Malegapuru Makgoba on Jacob Zuma's leadership

Speech by the Vice Chancellor of UKZN to the BMF Durban July 11 2008


Mr Reuel Khoza , Dr Bongani Khumalo, Ex President Nelson Mandela, Prof Es'kia Mphahlele, the late Julius Nyerere, Cyril Ramaphosa, Dr Maphela Ramphele and Mr Tokyo Sexwale have ?brought, guided or taken people, animals, organisations, nations and countries to "a place" successfuly. Reuel Khoza, Bongani Khumalo, former President Nelson Mandela  and Es'kia Mphahlele, for example were herdboys at some stage in their lives-?guiding or taking animals (cattle, goats or sheep) to a place'. This is one meaning and interpretation of the Oxford Dictionary's definitions of the word "lead" 1. Later they lead people and organisations to places.

Cyril Ramaphosa straddled the Student's Christian Movement becoming a law graduate, a trade Union leader, a chief negotiator, a leader of our Constitutional development to a successful businessman.

Mamphela straddled student activism as one of the founders of SASO to becoming a Medical Doctor, an anthropologist-cum-development specialist, a Vice-Chancellor, a Director at the World Bank and now a business person.

Reuel Khoza started as a shepherd, a potential psychology academic at UNIN, a chorister, to become champion of the African Renaissance to Chairperson of Eskom and lately of Nedbank 2.

In all these different areas at differing times and periods these Africans have led with excellence and success.

So what is the secret or what are the common factors underlying their success and excellence? They all have:

vision, integrity, courage; an area of high level expertise/authority, an operational environment that is enabling and the ability to "bounce back" whenever they encounter obstacles and adversaries so that they continue to focus on the big picture or vision. There is almost an inherent stubbornness about the vision. Humble beginnings and an early involvement in their childhood in duties that impact on the lives of the family and others such as vegetable gardening, hunting and tilling the land for subsistence farming are their hallmarks3.

Each one of them has a vision encapsulated as a simple but common story or theme; a story that resonates with others but also adds value and makes a difference in the lives of others; a story for which they have a passion and communicate this story in the most inspiring way to the minds of others; for Mandela it was of a free and just South Africa for all; for Julius Nyerere, Es'kia Mphahlele and Reuel Khoza it was of Africans being ?masters and taking responsibility for their own destiny and history'.

All have succeeded in integrating their visions, ideals, convictions, standards, beliefs with their behaviours. When vision and ideals match practices and behaviour is congruent with professed values, there is integrity. 

Each of these leaders have equipped themselves to becoming leading experts or authorities in their respective spheres of operation i.e. they are grounded intellectually to the level and respect that is second to none amongst their peers and followers.

Julius Nyerere and Nelson Mandela are second to none in their vision and understanding of  the place of Africa and Africans in the world. Es'kia Mphahlele regarded as ?the African writer of the century' is revered through out the world for his insights, knowledge and understanding of African literature and education. Mamphela is second to none in her understanding of the developmental, social and educational challenges and solutions facing Africa. Dr Khumalo is an authority on matters of corporate governance, human resources and ethics.

Each leader has chosen an environment or an organisation in which to operate. Mandela and Nyerere within the political environments of their  respective parties and nations; Khoza and Khumalo within the Corporate sector at Eskom ,Transnet, Gedani and Nedbank; Ramaphosa and Sexwale at the interface between politics, the corporate sector and black economic empowerment and Mamphela in the social and educational environments at the World Bank and now business. Finally, all of them work hard and make enormous sacrifices. In short successful African leadership comes with hard-work, comes at a price and at a cost of personal sacrifice.

All of us South Africans have something or some things to remember about Tata -as he is affectionately known. My memories of this icon, saint, or legend are few but indelible and treasured4.

I want to remember him as the person who firstly gave us hope during the dark days of the struggle but more so when he became the first President of a democratic South Africa. He embodied the struggle and he gave us reason to live, to struggle on and to believe that "no mountain was high enough and that anything is possible". There is nothing so essential to a nation or an individual than hope. Tata gave us this in abundance. We rose to win the Rugby World Cup and the soccer African Cup of nations under his inspiration and hope.

Secondly, Tata gave us an identity and a place in the world. Through his actions and conduct he symbolized Africa and Africans. He symbolised all that was quintessentially African. He is the consummate African Prince with strong rural roots. He still has his simple breakfast of soft porridge, the kind that always reminds one of his rural roots or grandmother. Through his dress code --the now famous Madiba shirts--, his infectious but naughty smile with a beautiful set of teeth, his way of talking and explaining himself and his point of view to everyone, his humility, his ways of seeing the collective, the community and always wanting to take every one along, he embodied uBuntu.

Thirdly, Tate gave South Africa dignity in the world. As Biko would say "he gave the world a humane face". He is the greatest humanitarian of our time and generation. He unified a divided country and nation and ensured that as South Africans we had a common purpose for being one nation. Under his leadership we all felt and believed we have a place and role to play in our country. He did all these selflessly and without looking back or looking deep into his own sufferings and failings-this is truly remarkable.

Tata came into the Presidency in May 1994. He stayed for five years and groomed his successor. South Africa was a proud united country and nation. The spirit of forgiveness, reconciliation and togetherness drove South Africans under his leadership. South Africans were proud to by led by him.

In the not-so-new South Africa we often hear that there is a ?shortage' of African leaders or that those that have been thrust into leadership positions have either ?failed' or experienced the "revolving door syndrome" phenomenon.

The first sad reality is that there is no shortage but an abundance of  excellent Africans with the leadership qualities I have just listed above; the second reality is that too many of these types of  African leaders are threats to the current social order as they challenge the false and monolithic assumptions of "white supremacy" and the comforts of current power relationships. The third sad reality is fthat the current social dynamics create an environmental that is alien to Africans, to the nurturing of the development and success of African leadership.

It is so ironic that in the days of the struggle white South Africa deployed resources and manpower as a priority to identify, hunt and track down African leaders but today with a clarion call to transform our free country this group of Africans and this African experience have suddenly vanished from our shores. There are so many young and rising African leaders occupying important position in the business sector.

The environments in which Africans have found themselves have not been enabling and most importantly have not been of their creation. We are being asked to lead Africans from a white-colonial perspective and defend this perspective. If you challenge this ethos of leadership you are often labeled "contoversial or Africanist". It is like asking a rabbit to run a rat race or playing in a game by someone else's rules.

There is a  constant dislocation and at times a contradiction between our worldview, traditions,  our real life experiences and the environments in which we find ourselves. These contradictions often results in complex and abherent ways of conduct eg western by day, at work, in the city and become traditional African by night, at home, in the township or rural village.

This complex behavioural pattern translate into a myriad of decision-making by Africans that is yet to be properly studied.  The Higher Education sector, the Corporate and Business environments have all been to varying degrees alienating to many talented and committed young Africans.

In some of these environments Africans have been brought into not to lead from their experiences, vision and passions but to implement someone else's vision. They are coerced or expected to act "in the image of their masters"-the coconut leadership. When you become a sweet coconut, you are rewarded with praise and are affirmed a a leader.

Authentic leadership is original, adaptive, transformatory and not imitative. However, the South African reality has been that many Africans have had to sacrifice and compromise their ideals and in the process get bored, frustrated and even disillusioned.

Many institutions still have to address the serious matter of colonial and apartheid institutional cultures/ethos that have frustrated and destroyed/hampered the development and emergence of an authentic, excellent and vibrant African leadership.

If we are to transform the leadership of our country, potential African leaders whenever they are identified must be given the freedom, the authority and the scope to do things in their ?own way' ie to shape the world in the way Africans see it.

The current power brokers in our country have also found it difficult to work with or appoint Africans who are self-assured, intellectually arrogant, have pride and confidence about their abilities. They would rather appoint the so called ?coconuts' or ?house niggers' and give them the titles of leader knowing too well that they will continue to wield power.

In these situations, the so called African leader plays the role of a front-man or mask but does this in the name of legitimising the leadership role and the organisation in the name of equity and transformation.

Typical of any transitional period, there are Africans who would take advantage of the situation also. Some, despite being poorly grounded, not ready or poorly prepared and totally without vision and integrity for leadership would allow themselves to be used in this way for some small change. These meek Africans as is succinctly put in the Bible "shall inherit the earth" as the recent examples of the so-called homeland leaders showed.

The other major factor that often leads to failure is the lack amongst Africans to be self-critical of each other. There is a tendency to promote pseudo-solidarity, over-protect and at times sacrifice principles, integrity and honesty in the name of Africannes, comradeship, the struggle or within the narrow confines of ethnicity and racialised thinking.

This false solidarity not only damages Africans as a people but also damages Africa as a continent and erodes the confidence and trust in African leadership that is so essential for our success and pride as a people. There could not be a clearer example than the current situation up north in Zimbabwe. Uncle Bob has diminished Africa's currency and tainted all of us in the world. We have regretably allowed him to do. Contrast this with the Polokwane leadership change!

Ours is a grossly imperfect society without historic precedence i.e. the conscious creation of a non-racial, non-sexist and equitable society out of the ravages of colonialism and apartheid. Ours is a society of incalculable and immeasurable contrasts, contradictions and of conflicts.

Which society would incarcerate a citizen for 27 years and yet make that citizen its first democratically elected president? Which society endures three and half centuries of oppression and human rights abuse and yet it is so forgiving and begging for reconciliation daily?

Which society has committed itself to building a future between its oppressor and the oppressed? Which African country post-liberation has retained the so-called white settlers for the betterment of humanity? These are some of the glaring features of South African society. 

It is also within these complex set of circumstances and contexts that statements as such those given by the late Peter Mokaba "killer the Boer, kill the farmer" or Julius Malema "I will kill for Zuma" and later paraphrased by Zwelinzima Vavi should be understood. In the same vein the "top of the chart" letha uMshini Wami should be understood within this context. These are metaphors and symbols of our struggle. These are clarion calls to remind us all who we are, where do we come from and the task that lies ahead in moving our country and nation forward.

I do remember that the late Mokaba never killed any ?boer' or farmer. I suspect Malema, Vavi, JZ and others would not have nor be given the opportunity to be literal in their statements. I have never understood uMshini Wami to be about war!!!

The building of a non-racial, nonsexist society under African leadership will not occur in straight-lines, or without pains that are spelt within the framework of the constitution. It will occur as a mosaic of many interdependent and intersecting forces, events and factors over a long period.

The rainbow nation will come of age but not in our time; equality will become the norm but not in our time; poverty will be eradicated but not in our time. Ours is to lay the sound foundations for this journey of a thousand miles that starts with the first step. That is the challenge of African leadership in South Africa today i.e. to look at the long term

Moral pronouncements and judgments on Jacob Zuma in the media have been made and are both exaggerated and ill informed. These are not only premature but also grossly unfair and unethical. His presidency has been pre-judged a failure even before it is realized.

This vicious media campaign and trial is devoid of factual analysis but based on innuendos and a blind refusal to accept who Mr. Zuma is and his leadership attributes and contributions to our society. What this campaign does is to create an alienating environment for JZ, it creates self-doubt and diminishes one's confidence.

Currently, I can see no other person better suited, or with better combination of the attributes for leadership, better groomed and prepared than Zuma to lead our country. He has the best potential for this office. The current media slants/trials at him are a serious indictment of our understanding of our own identity, history, political context, development and maturity.

When a Zuma Presidency (national) finally materializes it would underscore the importance of equal opportunity in a democratic society; a symbolic figure for the poor. President Zuma was delivered to us by the same processes and structures that elected former President Mandela and soon-to-be former President Mbeki.

President Zuma's election marked a major turning point in our maturing democracy ie South Africans will not tolerate nor entertain even the slightest potential for "life Presidents" and confirmed that indeed the "people" and not the president "shall govern". It also asserted emphasized how critical it was for political office bearers to be accountable to the people they lead, they serve at the behest of the people.

i) Zuma as a person and citizen-a rural citizen, a poor upbringing, an first class organic intellectual, a listener, a carerer, empathy, rooted in tradition and culture;

ii) Zuma as a politician-has passion for the country and its people, struggled for justice and dignity of the poor, he put country above self and he connects to diverse opinions, he is tolerant, team-builder and takes people along with him

iii) Zuma as an African leader.  He is the former MEC for Economic Affairs and Tourism in KZN and former chief mediator in the Burundi peace process.

iv) What type of President does South African need now? We need a team leader i.e. a Coordinator and not a shaper or a plant-that is what South Africa needs today. We need a listener, a nation builder and a consensual leader.

Leadership types: Dr Meredith Belbin defined a Team Role as:

i) "A tendency to behave, contribute and interrelate with others in a particular way."  In his team-role description, Meredith Belbin describes three types of leaders-The Plants, the Coordinators and the Shapers. The Plants are the creative, imaginative and unorthodox types who solve difficult problems. They ignore incidentals; the Shapers are challenging, bloody-minded; prone to provocation and offend people's feelings. They are courageous and thrive on pressure; while the Coordinators are mature, confident and good chairpersons, good listeners, who often clarify goals, promote decision-making and delegates well.  They are inclusive, consensual and take people along with them.

Ideally these tendencies should be found in all of us to equal degrees; in reality they do in varying degrees and in the extreme some are excluded for others to dominate

With this brief background one can take a rule of thumb analysis on African leaders and place them into any of these three broad classifications

ii) Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan the late Julius Nyerere: are typical Coordinator>Shaper>Plant;

iii) King Moshoeshoe, Kwame Nkrumah and the late Chief Luthuli and OR Tambo are typical of the Plant>Coordinator>Shaper

iv) Thabo Mbeki, Gabriel Mugabe and Arap Moi are typical examples of the Shaper> Plant> Coordinator. Dictators and Life Presidents often come from this group-the likes of the late Idi Dada Amin; Mobuto sese Seko, Kamuzu Banda and King Shaka wa Senzangakhona

v) Jacob Zuma is an example of a Coordinator>>Shaper>Plant type of leader.

Zuma has: a vision-he has struggled for the dignity and upliftment of the poor; and for peace and stability of the African continent, as necessary conditions for African development; he has courage; he has an area of high level expertise/authority, an operational environment that is enabling and the ability to "bounce back" whenever he encounters obstacles and adversaries so that he continues to focus on the big picture or vision. There is almost an inherent stubbornness about his vision. He hails from humble beginnings and an early involvement in his childhood in duties that impact on the lives of the family and others such as vegetable gardening, hunting and tilling the land for subsistence farming are his hallmarks.


1. The Oxford Dictionary
2. Khoza RJ in Let Africa Lead.
3. Makgoba MW in Tributes to NR Mandela The Sunday Times 2007 & The Mercury 2008.07.
4. Gardener H in Leading Minds: An anatomy of Leadership 1995.

This is the text of a speech by Malegapuru William Makgoba, Vice-Chancellor & Principal, University of KwaZulu-Natal, delivered to a meeting of the Kwazulu-Natal Black Management Forum,  Durban, July 11 2008