Leaders are dealers in hope. This is something I have been learning in the past few years of working with transformation challenges at different organisations. However, no matter what social space we are in, there is a similar cry about “lack of leadership” in society, companies and particularly in politics.
The hunger for leadership is echoed everyday by the rich and poor alike in the streets, media and around family meals. Academics are becoming paralysed with their analysis of this topic, while books on leadership dominate bookstore shelves.
Thus it comes as no surprise that the new leadership in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Angola et al in the past few months is like a dawn of a messianic moment for many.
These changes have brought a new sense of optimism. The level of hope imbued on the new leaders is almost overwhelming. They are seen as the new saviours. The ones who are going to deliver miracles that eluded their predecessors. Here in South Africa, “Ramaphoria” is the new term used to describe the dizzying highs people are feeling with the presidency of Cyril Ramaphosa after the murky years of Jacob Zuma. Expectations are soaring high.
However history has taught us that we dare not put our hopes in politicians or personalities anymore. Whereas they have a duty to inspire and create an enabling environment for the realization of the growth and development of their people, at times to a point of peoples very lives depending on their “graces”, we have to tread carefully.
Real power, agency and the ability to organise and hold public representatives accountable rests in our hands. We should not forget that. Putting too much hope in positional leaders is to gamble with our destinies. It also has elements of conferring supernatural powers on mere mortals who can only do so much. Power belongs to the people. Me and you.
Collectively, we are more resourceful, resilient and powerful than we think. Nelson Mandela put it aptly when he said: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”
I am aware that I am writing from a position of privilege as I type these words. I am relatively cushioned against the dire effects of bad leadership, though I have my own shocking tales to tell. Yet I dare say them because I have seen countless of people making it beyond all odds. The odds of political upheavals, racism, sexism, violence, poverty and trauma.
I am sometimes convinced that those who have the most odds stacked against them seem to rise out of the proverbial ashes more often than those who are accustomed to being cushioned. This is not a glorification of struggle, but a praise of the strength of the human spirit. It is a testament that we have what it takes to create a preferred reality to a certain extend.
So even as we take a gulp of fresh air welcoming our new leaders in Liberia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Angola and in some institutions, I hope we have become a little wiser. We are the leaders and saviour we seek. Our fate rests mostly in our own hands.
We dare not outsource our souls and lives to the messiah’s of our own fantasies.
May God bless Afrika!