We can all be leaders in SA

2012-03-24 10:00

There is this bee story most people know. It goes something like this. Worker bees in a certain hive rebelled and left the hive because they were tired of taking orders and feeding the queen bee.

Outside the hive they asked each other “now what direction do we take, where do we fly to?”

After much debate, the one bee, born an ordinary worker bee, said: “Let us go left.” With those words all the rebel bees flew left to start a new life somewhere else.

There are lessons from this story. Leadership is essential. Someone at all levels and facets of society is needed to make decisions, and guide and inspire others.

So even though the swarm had rebelled, a new leader was still needed to make decisions.

I could milk the story even further and say even though this bee was born a worker, he was able to lead, his birth circumstances did not matter, but we know that in the case of bees that is not true.

A queen is chosen as a larva and nurtured as a queen, such that she is born a queen.

However, human beings are not bees. The origins of the University of Oxford from the Sorbonne in Paris and the origins of the University of Cambridge from Oxford are other common examples of the essence of leadership.

We know of many great leaders who were born in humble circumstances but became leaders, leaving a legacy that lasts for centuries.

King Shaka, for example, was a son of a minor chief, uSenzangakhona, but he, uShaka, went on to build the only indigenous nation ever to defeat the British at battle.

The commissioners are of the view that all human beings are not only capable of being leaders but are often called to exercise leadership.

In South Africa today, we face such a challenge: the need for leadership. The draft National Development Plan 2030 calls for this type of leadership and calls it broad-based leadership.

Commissioners reject the “big man” type of leadership and I quote from the 444-page plan.

“Leadership here does not refer to one person, or even a tight collective of people. In every aspect of life, dynamic leadership should be encouraged.

In particular, parents, leaders of the community and public figures should demonstrate leadership qualities that include:

» The ability to lead by example and to follow rules that apply to everyone;

» Honesty, integrity and trustworthiness;

» The capacity to manage change and drive a “new” agenda, communicating with people, keeping them interested and informed; and

» The ability to make unpopular decisions.

This broad-based leadership goes beyond brightening the corner wherever you are, being the light. It also is about being able to influence others to brighten the corner wherever they are.

My father made me aware that in many cultures a leader is always likened to a shepherd.

Shepherds look after and care about their flock, they lead the sheep to green succulent grass that is good for the sheep, they defend the sheep and are willing to suffer injuries or even die for their flock.

These indeed are some of the leadership qualities and illustrate very well the qualities required if we all take up the mantle of leadership in our nation.

Leaders are inspirational, have faith in themselves and in others, and are able to nurture and delegate.
Leaders are humble and thus are able and willing to learn from even the “least” among a group.

Leaders learn from mistakes done by others or by themselves and are able to apologise when in the wrong or have wronged someone. Leaders accept critique.

Leaders are willing to work hard and sacrifice for what they truly believe in.

As in the words of one of the greatest leaders of our time, former president Nelson Mandela: “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination.

“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.

“It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

It is in the same speech said from the dock at the opening of Mandela’s trial on charges of sabotage in 1964 that names of other great African leaders were mentioned.

These are “Dingane and Bambata, Hintsa and Makana, Squngthi and Dalasile, Moshoeshoe and Sekhukhuni”.

But in the same speech, uBaba uMadiba also raised another leadership quality “perseverance”.

He does this by quoting the words of Chief Albert Luthuli: “Who will deny that 30 years of my life have been spent knocking in vain, patiently, moderately and modestly at a closed and barred door?... The past 30 years have seen the greatest number of laws restricting our rights and progress, until today we have reached a stage where we have almost no rights at all.”

Perseverance and agitating for what is right and for a vision for a lifetime and more is leadership.

Lastly, leadership requires of all human beings the ability to stand up and do for yourself and others selflessly.

I quote from the 2030 plan again: “Leadership should mobilise communities, or parts of communities, to take charge of their future, raise grievances and assume responsibility for outcomes.

“Government needs to enlist community-based organisations to re-energise South Africa.”

I am making examples of mortals who were able to exercise great leadership to show that leaders are not saints, not divine.

The point, dear readers, is that leadership and by extrapolation leaders are characterised by three features: vision, integrity and courage.

Leaders are able to read and decipher common stories that resonate with those people they lead.

Leaders are often led by those they lead through issues and stories they identify from the people they lead.

Each and everyone of us has the ability to lead. If we all in our little corners try to exercise leadership wherever we are, we can build a South Africa that truly belongs to all who live in it.

A South African society with a shared South African identity, without detracting from our diverse multiple identities; a South Africa that shuns great displays of wealth by people not known to be productively employed, or honestly entrepreneurial; a non-racial, non-sexist society; a society where all black, white, rich or poor have equal experience of the law; a country where all have equal opportunities; a country where people enjoy their rights as enshrined in the Constitution, but are also very much aware of their responsibilities; indeed a South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.

We are the only nation in the world that decided consciously through our Constitution to create ourselves in this humanistic and noble manner.

»Makgoba is a commissioner of the National Planning Commission

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