Where's next great leader? - Times LIVE
Fri Apr 28 18:05:43 SAST 2017

Where's next great leader?

Brendan Boyle | 2011-10-13 00:13:05.0

The Daily Dispatch reported the award of this year's Nobel peace prize to three brave women, two of them from Africa, on the front page, with an eye-catching montage anchored by the well-known face of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Everyone working on the page seemed to take some vicarious pride in the award, which led me to remember reporting in the same spirit on Nobel awards won by South Africans during my working life - Desmond Tutu in 1984, Nadine Gordimer for literature in 1991 and Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk in 1993.

Sydney Brenner was honoured for medicine in 2002 and JM Coetzee, though no longer living in the country, for literature in 2003.

Add to that Chief Albert Luthuli's peace prize in 1960 and two earlier awards and you have quite a record, for a developing country, of leadership honours.

South Africans, black and white, have been used to strong leadership for generations, which may go some way to explaining why we are coping so badly with the current vacuum.

The Africanists and the nationalists had waves of powerful thinkers, giving direction to the ANC and, after the split in March 1959, to Robert Sobukwe's PAC.

Some of the ideas that drove these leaders as long ago as 1912, when Pixley ka Isaka Seme co-founded the South African Native Congress, may seem unambitious in today's political climate, but they did flow from intellect and engagement.

Luthuli, elected president of the ANC in 1952, was, by all accounts, a man to inspire grand ideals.

Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu showed considered, game-changing leadership when, in 1944, they opted to force the hand of an ANC they judged to be too conservative by forming the youth league.

Like the later decision to launch an armed struggle in 1961, that step followed intense debate among strong-minded men and women who brought conflicting ideas to the table. Their proposals were not, as so often happens today, approved by acclamation while ousted dissenters licked their real or political wounds.

Though their politics would be reviled in a modern context, Cecil John Rhodes and Jan Smuts were also leaders whose influence extended beyond their own borders.

De Klerk reappraised a lifetime's ideology and had the courage to ask his people to embrace the majority they had been taught to fear and to fight.

So what do we have to look forward to today? If the adage "cometh the hour, cometh the man" has any validity, where is that man or woman who will rescue us in this new hour of need? The field seemed full in 1990, when leaders emerged from exile and internal oppression to guide us through the transition to democracy.

If it had not been Mandela we called to lead, we could, until his assassination, have had Chris Hani. If not Hani, then Thabo Mbeki, if not Mbeki, then Cyril Ramaphosa. Our streets and stadiums already immortalise some of these early leaders - though some are less deserving than others.

But as the nation begins to realise just what a failure President Jacob Zuma is as a leader, we find there is no one in the wings with the potential to be a Mandela, a Tambo or even an Mbeki.

Liberia had Sirleaf to guide a nation once as shattered as Somalia is today back towards recovery. Do we have anyone coming through the ranks who we could remotely imagine winning a Nobel peace prize in 10 or 20 years' time?

Some would argue that Kgalema Motlanthe, Lindiwe Sisulu, Fikile Mbalula, Mmusi Maimane or some local mayor or councillor has what it would take to put us back on a path to glory. Others, with good reason, would suggest Helen Zille or Trevor Manuel, but none of them has that magic ability to transcend division and unite the nation behind a common goal.

The choice of future leadership we are offered seems to consist of the DA's Lindiwe Mazibuko and the ANC's Julius Malema.

They are people of different quality, representing different futures, but the supporters of each regard the followers of the other as fools following a fool. Neither would be a unifier. Mazibuko, at 31, has none of the gravitas that Zille had when she was that age.

Even if he learns to disguise his nature, Malema, now 30, will never be anything but a populist bully.

I can't see either of them - nor anyone else active in politics - making a speech any time soon that we will remember as we do Mbeki's "I am an African" address to parliament in 1996 or Mandela's "prepared to die" speech from the dock.

Mazibuko and Malema are exceptional people with significant, if not necessarily positive roles to play in our future. But for the next great South African leader we will need to look further.

Or we could analyse the questions, decide what would make the world a better place and just do that. We could all be great South Africans.


If you have an opinion you would like to share on this article, please send us an e-mail to the Times LIVE iLIVE team. In the mean time, click here to view the Times LIVE iLIVE section.