Kgalema Motlanthe – South Africa’s Leadership Heritage

South Africa is a microcosm of the world and our leadership heritage is one where a global community watched us closely, hoping we could defeat the odds in overcoming what seemed like an insurmountable mountain. Globally many demonstrated and lobbied for change in South Africa, “and so they literally invested emotionally and otherwise in South Africa succeeding to resolve this problem of racial discrimination,” said former President of South Africa Kgalema Motlanthe during a leadership interview on Cliffcentral Leadership Platform Monday 18 May.

It was a close call, but we achieved what seemed impossible, which “inspired many people” he says. In that sense we lived up to the expectations. This is part of our leadership heritage.

He adds a caveat: “Whether we are now living up to these expectations is a horse of a different colour.”

Explaining further he states:

“History gives context, it is inherited. The main challenge is how to create a better tomorrow. That’s where the challenge lies. The two in a sense influence each other. The shadow of the past is cast over the new environment. Yet the new environment is not supposed to be imprisoned by the shadow of the past.”

Motlanthe feels strongly we must repeat the lessons learnt from the past, remind ourselves of it often, which is a challenge because of a rising generation that didn’t experience the deep divide some of us did. Yet they need it most because they are important players to whom the future belongs.

So, are we living up to this leadership heritage? Motlanthe believes we can be referred to as a nation of activists. He says: “South Africans won’t roll over and die when there is an injustice meted out to them. They will rise against any form of injustice. And that’s our saving grace.” But is this true when our nation is continually plagued by the injustice of xenophobia? What is true is that immediately following these gruesome and inhumane acts the activist part of our ‘national personality’ kicked in and vehemently opposed, criticized and hopefully stopped it. So he is right, our activist leadership heritage may just be our saving grace.

But according to Motlanthe what is missing “is the identification of what is our national course.” The National Development Plan could be this, but Motlanthe comments: “It is a plan and a plan works once it inspires efforts of ordinary citizens where ever they are. We have to engage in a process that will define our national course. What is it that we are pursuing?”

His view is every part of society should be clear about the course, aligned to it, so that they commit to never lowering the bar – sports, business, government, everywhere. Our current state of leadership lacks this dimension according to the former President. One could argue that if this was in place, with commitment to it, perhaps ills like xenophobia wouldn’t even have reared its ugly head.

Looking at the power of unity around a national course from a government perspective he expands: “There is a need to appreciate the importance of having a stable, capable state and understanding the relationship between such a state and government, because government becomes the face of the state for a term – it comes and goes. But the state must remain in place – stable, capable. That’s where delivery comes from.” A perception that change in government will result in a change of State leads to instability, lack of confidence and non-performance. Sadly this seems to be where we are currently.

In a nutshell, we lack unity as a nation!

We need to emulate the example of a Nelson Mandela by creating unity around a national course, according to Motlanthe. When watching the national assembly Motlanthe senses that “at the slightest irritation there is a temptation to dial back to pre-1994, as though 1994 didn’t happen. And yet it did happen.” He believes this is another sign that we need the national course and a commitment to pursue it. According to him the implication of 1994 happening is “that no one bears the burden of guilt. It meant we were breaking with the past and starting on a new footing.” If that is the spirit we felt then – during the Mandela era – but we don’t feel now, then we have regressed and starting a national debate on our course, or at least leveraging the NDP to achieve this should be a national priority.

What is his message to South Africans that don’t feel hope? Does the former President have hope? His answer: “This is our country, all of us. If there is an appreciation of the national course, which is to lift this country to a higher level, then all of us, where ever we are must never ever lower the bar; we must always give our best effort, because cumulatively it will advance the country. I have hope.”

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Adriaan, as an accomplished author and leadership advisor, has been interviewing and working with top leaders for more than 15 years. He is the Co-Founder and CEO of Leadership Platform. (Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP)

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