They say great leaders are born. Whether icons like Chris Hani, Bram Fischer, Steve Biko, Robert Sobukwe, and even Nelson Mandela, looked like leaders to everyone around them at the time, grew into those roles, or became exceptional leaders with the passing of time and as new generations fell in love with their legacy, is an open debate. A basic understanding of what makes a leader is simply someone who is able to guide a group of people, a concept synonymous with control, supervision, command and power. A quick internet search tells you what characteristics good leaders have: they communicate effectively, are honest, have integrity, are innovative, etc. In the world of politics though, such a manual seldom does the trick. Many believe great leaders are people who see beyond themselves, who understand that their actions contribute to a bigger vision and who always act with this in mind. Leaders like Mandela were often not questioned by the majority, because it was understood that he had a vision for South Africa that they agreed with. Fast forward to the 2000s and many of the values associated with great leadership seem to have been lost and, with it, respect for our leaders. South Africans had no problem questioning the leadership of former president Thabo Mbeki and this was nothing compared to the ire Jacob Zuma would attract, almost at every turn, as head of state. Today, more and more South Africans struggle to identify with the glory and trust once shared in our national leaders. The young leaders who will pick up the baton from the current generation will therefore have to earn the trust of the people again in a legitimate and credible way. It remains uncertain who will step into the void. In the ANC, it has often been said that, due to its leaders only getting an opportunity to govern late in life, they should be allowed to continue because they earned it. But the party's insistence on deploying cadres to senior government positions has stymied its ability to organically grow and promote young leaders through the ranks.This has resulted in the loss of promising leaders in the party, perhaps best personified by the departure of Ronald Lamola from ANC Youth League structures in 2015. Lamola lost the race for president of the ANCYL to Collen Maine in an election mired in controversy.He vowed then to remain loyal to the ANC and did not take up any leadership positions until recently, when he was elected to the ANC NEC. He was also included in its national working committee, and is part of Ramaphosa’s panel on land, charting a way towards the expropriation of land without compensation. He is now touted to be one of the party's rising stars.Lamola, 35, went against the grain, demanding Zuma step down after his dealings with the Guptas became public knowledge. After then-deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas made allegations that the Guptas had offered him the position of finance minister, Lamola and some of his comrades held demonstrations outside ANC NEC meetings, again calling for the ANC president to go. As for the ANCYL, Collen Maine and his leadership collective have presided over a league that is still trying to recover after it was disbanded in 2013. Their own politics and inability to connect with young people have forced the ANC to rely on older former members like Fikile Mbalula, Zizi Kodwa, Pule Mabe and Dakota Lekgoete to help keep the party relevant in young people’s minds, defining these middle-aged men as “youthful” while fluttering and failing to speak the language of an ever youthful country. Previously a leadership incubator for the ANC, the Youth League has been reduced to an embarrassment to the party.But there might still be hope for the ANC. Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams’ appointment at age 39 as Minister of Communications was lauded by many and, although her politics is not widely known, those who’ve seen her in action during the Eastern Cape ANC's much talked about “festival of chairs” provincial conference in 2016 have described her as “savvy” and having shown that “she knows how the politics game is played”.She has already been seen by Ramaphosa's side as part of “Team South Africa,” as he tries to woo more investors to venture into business with the country. Her rise has been seen by some as a reward for her commitment to the campaign to get Ramaphosa elected ANC president at Nasrec.Ndabeni-Abrahams' rise has also put the spotlight on women in the ANC, even more so as those seen rising to the top in the party often do so on the ticket of their male counterparts. This is in spite of the ANC’s attempt to rectify the phenomenon with their 50/50 gender parity principle.Opposition leadersAcross the isle another enigmatic star is rising. Whether it’s his dazzling smile, beautiful singing voice or brains, Dr Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, 33, has charmed many since taking up the role of EFF national spokesperson and Member of Parliament. It is fair to say that he’s had a meteoric rise in national politics, in part due to his quick wit, often displayed in Parliament.Ndlozi, much like the DA’s Phumzile Van Damme, 35, is a gift introduced to South Africans via the opposition parties. Van Damme's dynamic “I’m never scared” attitude in Parliament has caught the eye of many young women who marvel at seeing such a young politician go toe to toe with some of the most experienced parliamentarians in the National Assembly. Van Damme, who has also been a spokesperson for the DA, is stamping her role in the SABC sub-committee, aimed at stabilising the country’s struggling public broadcaster.But it is the EFF that has reminded South Africa of what young passion looks like, how impatience and frustration can find spaces in society to articulate itself. Most of its young leaders are focused on the ground, bringing a red tide to numerous universities across the country.The rise of the Fees Must Fall leadersThe story of the future leaders of South Africa can’t be told without mentioning the Fallists. The Fees Must Fall movement, which swept across institutions of higher learning gave rise to new, bolder and determined voices, with some of those young leaders moving beyond university gates and lending their voices and leadership skills to greater causes in society.It is through the student struggles that perceptions around people like Mcebo Dlamini, 32, shifted - from being seen as a rogue, untrustworthy SRC president who seemed to admire Adolf Hitler, to someone capable of commanding student forces, providing guidance and, constantly articulating his views on society and attempting to lead the Youth League structure in the ANC.Other 'fallist' leaders such as EFF activist Naledi Chirwa, 24, and former Wits SRC president Nompendulo Mkhatshwa, 25, who is reported to be high up on the ANC's party list are also making their mark.Of course, there are many young people working in political parties who have yet to put up their hands to fill leadership positions, but already play central roles in the machinations of their parties. Names like the DA's Hlomela Bucwa, 25, and the IFP's national spokesperson and MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa come to mind. And let's not forget that the leaders of the two main opposition parties, Mmusi Maimane, 38, and Julius Malema, 37, are yet to hit their political prime.