Buses for Democracy: Improving Public Transport in South Africa
(10 pages of text)
With the 2010 FIFA World Cup fast approaching, Johannesburg, South Africa, needs a much-improved public transport system. A bus rapid transit (BRT) system is proposed and the key challenge involves getting buy-in from the minibus-taxi industry, which serves current commuters with 22,000 minibus-taxis, but which sometimes threatens violence to ensure there is little change in its way of operating. The leader of the main Johannesburg taxi association embarks on a process of personal growth to find the courage and capacity to lead the taxi industry away from resistance and into a business partnership with the city. He and his small team undertake a personally risky journey to implement BRT through the Rea Vaya project, thus changing the landscape of Johannesburg and bringing safe transport to hundreds of thousands of residents. But only days after the launch of the BRT system, two people in a BRT bus are shot by a gunman. With the 2010 FIFA World Cup less than a year away, is it worth commuters and Rea Vaya workers being shot and potentially killed? Could anything have been done differently to avoid this? Should the whole project be put on hold? If they stop one more time, it might never get off the ground again.
This case chronicles an example of successful public-sector change leadership in South Africa. At the heart of the case are two leaders who are supported by key stakeholders, from the mayor of Johannesburg to the president of the country. The case documents the early meetings and the first few years of getting the BRT system off the ground. Questions include how to ensure there is enough urgency for change, building a coalition, communicating to get buy-in and dealing with resistance. The case ends with the opening of the system and the shooting of two people by hardliners who resist change. This highlights the challenges in change leadership, even with a well-managed process. At the end of the case, students will have a better understanding of the dynamics of leading change, especially in multi-stakeholder contexts. They will explore part of Kotter’s eight-step framework. The class will also learn about the inner commitment required for leading change.
The case is appropriate for MBA, public management and executive education programs dealing with leading change when working with multiple stakeholders under high pressure. For students of business in emerging markets and Africa, the case illustrates the importance of local culture and history in emerging-market business dynamics — it could therefore be taught in international business.
South Africa, Large, 2006-2009
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