fb

‘Imposter syndrome’ explains why first black leader of South Africa’s main opposition party quit

Mmusi Maimane, former leader of South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance.
Kim Ludbrook/EPA-EFE

Steven Friedman, University of Johannesburg

The politicians who run South Africa’s official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), have probably never heard of “imposter syndrome”. If they had, they might have a better grasp of the problems which confront their party – and its first black leader might not have been forced to resign.

“Imposter syndrome” is a state of mind in which a successful and competent person doubts their achievements and harbours a persistent fear that they should not be enjoying success and will soon be exposed as a “fraud”. It was identified by two American psychologists in a 1978 article, which found that the problem was widespread among high-achieving women, far more so than among men.

Since then, others have connected the dots to explain why people should feel this way. The syndrome, they suggest, is a product of prejudices that insist that some groups should monopolise important tasks and the skills and responsibilities which go with them. The women with “imposter syndrome” were doing well at jobs that, according to the prejudices among those who controlled their society, only men could do. They were, therefore, sure that men were judging them. And so, in a sense, they began to judge themselves despite the fact that they were clearly good at what they did.

This does not apply only to women who are doing jobs usually monopolised by men. It could equally apply to black people occupying positions that were held only by whites and whose “imposter syndrom” reacts to the prejudice which insists that only whites belong in the role.

This will probably shape how people operate in their “imposter” roles. They could be reluctant to express views or take decisions that might offend others in the organisation because they are convinced that the people who used to monopolise the role will dismiss them as a fraud.

It is also possible that, in a way, the people who suffer from the syndrome really are imposters. People who are drawn from a group that did not occupy the post in the past may have ways of doing things that are unlike those of the traditional office holders: women may do some things differently from men, black people may do things differently from whites. They are then likely to be labelled as frauds by others despite the fact that what they are doing may be as effective as – or more effective than – the “traditional” way of doing things.




Read more:
First black leader breathes life into South African opposition


All of this is directly relevant to this week’s resignation of Mmusi Maimane, who in 2015 became the first black leader of the traditionally white Democratic Alliance (DA).

Depends on who is doing the judging

Maimane was forced out of the party leadership because a DA committee consisting of three white men held him (and some of its white leaders) responsible for the fact that the DA is losing ground in elections. Whether their judgement was fair is hotly debated. But key for “imposter syndrome” is the judgement the panel passed on Maimane. He was, they said, “indecisive” and “conflict averse”.

Given what we know about “imposter syndrome”, it is not hard to see why a committee composed entirely of members of the group that has run the party since it began should judge him this way. If Maimane was indecisive, it may be because he feared deep down that, if he did decide, he would be called out as a fraud by the people who ran the party – this happened anyway, despite his supposed indecision. It is even easier to see why someone conscious of being judged by people constantly testing whether he is “one of us” would want to avoid conflict.

It is also possible that Maimane was an “imposter” in the second sense – that what appeared indecisive and “conflict averse” was actually a different, and perhaps more effective, way of doing things.

The committee’s complaint that he was averse to conflicts may well say more about them than about him. Why is enjoying conflict a virtue? Should we not rather value people who avoid conflict? People with a different value system could see a “conflict averse” person as a “peace lover” or a “conciliator”. And “indecisiveness” could mean a refusal to take decisions the review committee and the rest of the party establishment want him to take, not a failure to decide.

The committee’s verdict on Maimane may be less an indictment of him than a judgement on it and the traditional DA leadership it represents. It suggests not an iota of sensitivity to the possibility that a black person elected to lead a traditionally white organisation may find it difficult to be decisive if she or he is subject to constant doubts about whether they really fit the role. Nor is it alive to the possibility that Maimane may have been doing things differently but better and that the organisation’s white leadership may have found that difficult.

All this has implications way beyond the DA.

Widespread problem

“Imposter syndrome” is quite likely widespread in South Africa among women and black men who hold senior positions in organisations that were led by men or white people.

The reason would be much the same as it is in the DA – most white-led or male-led organisations tend to think that they can absorb people who were excluded and promote them to leadership positions without changing the organisation. The way in which whites or men ran it in the past is assumed to be the only possible way it could run, and changing it would mean “lowering standards”. So, the black men or the women who occupy these posts become “imposters” if they want to do things differently, even if that would strengthen the organisation.

At the same time, the prejudices of groups who dominate can be very strong – so strong that the targets of the biases start to wonder deep down whether they are really unfit for the task. In South Africa, white men running large organisations and taking on complicated technical tasks has been the norm for decades and so people come to assume that only they could do these jobs. It is no surprise that black people and women who are perfectly capable of doing them wonder deep down whether they are really up to the task.

So, whether or not Maimane was good at leading the opposition, his resignation is important because it highlights one of the core problems of democratic South Africa – the assumption that the only way to do anything is the way white men did it in the past, and the damaging attitudes that produces on both sides of the divide.The Conversation

Steven Friedman, Professor of Political Studies, University of Johannesburg

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    Don’t miss out on the latest local news, interviews and competitions.

    Don’t miss out on the latest local news, interviews and competitions.

    Receive the latest news

    Subscribe To Our Newsletter

    THE KAYA 959 APP NOW AVAILABLE

    DOWNLOAD YOURS NOW

    Copyright Notice

    1. COPYRIGHT

    1.1 The contents of this Website, including but not limited to its compilation and arrangement, is the exclusive property of Kaya 959, alternatively the suppliers of content to Kaya 959, and accordingly remain protected by South African and International Copyright and Trademark laws.

    1.2 Any person accessing this Website, may not, save for downloading one copy for their personal computers and solely for their private and non-commercial use :

    1.2.1 Copy, disseminate, distribute, advertise, publish, adapt, modify or in any way reproduce the contents of this website for commercial purposes, unless this notice and any disclaimer attached thereto is published in its entirety, or unless the permission of Kaya 959 is obtained in writing.

    Privacy Policy

    THIS PRIVACY STATEMENT FORMS PART OF KAYA 959’S TERMS OF USE POLICY. IF YOU DO NOT AGREE WITH ANY TERM OF THIS PRIVACY STATEMENT, YOU MUST CEASE YOUR ACCESS OF THIS WEBSITE IMMEDIATELY. 

    POPIA ActTo promote the protection of personal information processed by public and private bodies; to introduce certain conditions so as to establish minimum requirements for the processing of personal information; to provide for the establishment of an Information Regulator to exercise certain powers and to perform certain duties and functions in terms of this Act and the Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2000; to provide for the issuing of codes of conduct; to provide for the rights of persons regarding unsolicited electronic communications and automated decision making; to regulate the flow of personal information across the borders of the Republic; and to provide for matters connected therewith.

    RECOGNISING THAT—

    • section 14 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, provides that everyone has the right to privacy;
    • the right to privacy includes a right to protection against the unlawful collection, retention, dissemination and use of personal information;
    • the State must respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights in the Bill of Rights;

    AND BEARING IN MIND THAT—

    • consonant with the constitutional values of democracy and openness, the need for economic and social progress, within the framework of the information society, requires the removal of unnecessary impediments to the free flow of information, including personal information;

    AND IN ORDER TO—

    • regulate, in harmony with international standards, the processing of personal information by public and private bodies in a manner that gives effect to the right to privacy subject to justifiable limitations that are aimed at protecting other rights and important interests,
    1. Definitions and Interpretation

    1.1.“Personal Information” means information relating to an identifiable, living, natural person and where it is applicable, identifiable, existing juristic person, including all information as defined in the Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013. 

    1.2  Parliament assented to POPIA on 19 November 2013. The commencement date of section 1Part A of Chapter 5section 112 and section 113 was 11 April 2014. The commencement date of the other sections was 1 July 2020 (with the exception of section 110 and 114(4). The President of South Africa has proclaimed the POPI commencement date to be 1 July 2020.

     
    1.3. “Processing” means the creation, generation, communication, storage, destruction of personal information as more fully defined in the Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013.  

    1.4. “You” or the “user” means any person who accesses and browses this website for any purpose. 

    1.4. “Website” means the website of the KAYA 959 at URL www.kaya959.co.za or such other URL as KAYA 959 may choose from time to time.   

    1. Status and Amendments

    2.1. KAYA 959 respects your privacy. This privacy policy statement sets out KAYA 959’s information gathering and dissemination practices in respect of the Website. 

    2.2. This Privacy Policy governs the processing of personal information provided to KAYA 959 through your use of the Website. 

    2.3. Please note that, due to legal and other developments, KAYA 959 may amend these terms and conditions from time to time.  

    1. Processing of Personal Information

    3.1. By providing your personal information to KAYA 959 you acknowledge that it has been collected directly from you and consent to its processing by KAYA 959. 

    3.2. Where you submit Personal Information (such as name, address, telephone number and email address) via the website (e.g. through completing any online form) the following principles are observed in the processing of that information: 

    3.2.1. KAYA 959 will only collect personal information for a purpose consistent with the purpose for which it is required. The specific purpose for which information is 
    collected will be apparent from the context in which it is requested. 

    3.2.2. KAYA 959 will only process personal information in a manner that is adequate, relevant and not excessive in the context of the purpose for which it is processed. 

    3.2.3. Personal information will only be processed for a purpose compatible with that for which it was collected, unless you have agreed to an alternative purpose in writing or KAYA 959 is permitted in terms of national legislation of general application dealing primarily with the protection of personal information. 

    3.2.4. KAYA 959 will keep records of all personal Information collected and the specific purpose for which it was collected for a period of 1 (one) year from the date on which it was last used. 

    3.2.5. KAYA 959 will not disclose any personal information relating to you to any third party unless your prior written agreement is obtained or KAYA 959 is required to do so by law. 

    3.2.6. If personal information is released with your consent KAYA 959 will retain a record of the information released, the third party to which it was released, the reason for the release and the date of release, for a period of 1 (one) year from the date on which it was last used. 

    3.2.7. KAYA 959 will destroy or delete any personal information that is no longer needed by KAYA 959 for the purpose it was initially collected, or subsequently processed. 

    3.3. Note that, as permitted by the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act 25 of 2002, KAYA 959 may use personal information collected to compile profiles for statistical purposes. No information contained in the profiles or statistics will be able to be linked to any specific user.    

    1. Collection of anonymous data

    4.1. KAYA 959 may use standard technology to collect information about the use of this website. This technology is not able to identify individual users but simply allows KAYA 959 to collect statistics. 

    4.2. KAYA 959 may utilise temporary or session cookies to keep track of users’ browsing habits. A cookie is a small file that is placed on your hard drive in order to keep a record of your interaction with this website and facilitate user convenience. 

    4.2.1. Cookies by themselves will not be used to identify users personally but may be used to compile identified statistics relating to use of services offered or to provide KAYA 959 with feedback on the performance of this website. 

    4.2.2. The following classes of information may be collected in respect of users who have enabled cookies: 

    4.2.2.1. The browser software used; 

    4.2.2.2. IP address; 

    4.2.2.3. Date and time of activities while visiting the website; 

    4.2.2.4. URLs of internal pages visited; and 

    4.2.2.5. referrers. 

    4.3. If you do not wish cookies to be employed to customize your interaction with this website it is possible to alter the manner in which your browser handles cookies. Please note that, if this is done, certain services on this website may not be available. 

    1. Security

    5.1. KAYA 959 takes reasonable measures to ensure the security and integrity of information submitted to or collected by this website, but cannot under any circumstances be held liable for any loss or other damage sustained by you as a result of unlawful access to or dissemination of any personal information by a third party. 

    1. Links to other websites

    6.1. KAYA 959 has no control over and accepts no responsibility for the privacy practices of any third party websites to which hyperlinks may have been provided and KAYA 959 strongly recommends that you review the privacy policy of any website you visit before using it further. 

    1. Queries

    7.1. If you have any queries about this privacy policy please contact us by emailing [email protected] 

    Competition Terms and Conditions

    • The competitions are open to all persons over the age of 18 years; except directors, partners, employees, agents, service providers, and consultants of Kaya 959, the sponsor and all its subsidiaries and its holding company, if any, as well as all spouses, life partners, parents, children, siblings, business partners and associates of such persons.

    • The outcome of the competition is subject to the decision of the judge/presenter, whose decision is final and no negotiation will be entered into thereafter. Neither Kaya 959, sponsors nor their agents will be held responsible or answerable to any dispute arising from the competition or prize awards.

    • Participants/listeners enter or take part in competitions at their own risk and Kaya 959 bears no responsibility for any loss, damage or harm suffered as a result of participation in any of Kaya 959 competition.

    • One listener is entitled to winning one prize in a period of 3 months. Kaya 959 reserves the right not to award a prize if the listener has won a prize prior during the 3 month window period. This also applies to listeners who provide family or friend’s contact details.

    • Kaya 959 reserves the right to redistribute all unclaimed prizes if not claimed after 3 months after being given away On Air or on the website.

    • Prizes are not transferable and may not be exchanged for cash.

    • Finalists will forfeit their participation in the competition if they fail to attend the draws.

    • The competition will run during the period advertised on Kaya 959; entries received outside of the competition period will not be considered for the competition draw.

    • Kaya 959 and their sponsors reserve the right to cancel, modify or amend the competition at any time if deemed necessary in their opinion, or if circumstances arise outside of their control.

    • By entering the competition, entrants agree to accept these rules and to be bound by them.