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2023 Derailers of the Year: SA Edition

25 January 2024

Summarising Hogan Development Survey derailers with SA's news headlines

By Pakeezah Rajab and Andrew Morris

Hogan Assessments has a wonderful tradition of light-heartedly reflecting on the year passed and how individuals became newsworthy with their public displays of derailment. The original 2023 Derailers of the Year (by Hogan, US edition) can be read here, and as the South African distributor of the Hogan Development Survey (HDS) – a personality questionnaire that informs us of behaviours we are most likely to derail on when stressed or under pressure, our JVR colleagues thought we’d give a uniquely local twist to this feature with our own Mzansi newsmakers of 2023.

The below is meant for edutainment purposes only – while we hope our examples are memorable and interesting illustrations of the HDS scales in action, we also declare that where we reflect on individual newsmakers, we have not assessed them on the HDS, and the highlights below are NOT meant to be interpreted as an official report on their personality.


1.     Excitable: South Africans name “Kuningi” as SA Word of the Year for social media

According to the HDS, excitable behaviours are characterised by intense energy that, under pressure, can escalate to volatile and emotional explosiveness. Given the rollercoaster year that was 2023, "Kuningi", an isiZulu word that means "it's a lot", was voted as South African Word of the Year for social media. We think this word was quite appropriate, with many of us not knowing whether to laugh or cry at the events of the year – as you’ll see with some of the other events covered below!

2.     Sceptical: Can the Minister of Electricity find the power?

This derailer relates to expecting disappointment and betrayal from others. When our President appointed a Minister of Electricity in March 2023 in an effort to try to solve our loadshedding woes, the majority of our citizens were not quite convinced of the value of this new post, regardless of the credentials of Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, the Minister serving in this role. Fast forward to December 2023 and we could say with certainty that 2023 was our record worst year for loadshedding. Dare we say that we were right to be sceptical that one person would be able to prevent our escalation into the power supply crisis?

3.     Cautious: SA is showing too little energy and interest towards renewable energy

Derailing on cautiousness relates to a reluctance to try new ways of doing things and instead opting for the low-risk options. Despite the release of the South African Renewable Energy Masterplan (SAREM) and agreements signed at the UN COP26, activists are critical of our government, stating that they are moving too slowly in implementing these plans and achieving targets, instead wasting too much time arguing and debating the future and over relying on outdated use of fossil fuels and coal to generate electricity. With climate change already having a significant impact on our agricultural sector, we can only be cautiously optimistic that these plans are actioned soon!

4.     Reserved: Unregistered youth indifferent to politics?

By definition, this derailer is characterised by a lack of news or invisibility around a topic or person, given that it relates to detachment, indifference or independence towards others, and most notably, an uncommunicative withdrawal. However, this behaviour describes approximately 14 million South African youth, who are yet to register to vote and have their political choice heard in the upcoming 2024 elections.

5.     Leisurely: Slow to respond SAA flight crew lost control of plane

Know someone who is wonderful at giving “lip service” or appearing cooperative, but then procrastinates or is closed to feedback, covertly challenging the requests of seniors? These are markers of an individual derailing on leisurely. A scary of individuals’ delayed responses and their life-or-death consequences that made headlines in 2023, is that of a German aviation regulatory body report of SAA flight crew who lost control on a flight transporting 259 passengers. Their investigation found that although the pilots were experienced, they neglected to apply the standard recovery procedures in a timeous manner, thereby exceeding maximum acceptable operating speed and increasing the probability of an accident. All we can say about this one is we’re happy there were no injuries or serious damage caused.

6.     Bold: Former Eskom CEO makes incriminating accusations

The Bold derailer is portrayed by assertive self-confidence, leadership entitlement, and an unwillingness to take responsibility when things go wrong. From a bombshell interview, immediate removal from his post, and a “tell-all” book release, the former Eskom CEO made headlines for his allegations about corruption and sabotage within the power utility. While many South Africans appreciated his whistle-blower stand, upon reflection, experts questioned the strategic value of these revelations, with some stating that his narrative was rather self-promoting and an attempt to distance himself from the failure.

7.     Mischievous: An extra public holiday, courtesy the Bokke!

This HDS scale relates to charming, impulsive, and exciting risk-taking behaviours. While this behaviour can have devastating long-term consequences, this was a WIN for all when President Cyril Ramaphosa publicly joked that he would consider giving all South Africans a day off to celebrate if the Boks won the Rugby World Cup. As soon as the SA team lifted that beautiful Cup, citizens back home were immediately questioning whether they had to go to work the next day – it was quite chaotic! Fortunately for us, our President stood by his word and we eventually got to celebrate on the 15th of December, just under 2 months after the record win!

8.     Colourful: Faf meets Federer in SA-inspired undies

Public confidence, self-display, and attracting attention … phrases that describe both this HDS scale and the Springbok scrum half! Fans had fun on social media with the video of the South African rugby star celebrating the World Cup win with tennis legend, Roger Federer. This also wasn’t the first time this public figure showed off his undergarments – remember the #FafdeKlerkChallenge that followed after he partied in his Speedos alongside Prince Harry?

9.      Imaginative: Brave or boneheaded: Blasting fossils into space

This derailer is marked by innovative but eccentric and unusual ideas. One such headline that made us really scratch our heads and wonder why anyone thought this was a good idea was when news broke that a palaeoanthropology researcher was granted an export permit to make a hominin space flight possible. These hominin fossils are over 2 million years old and, of course, are irreplaceable. Given the risks they were exposed to in transit, with no answer for what their scientific value in space would be, we agree with the scientists who slammed this event, but we do worry how this project was even approved to begin with.

10.   Diligent: Hard-to-please Banyana coach happy with win but not performance

We all want to work with someone who is detailed, conscientious, and can manage priorities appropriately. But when you derail on diligent, those characteristics magnify into something of a nightmare; you come across as impossible to please, overly critical, and an overwhelming micromanager. Take Banyana Banyana coach who said in her team’s winning interview “Look, [I am] happy with the result (winning the match) but the performance ‘no’. We can empathise with the team how demoralising that comment must have been, they were hardly even given a chance to celebrate their win!

11. Dutiful: When patients’ health overrules healthcare worker health

Individuals derailing on this HDS scale are often described as polite, likeable team players, but they also avoid the tough issues, are unwilling to stand up for their opinions, and are overly eager to please and impress their superiors. One such unfortunate headline that made news in 2023 was when striking healthcare workers were ordered by the Labour Appeal Court to return to work, despite their wage talks with government being unaddressed. While this can be considered a victory for vulnerable patients who were affected by strikes, it does sound unfair that the workers’ concerns went unheard, despite their valid grievances.


Want to know more about the Hogan Assessments and derailers? Sign up for our Hogan Assessments certification training or contact us on for more information on how to use HDS insights in your organisation!


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