Where are the leaders who will act like adults?

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Mamphela Ramphele’s recent turnaround on her agreement with the DA is yet another disheartening event in the Big Brother-style soap opera that South African politics has become.

Where are the rock stars of yesterday? Leaders who were driven by ideals and stuck by them; leaders who become famous by the substance that they created and the change that they inspired.

Today we are led by celebrities of no particular art form; leaders whose fame is derived from the drama and controversy they stir rather than the contribution that they make.

This year I will vote – because I believe in my vote and to comment on the result I must participate in the selection. But my choice has been made difficult – in whose hands can my voice be entrusted? Who stands for what I believe in with action and not just rhetoric?

Looking up to my leaders I feel like an adult sitting in a dentist’s chair while a lollipop is being waved in my face by a cooey-cooey voice. I am grown up now, as is South Africa, and I did not come for a lollipop – I came to get my tooth fixed.

Where are the leaders who will treat me like an adult? Who will lead me like adults?

Where are the leaders who will choose a conviction and see it through – not for their sect, chiefdom, or personal security systems but for the South African?

Because while we may be diverse I do believe in the South African – that spirited individual who sees no colour (or at least doesn’t want to) and is willing to move forward with change.

That individual who dedicates their time to the greater good and believes in what we can be as a nation, even if they are sometimes disheartened by what they see around them.

In what other country do you turn over a rock and find an NGO? What other country decided to honour a man and themselves by putting a day aside for giving?

Public commentary speaks with negativity but you look around you and you see public action abounding with hope.

The South African – the average man and woman on the street – wants change and many are working very hard at it.

But instead of being inspired by our public leadership, we get the wind knocked out of us again and again by behaviour we wouldn’t accept from our own children. So why do we accept it from government?

A problematic gap in South Africa is that its greatest leaders are not showing themselves in politics. They are so put off by the example that has been set that they have chosen to apply their skills on other fronts.

In times of crisis true leaders do step into the public sphere – as we have seen in our own country and many others. But we are not in a time of crisis – yet.

Rather we are frogs sitting in an ever warming kettle and unless people take control of the leadership crisis growing in South Africa we will find ourselves in a dangerous situation that will be unresolvable without drastic and damaging processes.

South Africa is home to many incredible leaders who, noticed or not, are already taking action to realise their vision for a better South Africa.

It is these people that I want to see addressing our concerns in Parliament; it is their names that I want to see on my ballot paper.

Pierre Heistein is the convener of UCT’s Applied Economics for Smart Decision Making course. Follow him on Twitter@PierreHeistein.


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