Irvin Jim, Profile in Courage

2013-12-30 11:20

Profiles in Courage was the remarkable book that spring boarded John F. Kennedy to the Presidency of the United States of America in 1960. John F. Kennedy was simply elected by Americans upon the basis that he will be courageous in finding solutions to pressing national problems. As he campaigned he told the Americans that he has the courage big enough to confront the status quo and get the nation moving and rolling again.

Even before entering politics John F. Kennedy had long been interested in the topic of political courage, beginning with his thesis at Harvard University. The thesis, later published in book format titled Why England Slept, was a study of the lack of courage that was displayed by British political leaders in the 1930s. According to Kennedy British leaders simply lacked courage to arm against any national danger that may come. This lack of courage according to Kennedy left England weak and ill-prepared to face up with Adolf Hitler during the subsequent World War II.

Kennedy argued in the thesis that, had the British developed courage to arm and developed necessary war intelligence there would not have been a World War II where hundreds of millions of corpses were buried as a result. So Kennedy concluded his thesis as follows: wars and national disasters happen because the political leaders of the day lack courage.

It is what the internationally acclaimed African novelist Chinua Achebe once wrote about Nigeria that the real trouble with Nigeria is leadership. Achebe wrote: “the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.  There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.”

Profiles in Courage was published in 1957, and it was a volume of short biographies describing acts of bravery and integrity. The book profiles American politicians who defied party ideologies or defied the opinion of their constituents to do what they felt was right based on their personal convictions. Thus these individual leaders suffered severe criticism and losses in popularity because of their actions of courage. These were leaders who believed that politics demands truth to define itself. They believed that truth cannot succumb to the taunts of political jobbery. They felt that it very unworthy to swim in the political lies of the day so that you remain in the good books of the movers and shakers. They felt it is unbecoming to be a coward; the pristine that goes with political correctness.

For me Irvin Jim, the Secretary General of the National Union of Metal Workers has displayed the same kind of courage described by John F. Kennedy in the midst of everything that was going against him.

First he set himself out to remain true to his personal convictions as a leader, and second he managed to contain the uprising that could have happened with the resignation of the Numsa President Cedric Gina, thirdly he set himself to bring together the Numsa leadership in a special congress, and succeeded in getting a buy-in from Numsa to embrace his vision and personal convictions. That is courage made of sterner stuff. Leadership is about vision and then rallying people around that vision in the way a General of the army does during a war.

Irvin Jim was born and raised in the Eastern Cape. His father was a farm worker, and received bags of mealie meal and buckets of milk as pay. It was in these harsh conditions of hard beaten society that Irvin Jim developed his solid tough minded attitude and courage. And he seemed to have ever remained true and much more alive to the metaphysics of the poor, the disparaged and neglected suffering people – seeking their welfare in whatever means that is necessary. His job is a tire company saw him being a vanguard of other workers representing and articulating their pain and aspirations with the management of the company.

A man does what he must – in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures – and that is the basis of all human morality. In whatever arena of life one may meet the challenge of courage, whatever may be the sacrifices he faces if he follows his conscience – the loss of his friends, money, even the esteem of his fellow men – each man must decide for himself the individual course he will follow. ---- John F. Kennedy in Profiles in Courage


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