Grey Heads on Green Shoulders: Needed more than ever

Leadership does not exist in a vaccuum. It exists in a particular context under a shifting set of prevailing influences.

In Africa and the East, traditionally leadership has emerged out of an atmosphere of collective concern based on mutual identification with an agreed set of norms and standards. This collectivism does not imply homogeneity of thought but rather commonality of interest even in the face of different thought.

In Western Europe and North America, leadership arises within the context where the self is elevated above the collective. This philosophy of thought is referred to by scholars as Liberal Atomism and it consistent with the belief systems of these nations where youthful vitality is prized and ageing is abhorred and associated with decaying of cognitive function.

In Africa and the East however, old age is associated with wisdom and this is reflected in the stratified social constructs that champion eldership over youthfulness. Youth is viewed as being a phase of restless energy which has not been tempered with patience and therefore lacks sound judgement.

This is why despite the younger average age of the population, the Heads of State in the East and Africa tend to be much older than their Western European and North American counterparts.

Why this context?

The pace of change of global dynamics under the influence of mobile connectivity has led to a blurring of geo-demographic boundaries and thus a cross-pollination of cultures. This has gradually led to incremental shifts in value systems that has seismic ramifications for leadership of post-liberation South Africa.

The Born-Frees (youth born after 1994 in SA) were brought up as part of a larger global generation referred to as Generation Y who are infinitely more questioning of authority than previous generations. In fact, in order for the youth of 1976 to defy the state and face Hippos (armoured vehicles) and military might of the regime with stones, they first had to defy the authority of their own parents who at times persuaded them to desist from agitating. So therefore the home became the primary frontier of defiance and once the youth had conquered the will of their parents, they were then ready to fearlessly engage the machinery of the state.

Why is this important?

It is important because the hard fought victories won by the brave youth of the 1976 generation were achieved at the unfortunate expense of the systematic breakdown of the family unit.

I call this unintended phenomenon, The Cycle of Dishonour and it is a psychosis which we as a nation have not given ourselves space to heal.

This is why if you examine the bold but tactically persuasive ANCYL of Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu that managed to initiate the Defiance Campaign of 1952 and the militant but tactically less astute leadership of the former leader of the ANCYL, Julius Malema, who fashions himself in his own estimation as a young Mandela: one can see that the Cycle of Dishonour has emboldened the youth to a point where they see it that they should ‘mentor their own elders’ and thus become Kingmakers instead of Kings in Waiting and Knights under instruction.

Why is this dangerous?

With every assault on the collective values by bold but untutored youth, the elders slowly begin to disengage which means that the voice of reason is depleted.

It also needs to be said that our senior leadership did err by making premature declarations on who should lead the mother body in the future, which strengthened the zeal and resolve for self-coronation amongst youth leaders.

How do we solve this?

We need personal conviction first as Citizens that we cannot allow ourselves to be ruled by the loudest voices but by the most sensible voices.

Secondly, we need to wrestle back the meaning of words that have been distorted from their original meaning at times by well intentioned but ill informed leaders.

Lastly we have to teach our children, our teachers, nurses, engineers, mineworkers, bus drivers and everybody in our land that the first level of leadership is Self-Leadership.

In the words of my mentor, whom I will not mention, “we have to grapple with the conceptual reality that there is a correlation between leadership style and moral or ethical principle”.

I have observed that there is a sharp contrast between collectivism and liberal atomism.

My evaluation is that  because atomism exalts individual rights ahead of the wellness of the collective, the tendency is that such societies give rise to self-involved transactional leaders. “I will do x for you if you are able to do y for me”.

The positive aspect of atomistic thinking is that there is a high level of accountability. However we cannot entrust the future of nations to self-interested and self-involved leaders.

Collectivism has the potential to give rise to transformational and servant leadership but has potential for diffuse responsibility and poor individual accountability.

So what do we do?

We need to examine the original intention of the founders of the liberation movement that sought to free both the oppressor and the oppressed from inhumanity.

This means then making an honest assessment of the “collective” at the helm.

For a collective such as the National Executive  Committee of the ANC to work, there needs to be individual commitment to critical thought, based on sound evaluation of best practise.

Benchmarking therefore is a function of mining the original intent of founders and an honest assessment of the organisation and the new terrain.

It is the lack of this interrogative capacity that dilutes our political engagement to unreflective groupthink based on factionalism rather than consensus on and synthesis of competing ideologies.

These are my honest thoughts as a 35 year old man whose destiny is inextricably linked to that of this country and this continent.

What we need are Grey Heads on Green Shoulders and NOT hot heads in red hats!


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