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11 May 2023
SARS Commissioner Edward Kieswetter Shares Personal Theory of Leadership
The Commissioner for the South African Revenue Service (SARS), Edward Kieswetter, shared pearls of wisdom from his career in public service when he delivered the keynote address at the 7th Annual Archbishop Thabo Makgoba Development Trust Lecture Series.
Edward Kieswetter delivering the 7th Annual Archbishop
Thabo Makgoba Development Trust Lecture Series

The University of the Western Cape (UWC) Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences (EMS) hosted the lecture series on 9 May 2023.

In welcoming Kieswetter to the podium, UWC Chancellor, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, made the point that in biblical scripture it states you must “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar'' and that SARS is a crucial part of a capable state.

Dean of the EMS Faculty, Professor Michelle Esau, said: “I reflected on the theme of this year’s series and I wanted to encourage a more positive discussion than what we have become accustomed to in the media and other sources.

“There are good news stories that don’t always get told and from which we can draw learnings. This is what I thought we needed at this moment in time as we all transition back to our different sectors after the COVID-19 pandemic,” she added.

In his address, Kieswetter spoke from the heart and shared that he has days when he reflects on his position and leadership. “It is hard. It is tough, and I also wake up some mornings and feel I want to just give up. I want to just run away. And then it's this compelling proposition that I can make a difference that keeps me going.” 

The Commissioner said that the revenue service’s role within the state is an important one, which is why being at the helm is not a job he takes lightly. “I continue to remind those who advocate for a tax revolt that withholding one’s taxes will hurt the poorest and the most vulnerable. In South Africa, the face of poverty and unemployment is sadly that of a black person in general, and the black woman in particular. And so it is in their defence that we lift ourselves up every day to do the work we do.”

Kieswetter shared these key leadership points:

  • No one is entitled to lead
  • Leadership is an inordinate privilege
  • Leadership is not a title, but a set of behaviours 
  • You cannot legislate followership, but earn it
  • Leaders must take their work seriously, but not themselves
  • Leadership is about service to others - stewardship
Kieswetter was clear in the direction that he has taken in guiding the management team at SARS on an ethical and moral course. He said: “My personal theory of leadership is that no one is entitled to lead. Leadership is an inordinate privilege. It is not a title, but a set of behaviours. You cannot legislate followership, you have to earn it. And leaders must take their work seriously instead of taking themselves seriously, and leadership is about service to others. I call that stewardship, a steward is one who knows that he or she holds in trust what belongs to another; it's not theirs.”

LISTEN: Edward Kieswetter shares insight during keynote address
Host Prof Michelle Esau sits alongside Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, Edward Kieswetter and Prof Vivienne Lawack, UWC's DVC: Academic
Scroll through the gallery below for more images from the event, all taken by Ruvan Boshoff/UWC Media.