A crisis of leadership

2018-04-08 06:01
Solomon Mahlangu

Solomon Mahlangu

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I never thought when we rewrote our “April thesis” it would be to immortalise the gallant heroes of daring struggle: Solomon Mahlangu (April 6 1979), Chris Hani (April 10 1993), Oliver Tambo (April 24 1993) and now Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (April 2 2018).

In 1917 things were changing for Russia. The tsar was overthrown, new governments were set up and Russia was firmly set on the path towards something. The truth was a lot of people didn’t know what the future held for Russia and those with strong opinions about this disagreed with one another.

Of the many voices to propose a path for Russia, the strongest ended up being that of Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924). Lenin helped define the objectives of 1917 and the future of the nation. His first step was publishing his ideas in a brief collection of notes known as the April Theses.

Today many who believe in the course of liberation find themselves in exactly the same position that Russians found themselves in more than a century ago. April has come to be a moment when we eulogise fallen heroes while at the same time try to (re)define our path moving forward.

The news of the passing of Mama Winnie came like lightning and today we are grappling with the reality that we have lost her to eternity. Interestingly, our heroes pass on during the month when Christians remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who symbolised hope, peace and life eternal. They (Mahlangu, Hani, Tambo and Madikizela–Mandela), too personified freedom and a peaceful country where we could live in harmony as fellow citizens, enjoying our freedom.

But let’s be honest for a moment. Speaker after speaker will rise to the podium to eulogise these heroes but I wonder if they will take a moment to introspect if they deserve to stand on the shoulders of these men and women. I wonder.

The truth of the matter is that the current generation of leaders has, at best, progressively succeeded to accomplish the task of destroying the foundations of these forbearers. This is our reality today in South Africa and the liberation movements.

Let’s accept it, a generation of value-driven leaders is dying. This is not surprising when everybody thinks they’re a leader – most are far from it. Simply desiring to be a leader doesn’t mean a person has the conviction, character, skill and courage necessary to be one.

For me the contradictions that the liberation movements (all of them) face today can be summarised as follows: empiricism, dogmatism and internal sectarianism.

The blunder of empiricism is committed by cadres who continue to avoid the discipline necessary to understand the history and glory of the struggle in its totality and instead substitute either the “facts” of the struggle as a whole or the “facts” of practical struggle for the struggle for their own growth (“I never struggled to be poor,” they say).

Dogmatism is an error that arises out of the process when the first fundamentals are grasped, but only uncertainly, and become repeated – as recitations of the principles – quotes and reading more and more substitutes for the concrete application of organisational principles to the experience and reality of our people’s struggle daily.

The mistake of dogmatism must be struggled against steadily and people must point it out. But the essential resolution of dogmatism comes with beginning mastery of the mass democratic movement as a whole – when the fundamental principles are so clearly understood that they then become tools.

The fault of internal sectarianism is aptly described by Mao Tse-tung as: “Some comrades see only the interests of the part and not the whole; they always put undue stress on that part of the work for which they themselves are responsible and always wish to subordinate the interests of the whole to the interests of their own part.”

I’m beginning to be convinced that the greatest crises in our time are not due to factionalism, political dearth or even immaturity. Our crises are our failures to produce leaders who appreciate and can respond appropriately to these challenges. In other words, we have dismally failed to reproduce a million Winnie Madikizela-Mandelas or Solomon Mahlangus or Chris Hanis or even Oliver Tambos, despite our reciting songs and slogans to appropriate them.

Our failure to produce leaders – or maybe we produce them in our failed image of Faustian, myopic, selfish, backward types of non-progressives – from the millions of capable and ready (young) people is our primary failure.

Our failure to expose the emptiness in the current leadership is far more than lively fun opinion on a social platform. We can ill afford nostalgia, hero worship, cultism and media charisma.

Without an urgent and sharp critique of the quality of the so-called leadership, we will perpetually allow entertainers, sweet-faced teddy bears, orators and cool cats to emerge.

Instead of challenging this problem head on and empowering a cadre of young leaders who can rise to the challenges facing the liberation movements, we shall condemn future generations to become slaves of an opportunistic oligarch as opposed to being rich citizens in our rich land and consumers of foreign junk.

This is no laughing matter as our future hangs in the balance for no reason other than the terrible choices of these so-called leaders. I raise my hand in salute to our fallen heroes and heroines. Amandla!

- Maxon is a public servant with the KwaZulu-Natal health department


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