Building Africa’s new thought leaders

2012-08-11 14:26

The Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute this week celebrated the graduation of its first intake of students who it hopes are set to become a new breed of African leaders. Lucas Ledwaba reports

In his welcoming address to the first graduation ceremony of the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute on Monday, University of South Africa Principal Professor Mandla Makhanya invited guests to mark the occasion by celebrating the African way.

Seated among the dignitaries in academic regalia on the stage, former president Thabo Mbeki leaned back and whistled, sending a ripple of laughter through the ZK Matthews Hall.

Looking relaxed and jovial, Mbeki resembled a school headmaster, satisfied that his charges had come of age and were ready to take on the world.
Even the graduates seemed satisfied that they had drunk from the well of wisdom of a man renowned for his success in brokering

political and peace settlements on the African continent.

Since his retirement from active politics, Mbeki has, as one of his efforts to broker a new dawn in Africa, set up this institute with Unisa.

The institute, abbreviated as “TMALI”, offers certificate courses which it says aim to “invest in thought leaders to enable them to acquire particular skills and act as agents of progressive African change”.

“TMALI graduates will be empowered to contribute to the ongoing process of the development of leadership on the continent and to contribute to the resolution of the persistent problem of African underdevelopment and (re)building African institutions in the areas of politics, commerce, trade, culture (and) investment,” its website says.

The list of graduates from the 2011 and 2012 classes resembles an African Union committee of sorts, with a diverse mix of students from Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana, Zimbabwe, the DRC, Cameroon and South Africa.

Some of the more prominent local graduates are ANC chief whip in the Gauteng legislature Brian Hlongwa, businessman and political activist Shane Maja, former SABC journalist Miranda Strydom and former minister of land reform Thoko Didiza.

Valesca Erlank, a humanitarian activist from George in Western Cape, said she decided to enrol after returning from Kenya where she visited orphanages, underprivileged schools and the office of that country’s Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka.

“As we sat and talked about this continent and as I saw and heard the African cry, I decided right there that this is the continent I shall fight for.

I knew it was my calling and no person will stop me,” she said.

Eight days later she returned and read up about the TMALI course “and decided that this course will take me forward”.

Erlank said she found the programme fulfilling as it offered not only a theoretical approach but also a very strong practical component, which enabled students to learn from real-life case studies.

That students were drawn from countries across the continent improved her network and relations with other professionals in the field of humanitarian work, she says.

Maja, the chairperson of the ANC’s Bheki Mkhize branch and the Sophiatown region, said Mbeki’s involvement in the project contributed 80% to
his decision to enrol.

“He goes into conflict situations and there’s always a settlement,” Maja said, citing Mbeki’s successes in Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe and
lately Sudan.

Maja, who said the experience was “a festival of ideas,” said it had contributed to making him a better human being and he wished more young people “could drink from Mbeki’s well of wisdom”.

He added: “It is different in that it is rooted in African ideology. It focuses on the work of African scholars – it’s not Harvard, it’s not Cambridge. It’s different from an MBA in that this is about renewal.” He has convinced five people from his ward to enrol.

Erlank said it was encouraging that Mbeki often spoke to the students. “That is a remarkable leader. The patron (Mbeki) has set the foundation for all Africans. Not only did he talk the talk, he walked it and lived it. As a result, he became a role model in the eyes of so many, worldwide,” she said.

One of the most important lessons for her was that “it’s important to listen to the inputs of those around us, those that were before us, currently with us and to leave a legacy behind for those that will come after.

“What I fully agreed with the patron about was that aggression should not be met with aggression because innocent people may be harmed . . . We should promote peace among our fellow brothers and sisters,” she said.

Erlank said there was often animated debate, but that the class were united in seeking solutions rather than focusing on Africa’s failures.

Unisa council chairperson, and ANC treasurer-general, Dr Mathews Phosa, praised Mbeki’s peace efforts on the continent and also had a word of advice for the graduates.

“The globe’s biggest challenge is apathy and there are too few leaders prepared to do anything about the many socioeconomic challenges facing us. That is why we talk about a rare leadership. The critical challenge for you who have just completed this excellent programme is what you will be doing to build a cadre of leaders that epitomise democratic ideas in the spirit of African renaissance,” Phosa said.

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