OPINION | Mark of a great leader is the pursuit of unity

Former president Nelson Mandela.
Former president Nelson Mandela.
Image: File

One of my uncles on my father’s side, utatomncinci, consistently disagrees with me on how societies change.

He insists that the status quo in any society cannot be changed via peaceful and pedestrian methods, but must be by a militant uprising of the masses.

Whilst I agree that societies do change as a result of militant uprising, I disagree that this is the ideal option or even the only option.

It is possible to have a managed transition in society.

However, I have to concede that this depends on the availability of skilled leaders and administrators.

This requirement though, seems difficult to satisfy.

The efforts of many African countries to transition from colonies and conquered territories to viable independent modern societies have proved difficult.

We, in South Africa, are also trying to transition from a conquered territory to an independent modern democracy.

We, in South Africa, are also trying to transition from a conquered territory to an independent modern democracy.

Central to this effort is how we view this transition.

This is where skilled leaders come in.

Skilled leaders have the ability to paint a picture which can be easily read, believed and pursued, if not by all, then most citizens.

Theirs is the responsibility to inspire us to chase the new society, each in our own way, through making consistent contributions towards that collective goal.

The administrators on the other hand, have the role of interpreting the vision into smaller achievable targets.

They are able to achieve such smaller targets, each building up towards the greater target.

In the process they are able to assess their progress, identify the snags and give feedback to the leaders, who must in turn satisfy themselves that things are still on course.

Or decide whether a course correction needs to be made.

This may all sound very simple, and possibly like an explanation which is rather needless. But if we look at our trajectory from 1994, we are only able to pick out a few necessary skilled leaders and administrators.

Most of the other people who have occupied very crucial positions have been party loyalists and their cronies.

This is where the breakdown has occurred. And it remains the case today.

But the stark reality is that, for a transitioning country like ours – with a rapidly growing population – there is no other option but to have skilled leaders and administrators.

We need them urgently.

Yet we somehow seem unable to break out of the trap into which we have repeatedly fallen for going on three decades – which is to obsess about “loyalty”.

This great folly was never more clearly demonstrated than in blind allegiance to Jacob Zuma.

And yet we continue to suffer the scourge of “loyal cadres”.

Any party that does not get the fundamental importance of having skilled administrators and ethical leaders will continue to march to the self-defeating tune of a very old and doomed drum.

But there is a small irony here. Skilled leaders and administrators also often demonstrate loyalty – to a brief. If you give them one they mostly stay loyal to it because for them, achieving the goal is paramount.

Not so however, the “loyal cadres”. For them, it’s all about protecting their political movement (and their own interest). In the process, the brief is ignored, the vision blurs, hope diminishes, self-preservation ramps up and the nation is set on course for loss.

A nation is lost through loss of vision, skill, confidence, investment, hope and patience within the populace. In place frustration, fear, anger and an inability to look beyond the here and now rises. A nation in such a state is a danger to itself and to anything of value in its proximity.

This is why skilled leaders never leave the people behind. They consistently share the vision, develop the skills necessary to make that vision possible and inspire the effort necessary to achieve this feat.

Nelson Mandela, whose 100-year centenary we mark today was such a leader. He used every opportunity to lift the nation above any other social formation, be it clan, tribe, nation, political formation, religious group or race group from which we come.

In doing so he honoured every true leader who came before him, those who realised that a nation cannot be built by a scattered people.

It is for this reason that President Cyril Ramaphosa must consistently take us into his confidence; and direct his – and our loyalties – not to the ANC, but to our country, South Africa.