Tag Archives: Mandela

South Africa on the brink?

jacobzumaandhispredecessorsThere is a saying that a country is as good as its leader. South Africa was an example to the world during Nelson Mandela’s presidency during the 1990s when it showed the world how to reconcile different ethnic groups in a new democratic rainbow nation.

Sadly, South Africa’s current president Jacob Zuma is showing the world how a patronage system of bad governance can send a whole nation into a dangerous downward spiral.

Zuma plunged the country’s economy into a tailspin by firing a competent finance minister for no apparent reason, replacing him with a complete unknown, then backtracking and re-appointing a previous holder of the key portfolio.

South Africa is a land of many paradoxes, having brought  forth some of the world’s best leaders such as Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi and Jan Smuts. It is a land of pristine beauty and at the same time a country ridden by extreme brutality in the form of  spiraling murder and rape statistics.

In the vibrancy of this melting pot of many cultures and traditions, a tension arises that either catapults a nation to glory or sends it into the cesspit of disaster.

The country’s wise leaders such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mandela and others  realized that it is the thin thread of good moral leadership by example that keeps the fabric of such a nation together.

Zuma and his inner circle have been playing with fire, seeing the presidency as a means of power to secure government posts and lucrative contracts for friends and family.  A patronage and entitlement culture has taken root from the central government to local councils where state institutions are manipulated for personal ends, the judiciary and free press threatened. State-run institutions from hospitals, schools to police are in an appalling state. Much of this has gone unnoticed by world media, focusing on other “more important global events” as South Africa’s moral fiber has been torn apart.

The South African press and social media has been bravely reporting on many of these scandals including the building of a palatial private home for Zuma with state funds. The populace was grumbling and perhaps hoping quietly that Zuma and his cronies would be pulled to heel as they were slowly but steadily ruining the country.

But as the South African currency and stock market took a nosedive in the wake of Zuma’s irrational decision, something seems to have happened. A low grumble is turning to a loud roar of “Zuma must Fall.”

In following the social media from a distance, its seems that the South African populace finally has had enough. Several weeks ago the country’s youth took to the streets in massive protests against a fee hike, but there is much more to it than that. There is general frustration and discontent about the high unemployment and poor state of the economy.

Mandela’s words at a 1994 trade union congress ring so true:”If the ANC does to you what the apartheid government did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to the apartheid government.”

I would venture to say that Zuma’s days are numbered.


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World yearns for leaders with Mandela qualities


Today the world took farewell of Nelson Mandela. As a boy he herded cattle near his home in a remote rural area of South Africa to grow into one of the greatest leaders of our age, epitomising values that have become rare indeed.

Why is the world so fascinated by Mandela? When he was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964 nine out of ten South Africans at the time probably wanted him hanged, seeing him only as a dangerous “terrorist”. For many years only a handful of people kept his memory alive. His writings were banned in South Africa. His first years of hard labour on Robben Island were especially harsh and would have broken most other people. One of the things that sustained him was the poem by William Henley:

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

When he came out prison 27 years later, he was indeed unbowed, having sacrificed everything for a common good, knowing instinctively that some day destiny would call him to duty. During my early years as a newspaper reporter in South Africa I met one of the police officers who actually arrested him outside Howick, near Pietermaritzburg in 1962. The Afrikaner policeman became very reflective when asked about Mandela. It was obvious that the man had somehow been deeply affected by this African liberator during the interrogation, for the Afrikaners too had fought a struggle against British imperialism.

Many years later I met Mandela for the first time in his home in Soweto in 1990, some months after his release. His mere presence was magical. It was not only his physical presence but something that comes from a heart or soul level. Mandela saw himself as a servant of his people, for a higher goal and destiny – he epitomised the concept of Ubuntu (humanity to others). He set an example to politicians and leaders at every level. Here are some of them:

  • An amazing self-deprecating humour that kept him grounded as a human being
  • He was everything but a leader on a godly throne, admitting that he made mistakes and was not a saint.
  • He was a mentor and mediator, bringing together disparate groups for a common goal
  • He was very disciplined. His comrades, who spent years in prison cells next to him, were woken in the morning at 5 a.m. by his skipping exercise routine. At times he could get very impatient with people around him who came late for appointments.
  • He exuded a dignity that so impressed his white prison guards that they soon resorted to calling him Mr Mandela instead of the derogatory term “kaffir”
  • He confronted his fears, strengths and weaknesses with much self-reflection
  • At the same time he was humble and down to earth. People, especially children always felt at ease around him.

Our world has a leadership problem. Whether we look at business, politics or many other levels of society. Where are the managers, CEO’s, teachers, political party leaders, heads of government with UBUNTU qualities?

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