True leadership

2016-07-26 06:00

WE often moan about the lack of accountability in our society and the chronic failure of our leaders to take responsibility for their actions.

Passing the buck and employing delaying tactics, including costly court actions, appear to be the default reactions of people in leadership positions when they are caught out being involved in wrongdoing.

One only has to look at the wild goose chase embarked on by the chief operating officer of the SABC, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, to stay in his job and continue stripping the public broadcaster of credibility.

President Jacob Zuma had mastered the art of dodging accountability until he was dragged to the Constitutional Court and forced to admit that he was wrong not to implement the public protector’s report on Nkandla. He now has to pay back the money for undue benefits.

We do not expect much when it comes to people facing up to their failures.

It was therefore a shocking and moving experience to watch a media briefing by the Trek4Mandela team on their return from Mount Kilimanjaro after the tragic death of racing car driver Gugu Zulu. Zulu died after experiencing difficulty breathing while he and his wife Letshego were attempting to summit the mountain as part of a charity drive for the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

The news of the death of the sports personality stunned the nation and left those who knew him in deep grief.

When the Nelson Mandela Foundation announced that there would be a media briefing on the team’s return from Tanzania, it was expected that there would be tributes and expressions of condolence. What ensued, however, was unprecedented.

The expedition leader, mountaineer Sibusiso Vilane, began with an emotional apology to the nation for not bringing the whole team back home.

“It was on Wednesday last week when I stood up and said to your fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters who had come to bid you farewell. that as the leader of the Trek4Mandela Caring4Girls Kilimanjaro expedition, my role is to make sure that I bring those you have come to say goodbye to back safely and alive. I am very disappointed to say I did not deliver on that promise,” Vilane said, breaking down in tears.

Vilane and the team doctor Roxanne Schutte gave a run down of what had happened, describing Zulu’s condition at various stages of the trek until they decided that he should be brought down the mountain.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation CEO Sello Hatang, who had flown to Tanzania after hearing of Zulu’s death, told how he had roped the couple into participating in the expedition.

“Little did he know that that was his final destination. To South Africa, I would like to say I’m really sorry that I didn’t bring Gugu Zulu back alive. At this very low moment for our country, this low moment for the Nelson Mandela Foundation and for Madiba’s legacy, we will say this is yet another mountain that we have to summit again,” an emotional Hatang said.

Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula offered words of comfort, saying it had been a voluntary climb for a good cause and that nobody should feel blame. “Here before us, lies a story of goodwill that humanity and all races must follow. It is an inspirational story. It is tragic, but it will remain for us in history forever and forever.”

Many people at the media briefing and watching the live broadcast were in tears as each member of the panel spoke. Zulu’s death at the prime of his life, leaving behind a wife and one-year-old baby, is painful and tragic.

But it was also deeply moving to see Hatang and the team members respecting the nation enough to account for what happened, even though they themselves were grief-stricken.

Nobody had expected immediate and detailed answers but they felt it their responsibility to account to the nation.

There could be no greater mark of true leadership.

• Ranjeni Munusamy is a political journalist and commentator for the Daily Maverick.

At this very low moment for our country, this low moment for the Nelson Mandela Foundation and for Madiba’s legacy, we will say this is yet another mountain that we have to summit again.

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