TRUE LEADERS IN GOVERNMENT, businesses, religious organizations, academic institutions and civic society are in short supply in South Africa and the rest of the world. We have far too many of the superficial, banal types; you know those with little depth, once you scratch pass the thin veneer, pretending to be the intellect.
In politics in South Africa, we are sorely missing the erudite minds of Tambo, Sisulu and Mandela to steer us through the next, perhaps more precarious phase of our democratization journey. We have been fortunate in the past to have these leaders, who despite their flaws possessed a penetrating intellect, resoluteness in their vision, an unyielding moral compass, and the art of persuasiveness that made even the most ardent racist take stock of their behavior, here and abroad.
Today too many leaders among the elders and youth, must it seems, flaunt their vanity (displaying modesty is not so cool anymore) behave outrageously, some even barbaric getting up to nonsensical antics, and playing to the camera. Should we not face our enemy (a person or an ideology) with the determination of a Martin Luther King, the dignity of a Nelson Mandela, and the courage of a Gandhi? Or do we prefer the Hollywood style tsotsi even though whining and crass actions are not amusing but harmful to many of our people. Do we know how leaders ought to behave?
The typical conceptions of leadership harp on qualities such as vision, confidence and inspiration, and don’t get me wrong, these are important qualities. But one quality of TRUE LEADERSHIP has become unconventional in today’s modern life, perhaps out of fashion, a sign of weakness even, but which Madiba at his best exemplified: SELF-SACRIFICE. You remember – perhaps dimly – this notion that one should forgo one’s personal interests or well-being for the sake of others or a worthy cause. And allow me to add: do it with panache, do it with style, and do it with some dignity.
We should engrave in our memories, instill in our hearts and embody in our action the values that we personally admire Madiba most for – so that his values continue to live in the hearts and minds of future generations, achieving eternity through their noble actions.
Or are we still too divided as a nation, too overwhelmed by the complex challenges we face, and more recently way too narcissistic and perhaps too entitled even to conceive of drawing from Madiba’s example? And did we for one minute think that building a democracy was going to be easy?
Perhaps it is time to take our vanity, our feeling of entitlement, and simple-mindedness and throw them into the sea!