Thabo Mbeki: Do our leaders have what it takes?

2013-12-09 08:51

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In celebrating Nelson Mandela’s life, South Africa ought to ask whether the quality of leadership it has, does measure up to the task of transforming the country, says former president Thabo Mbeki.

Speaking at a religious ceremony to celebrate Mandela’s life at the Oxford Shul in Killarney last night, Mbeki said what the country does with the legacy of the late statesman and his generation of leaders may be an important part of celebrating his legacy.

He said he agreed with the view that Madiba’s life should be celebrated, rather than mourned.

Mbeki said the country should ask itself questions about the quality of leadership.

“To say to what extent are we measuring up to the standard they set in terms of the quality of leadership? The task of the transformation is a difficult task. I think in many respects more difficult than the struggle to end the system of apartheid.

“Surely that must mean therefore this challenge of leadership becomes much more important, much more complex in the context of what needs to be done.

“Whatever we are are doing – politics, business, unions, civil society, among religious communities, among youth, women – do we have the quality of leadership, such as was exemplified by Mandela and others, that is sufficient to respond to the challenges that are facing us?” he asked.

Mbeki suggested it was not enough to celebrate Mandela’s life without reflecting about the future, and where the country is going.

Mbeki said reflecting about the importance of the Constitution would be a good starting point of celebrating the elder statesman’s legacy.

“How far are we after 20 years of democracy in terms of creating a non-racial society? How far are we with regards to achieving the goal of national reconciliation? How far are we in terms of creating a non-sexist South Africa, a prosperous South Africa with shared wealth among our people ...

“What did we do in the past with regards to these matters and what should we do next to accelerate progress with regard to the achievements of these goals contained in the Constitution?” he asked.

“We say he was our leader because of what he represented, because of what he said and what he did. In the end, Nelson Mandela and his generation led us to the democracy we celebrated in 1994.

“One of the efforts which they made, produced that result. A result which continues to define who we are, but that result was also represented by another important outcome, which outcome was that for the first time as South Africans we agreed on a common vision about what South Africa should be.

“I’m referring here to our national constitution. The national constitution bears heavy imprint of the vision and the values which Nelson Mandela and his generation stood for,” he said.

He said it was good that South Africans had agreed about the vision of a non-racial, non-sexist South Africa that would redress the injustices of the past.

“I think that was an important achievement. We really need to say thank you indeed to Nelson Mandela and his generation that they could do that ... that (despite) our centuries of division among the people of a South Africa, of conflict over centuries, it was at last possible that we could come together as a people and say: we’ve got a common view about what our country should be,” he said.

Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein quoted excerpts from Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, to demonstrate the hardships the late leader went through in the 27 years he spent in jail, and likened him to the biblical Joseph who forgave his bothers for selling him out.

“(South Africa) is a nation of heroes. He personified that heroism. He led it. That generosity of spirit is what makes this country great ... That’s what make ordinary South Africans heroes,” Goldstein said.

Speaking on behalf of Israeli President Shimon Peres, Israeli Ambassador Arthur Lenk said Madiba’s lesson of talking to his enemies was “deeply meaningful” for the Middle East.

“Nelson Mandela was not an ideologue. He was an example. No other person was such an unbelievable example of forgiveness,” Lenk said.

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