Editorials

Editorial: Glimmers of true leadership

Editorial

There's been a lot of talk of leadership lately, at conferences in Sandton and among ordinary South Africans. Much of that talk is about its absence.

Expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema addresses Lonmin miners. (Paul Botes, M&G)

We did not see it before the killings at Marikana, not from the state, not from Lonmin and not from the unions. We also did not see it afterward, when Julius Malema rode in to feast at the funeral.

And we did not see it in the discussions sparked by Women's Month, least of all from a president whose advice for living seems to extend to suggesting women need the training of motherhood in order to have full lives. The mind boggles.

Amid the gaffes and gloom, however, there were some reminders of another way. One came from archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu who, in pulling out of the Discovery Invest Leadership Summit over the participation of Tony Blair, made it clear that without moral credibility there is no true leadership. It caused all kinds of awkwardness for his hosts and for the people who had paid a good deal to hear him speak, but that is a smaller price to pay than the debasement by association of the ideas that he was there to espouse.

Another came from Kgalema Motlanthe. As we report today, Motlanthe has told supporters that he will stand for the presidency of the ANC on condition that he is not on any factional slate. He has previously distanced himself from lobby groups for fear of being obliged to pay back regional and provincial leaders with government jobs and impunity.

Retrogressive conservatism
This approach has been one of the defining characteristics of President Jacob Zuma's lethargic and contradictory three-and-a-half years in charge. It is why looting and retrogressive conservatism appear to be triumphing both in the ANC and in the country.

Some of those backing Motlanthe have the narrowest factional or pecuniary motives. He has given them the message that he sees no point in leading an ANC that exists principally to serve their ends. Let us take him at his word and hold him to it.

And finally there is Ayanda Mabulu, an artist from the impoverished Cape Town settlement of Du Noon, who has asked trenchant questions of Jacob Zuma in his role as the self-styled patriarch of the nation in his painting uMshini Wam (Weapons of Mass Destruction).

Mabulu cannot be dismissed as a culturally insensitive white critic. He speaks to Zuma in the very language of culture and tradition that the president himself relies upon for the authority of some of his most troubling views.

These are scattered and provisional interventions. They will not restore to its former glow the myth of South African exceptionalism, comfort the bereaved, or reverse the drift back to patriarchy.

But they do show that there are other ways to lead and to question leadership. Harder ways, maybe, but more durable and more hopeful.

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