True leaders are servants of the people

Strangely, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe has been unjustifiably condemned as indecisive and, in not so many words, called a coward for not stating whether he will run against President Jacob Zuma for the top job.

All Motlanthe has confessed is that he has been “agonising” over it.

If he became the first man to openly run against Zuma, Motlanthe would probably not only have contradicted himself, but will have become part of the problem he has spoken out and fought against: putting individual self-interest ahead of the country’s.

He would certainly have played into the hands of those who fuel a culture of rivalry among comrades who have become notorious for preoccupation with position, power and status to gain access to state resources.

Motlanthe is one of the greatest thinkers and leaders to emerge from the liberation movement in the past 50 years. He is not only self-effacing, but genuinely humble and committed to principle.

When pressed to put his plans on the table, Motlanthe has said: “I believe I will always do my humble work at whatever level. I do not have to be in a position of leadership. I am not a professional politician.”

His real job is to be a servant of the people. Motlanthe may be the first leader in the history of a liberated South Africa to renounce the most powerful position in the country.

Motlanthe has started what should be a tradition in a sick African society.

We need more men and women who are not power drunk because of the positions they hold.

Even the Freedom Charter says “no government (leader) can justly claim authority (legitimacy) unless it is based on the will of the people”.

Motlanthe has hearkened to the call of true leadership.

In fact, he ­redefines the relationship between the people and the leader when he says: “If we fail to stay on our toes because of the cries of our people, then we don’t deserve to hold these positions of responsibility.”

A responsible leader is intuitively connected to the aspirations and material needs of his people.

He does as they say.

But over the past few months, Motlanthe has been vilified and judged for his determination not to promote or entrench rivalry and competition in the race for ANC leadership.

This is a tragic development.

However, in many ways, this is the calibre of leadership that will ultimately make South Africa one of the greatest nations on earth.

Motlanthe has reset the template for African leadership where, irrespective of position, rank or status, we do the best we can to make this world a better place by putting the interests of the country above our own.

Motlanthe has made the first footsteps in the sands of history to give an example that should be enduring in our self-understanding.

These footsteps will vanish into the wind unless we pause to ask: why would an African male refuse to run for the presidency of the most powerful country on the continent?

Now that Motlanthe has defined the true meaning of leadership, we cannot claim we do not know the ­answer.

In fact, we cannot stand ­silent as he is condemned by people who not only misunderstand what he is doing, but distort it.

»Memela is chief director of social cohesion in the department of arts and culture. He writes in his personal capacity

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