South Africa Needs a Leader Who Will Be a Servant to the People

As we are slowly approaching the time for the African National Congress (ANC) elective conference to be held in December, quite a number of things are happening. Skeletons (small, and not so small) are tumbling out of many a closet, some individuals (like the former...

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As we are slowly approaching the time for the African National Congress (ANC) elective conference to be held in December, quite a number of things are happening.

Skeletons (small, and not so small) are tumbling out of many a closet, some individuals (like the former MP, Dr Makhosi Khoza) are quitting the party and others are exposed as adulterers (Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa). This should not come as a surprise to many, as the history of ANC succession battles has proven in the past to be a virtual life-and-death battle. This was was evident in Polokwane in 2007 and Mangaung in 2012.

With the ruling ANC commanding a majority of seats in the National Assembly and governing eight out of nine provinces, leading the party affords any individual and aspirant leader status and financial advantages.

The branches, as we are constantly reminded by party officials and staunch members, will decide. Well, may they decide.

Some among us will not be there and whoever is elected as the leader may impact our lives from 2019 (the year in which general elections will be held) and beyond. I guess it is proper and fitting to suggest one of the things that the leader should have over and above his knowledge of ANC policies. I understand that the party puts a premium on its leaders knowing the former’s policies (and implementing them!) as one would know one’s back hand.

The thing I would suggest, as an ordinary South African, is leadership. 

It would seem somewhat bizarre for one to suggest that an elected individual should have ‘leadership’. We all take it for granted that by virtue of one’s election to a position of leadership that one is naturally a leader. But this is not the case if one considers the current situation we find ourselves in. Numerous examples in South African, African and international history have shown us that it is possible to have leaders who lack leadership skills and capabilities. Leadership or the lack thereof seems to be the bane of modern society, whether it is in business, academia or in politics. In the political realm, we have more of what James Macgregor Burns in his book Leadership calls ‘power wielders’. These are individuals who are more fascinated with power for its own sake, than providing critically-needed leadership.

South Africa is presently beset by the triple challenges of poverty, rampant unemployment (hovering above 25%) and inequality (wealth is skewed in favour of a few). Consequently, the country needs a leader who will have strategies to extricate it out of this morass. As John C. Maxwell, the leadership guru, states, “everything rises and falls on leadership”. It will take astute leadership to steer the ship of state from the current choppy waters to placid and calm seas.

Some societies in crisis have had the good fortune of being led by individuals who were attuned to the immediate needs of the moment. During the Great Depression of 1929, the United States of America was fortunate to have President Franklin Roosevelt as a leader. Through his words, deeds and astute leadership skills, he was able to take the country out of that sad chapter. In several fireside chats broadcast over radio, he was able to ‘pledge’ America to a New Deal. The policy may have had its strident critics but the fact of the matter is that it helped a country in crisis.

In Britain just as the clouds of the Second World War were gathering, the British electorate elected Sir Winston Churchill as Prime Minister. The bellicose German Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, had squeezed several concessions out of the previous Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, who followed a dangerous policy of ‘appeasement’.

It was the invasion of Poland by the former’s forces that it dawned to all that Germany was spoiling for war and not for peace. Leadership was thus needed to solve that crisis. Cometh the hour cometh the man, the saying goes. The feisty Churchill was able to inspire British forces to resist the Nazi onslaught. Many can recall his defiant speech that the country was prepared to fight in the air, on sea and land and that it would never surrender. Both Churchill and Roosevelt cited in the foregoing examples epitomized the kind of leadership South Africa would do well to have.

The two leaders came at a critical time in the history of their respective nations and distinguished themselves with superb skills. In fact, they served their nations something which we would do well to have here in South Africa. It is not as if Churchill and Roosevelt (the latter was a member of the Democratic Party) were not members of political parties but in the roles they played they served every citizen. We need a leader who would transcend his/her party barriers and be a servant to all South African citizens irrespective of colour, race or gender.

The late Robert K. Greenleaf in his seminal book on leadership, Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness, argues that the great leader is seen as servant first. He goes on to say that leadership is bestowed upon a person who is by nature a servant.

One hopes that the branches of the ANC who will gather in Gauteng to elect leadership are fully conversant with the type of leader the country needs. It is time to elect a leader who will have a wide range of appeal but not necessarily an individual who seeks to please everyone.

In the late icon former President Nelson Mandela we had such a leader.

An inspirational story is told about a motorcade passing through to lay the late President to rest. A man, who was watching the motorcade, was seen by one individual shedding a tear. The individual inquired from the crying man if he (personally) knew the deceased president, whereupon the latter responded with “he knew me”. I dare say that we need that kind of a leader.

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  1. kdj Reply

    Absolutely – someone like Helen Zille: intelligent, hard-working, incorruptible, a good administrator, dedicated to the improvement of South Africa.

  2. Harald Sitta Reply

    Good analysis. But where do we find good leaders ready to work within the framework of the constitution? First things for me is that the citizens engage more and are more active and delegate less to the professional politicians. By the way: my list of challenges goes like that . improving school system, unemployment especially youth unemployment, townships as investment zones, fighting corruption, strongly reducing taxes, selling off SOEs., reasonable NHI.

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