Growing pains: How to grow young leaders

2013-04-14 14:00

Many years ago, two struggle figureheads were flying over Mthatha on their way to visit Madiba.

One, a Dr Motlana, looks out of the window as the plane comes in for landing and seeing the dire conditions of the locals asks, almost rhetorically, “What can such poverty produce?”

Quick as a flash the other, a General Holomisa responds: “Leaders.”

Recently I have had the occasion to think long and hard about how young leadership is best ­developed.

Of course it would have everything to do with my appearance on a special TV show that airs ­tonight on SABC 1 at 6.30pm.

It is called One Day Leader and, in the vein of The Apprentice, presents a number of contestants with a myriad challenges and head-on confrontations to ­ascertain who has the most chance of being dubbed “Leader” one day.

A leader certainly among the hundreds of applicants who came from all walks of life many months ago, but quite possibly a leading light in society as well.

You see, each of the six contestants – Ndumiso Hadebe, Seadimo Tlale, Sanda Ncama, Anele Nzimande, Makovhe Masutha and Bongekile Radebe – who started on the show about eight weeks ago, speak passionately about their visions for South Africa in which: “The youth are absolute in direction and fuelled with purpose”, “education is ­harnessed to promote an integrated Mzanzi”, leaders are ­selfless and would “live for the growth of their people”, “equal access to opportunities exists for all” as does “free quality education”, and “every South African takes ownership of their own­ ­economic emancipation” ­respectively.

These are nicely threaded phrases to be sure, but what do they really mean? Over the weeks, each of these youngsters, aged 19 to 22, have had occasion to test their theories of how to shape South Africa by being tasked with different challenges – go to Orange Farm and figure out how to create sustainable jobs, devise campaigns to ­encourage condom use or ­discourage alcohol abuse among their peers, unpack the problems of teen dads that are absent, and so on.

The last challenge was particularly moving as each of them has grown up without a father. And yet they are all particularly impressive in their own rights either excelling academically or starting community projects, tutoring their peers, running church groups or starting their own ­micro businesses.

Their ability to articulate themselves and their understanding of their world is even more impressive. In the second part of every episode, once they have looked into a local problem and had a very short time to collectively come up with some practical ­solutions, they then have

to ­debate their respective ideas of how lasting solutions could come about.

I must admit here, that myself and fellow resident judge, Shanduka CEO Phuti Mahanyele, have been severe in our judgement, favouring practicality and civil action over notions that “wait for government”.

I must again confess that even the time they are given to debate would stifle some of our better parliamentarians.

And yet it seems the greater disciplines are to be learnt in their interactions. It’s real life on fast-forward.

Vastly different, one can ­almost correlate their respective styles and outlooks to specific idols – an Angela Davies, a Youth League firebrand, an evangelical pastor, a Wendy Luhabe, an Obama.

Beyond their own personal tensions, one can discern the contestation between these archetypes. “Which sort of leader is best for SA?” they seem to be asking themselves.

I, too, wonder. Because with just a few weeks until the show comes to an end, there is no clear winning style in sight.

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