must always respond to situations without complete knowledge of the state of affairs. Thabos wish to "know" what has happened is commendable, but to not act in the face of a tragedy such as AIDS for lack of "complete" knowledge is unforgivable for a head of state. How many people are going to die because Thabo did not know?

To lead is to act without knowing what the perfect course will be. It is to act without having total understanding of a situation. To wait until such a time as when you have complete understanding, at the cost of so many lives, is the failure of leadership.

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