A crisis distinguishes leaders from pretenders
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THERE’S no better time than a crisis to show our capabilities and capacity to lead, beyond competence, to show character.
More than a fortnight has passed and some in business and civilian life are learning to pick up the pieces after the trauma of being caught in the crossfire of unrest. Many at home and abroad saw several visuals as mainstream and social media carried images of looting, devastation and burning.
Diverse emotions ran through our collective minds. Some expressed openly and others kept within – only to show up later, and they will show up – mental health issues remain with us longer when not attended to.
In such times, we often default to searching for a script to follow, only to realise that no circumstances will ever be alike nor will they follow a previous pattern. We hope something could have been done. And someone could have shown up. Better. And sadly, we pull blanks. No “good crisis” should be wasted, we have been told and many articles stating the same presented.
The reaction and response of authorities and appointed/elected officials and representatives of organisations were abysmal, disappointing and infuriating to many who had hoped for a touch of what the Mandela month could have represented. In the period normally marked with 67 minutes of diverse actions, and 67 plus versions of volunteering and generosity, raw pain greeted those who were caught up in and saw, and others who wished they could unsee what had unfolded.
Interviewees stated “this is not us”, while others declared the occurrences were eventual manifestations of a bomb that has been ticking beneath the rainbow facade/dream that those aged over 40 have carried in their hearts as the 27th year of the democracy project began to show signs of faltering rather than maturing to “better life for all” promise.
In the month wherein the 27 years of incarceration of one who became the founding father of our democracy was revered as global statesman would have been remembered as reminder of sacrifice/s made to grant the Z Generation better life, tragedy and tension wearing racial and ethnic garb emerged instead.
Rising above the political and organisational divide, a cry for someone to demonstrate love for fellow human beings, for people more than property, country and region was missing. One who would remind us that we belong; we share identity and ancestry by “accident of birth” in this country, region and continent; are valued as human beings created in image and likeness of the Maker; and that when our eyes meet another set of eyes, they in fact catch something of a soul within, reaching out and longing for love – to give it and/or receive it. And if love is within us, then the thought of hurting another would protest.
Lifting our hand on another pushed to doing what was alien to them, forced by dignity lost would be unfathomable. Where is our love and where is a leader prepared to demonstrate that love for all who would may have wondered whether they should concede equal citizenship of our country to the leopard and the lion, the elephant and the springbok, the hyena, the black mamba and the pestilential mosquito? Loving self and others enough to desire and work towards ensuring the very best for each citizen, regardless of the accident of their birth and their subsequent socialisation.
Empathy would be a quality most needed at times when those caught with what were considered looted products, which turned out to be food items and sanitary pads, would not be humiliated and required to provide purchase slips to prove they had not stolen what would eventually end up in rubbish dumps, when they could have been consumed and let a day, nay a week, pass with full tummy, allowing stomachs to taste Thanksgiving that others celebrate yearly before Christmas.
Empathy would not condone acts of vandalism and unauthorised possession of retail goods. It would seek to understand what could have led a decent person to opt for possession of what was not lawfully theirs, and then weigh the cost of collecting food and sanitary items from the informal/makeshift dwellings that are “homes” for persons deserving proper the houses government has been delivering woefully slower that urbanisation demands require. this thanks to unethical officials and tenderpreneurs.
Empathy would understand that a mother caught up in the mob rushing to an established retail store and later apprehended by police would be pardoned when she pleads her naivety, about having been invited to partake in what she’d come to regret upon realising the folly, and her having lowered her principled guard and acted out of character. Where is an empathic leader’s voice among police who respond to a command-and-control instruction that calls for reason, respect and dignifying that mother? Do they not see a struggling parent at her wit’s end and desperate. And sorry for misconducting herself?
Anticipating mayhem and unruly behaviour in the build up to the serving of ajail sentence a former head of state had received from the Constitutional Court would have been expected of leaders – political, business, labour, civic and faith based. Yet virtually all were caught unprepared and found wanting at a time when resolute and decisive voices would have spoken boldly to structural and organisational leadership, rank and file, to ready themselves for an expected onslaught from forces hell-bent on dragging the state to anarchy.
Hot spots from the 1980s that had witnessed no or minimal changes would be hotbeds for uprising and unrest once again. And leaders,with fingers on the pulse of the populace and appraised of the mood in on the ground instead of relying on reports generated from desktop research in air conditioned offices removed from the subject of self-same reports?
Where were the mentors to leaders who will provide tell-tale signs and signals their protégé leaders should look out for/take note of? Where are the teachable students of leadership who understand service as the rent they each pay for the privilege of living and daily seek to never be labelled bad debtors? Where are the apprentices of national service who see fellow nationals in each person they meet with versus assuming they’re suspects who should prove their innocence?
Where were the senior security cluster personnel to direct their charges in a coherent manner ahead of time, so as to send a message to Citizen Hopeful that their future is in good hands and their only responsibility is to take care of themselves, their families and neighbours sharing their street and block?
What happened to those of the cloth, traditionally accorded respect as intermediaries with the Unseen and yet believed in and spiritually known as Creator of all, to speak sense to the masses, reminding them of the price of their dignity that when dragged on the ground also spoke of the respect they showed of self-same Originator of things, good and bad, glorious, splendid and otherwise?
Destiny defining leaders who would remind all and sundry of the promise enshrined in the Constitution – of dignity and equality before the law, with no favourites? Had they gone napping or AWOL? Reminding fellow citizens of their greatness and what could be done to realise the 2030 vision of a nation that will have experienced co-ordinated development and advancement?
Leadership that replays the lure and sanctity of the future so well that holding on to current and engaging in regressive activity would be shunned by all and sundry. Had they surrendered their new/future path charting responsibilities and preferred to stay with the known when over 60% of the youth remain unemployed, hopeless and have given up seeking employment altogether, making themselves easy prey for ill-intentioned rabble-rousers? Was there no longer a desire to help create a future grandchildren, and great grandchildren would thank them for? Planters of trees whose fruit they would not eat?
The time to LEAD – Love the led, show Empathy to the vulnerable and abused , Anticipate the future from the various drawn scenarios, and defining desired and most likely Destiny – is upon us. Will elected and appointed leaders please lead?
Buyani Zwane is a Breakthrough Development chief executive.
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