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Pick your leaders as carefully as they pick their role models.

25 January 2013, 13:01

On Monday the 21st of January the USA celebrated Martin Luther King Day in memory of the work done by this great man who strove passionately for equality for all.

“Martin Luther King Jr. is often hailed as the greatest hero of the African-American community, but to call him that is to miss his message almost entirely. Although Dr. King’s name will appear in history books next to the rights he helped earn for African-Americans, his greatest gift to us was the brilliant, shining example he set for all men. Dr. King’s speeches call not just for equality for black people but for love and compassion from everyone for everyone, and they do so with language more beautiful than mere words have any right to be. He was one of the most inspiring spiritual leaders in any history anywhere.”

We would add Nelson Mandela’s name to the top of the list of incredible individuals that impacted not just those around them, but spanned multiple cultures and ultimately drove change that impacted the world. There are many parallels in their achievements such as their hunger to learn, earning global recognition for their work and receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.

Both men strove for equality while avoiding violence. They would not belittle anyone or anything and simply declined discussions that did not begin and end with “equality for all”. Words like racism were replaced with words like opportunity. Ideas born of revolution were transformed into ideas born of equality. Blame for a history of wrongs was replaced by their passion to build a better future for all.

Both men knew that their dream would not come without monumental effort and commitment by the many for years to come. Many look to these gentlemen as role models as they strive to continue their work and this is visible in the leaders of countries across much of the world.

But this is not always the case.

Many South African leaders, both elected and the many thought leaders across the country reference other names synonymous with short lived, destructive ideologies such as colonialism, socialism and communism. Easily added to these names are those responsible for dictatorships focused on the oppression of those who were different. The words most commonly associated with these systems are comrade, nationalization, revolution, etc. The most common vehicle for delivering messages is blame. Names associated with these ideals are Stalin, Lenin, Marx, Trotsky and the British Empire. These words and ideals are in stark contrast to those that drove Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.

Most concerning is the number of vocal activists, most generally found supporting the ANC or SACP (and others), who hold in high esteem the ideologies of those whose names are associated with oppression. It is relatively easy to search Google and find well known individuals specifically referencing the doctrine recorded by those who followed Marx, Stalin, Lenin & Trotsky. It is also easy to find references to a history of wrongs as a result of colonialism. The past is there to learn from, not to emulate.

To quote Dr. King: “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.”

Recently a well-respected South African though leader wrote an open letter lamenting the failures of South Africa’s current government. A succinct email with inarguable facts and references but the intentions, other than a lack of support for President Zuma, were unclear. Not long afterwards a number of individuals were recognizing great persons who had passed away during 2012 and the following tweet was broadcast by the author: “When imperialists assassinated Brother Leader, Africa's opportunity to rise was set back. RIP Muammar Gaddafi”.

I believe it is well known what Gaddafi stood for and accomplished during his reign.

In general, oppressive ideologies are resistant to equal opportunities, intolerant of opposing views and resort to “…the implementation of revolutionary justice to suppress opponents”. Being “anti-imperialist” does not equate to “pro-equality” - the actions of all who’ve implemented destructive ideologies provide clear evidence of this.

We would do well to look to those who we see as role models, the leaders of today and ensure we are comfortable with their motivations. Based on the destructive language used by many in all political parties it is clear that there is much still to be solved in South Africa and not just the obvious.

There is simply no place for the words comrade or cadre, nor for ideologies like socialism or communism in a country committed to equality for all. To quote Dr. King: “Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” 

Theirs is simply no time left for the idea, nor the word racism in any mature and constructive conversation with the goal of building a better future for all. To quote Mr Nelson Mandela : “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

There is no value in the distraction of verbal & physical destruction of opposing points of view while striving for equality for all. To quote Dr. King: “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”

There is no room left for confusing education with pigmentation. To quote Mr Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Every great person has one thing in common. To quote Dr. King: “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

Do our leaders compare? Do your chosen leaders & your role models embody these altruistic ideologies?

Ultimately the choice is yours.

Remember: Your thoughts become your words; your words become your actions; your actions become your habits; your habits become your character.

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