Need for Ethical Leaders


Comment by Ray McCauley

Former President Thabo Mbeki, when speaking at the special official funeral of amaXhosa King Zwelonke Sigcawu that took place in the Eastern Cape last Friday said that South Africa is in need of strategic thought leadership to accelerate the progress that we desperately desire. Mbeki’s speech hailed King Sigcawu as “an outstanding leader of our people” and his speech also touched on a number of South Africa’s current problems.

The former President said, “these include such important matters as poverty, unemployment, inequality, violent crime – including crime against women and children, drought all of which negatively affects millions of our people, and the scourge of corruption affecting both the public and private sectors”.

“The weakening of the organs of state has resulted in a veritable crisis in terms of service delivery, the crisis of a stagnant economy which results in increasing the levels of poverty, the gross mismanagement of the state-owned corporations leading to multiple problems for the country and people and provocative attacks by negative forces in our midst against foreign nationals”.

It is hard to differ with former President Thabo Mbeki given the problems listed above. Leaders are actually made during times such as these.  South Africa needs leaders to arise and be counted.  Leaders who love South Africa and its people. Speaking at the launch of the annual 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children in Lephale in Limpopo, President Cyril Ramaphosa said: “Violence against women and children was both a shame on South Africa and a betrayal of African values”.

“This crisis of violence against women and children is a great shame on our nation,” Ramaphosa said. “It goes against our African values and everything we stand for as a people. We grew up being taught that as men and boys we must respect women and protect children. We were taught to never, ever raise your hand against a woman. But we have lost our way,” he added.

The killing of six-year-old Boitumelo Matsekoleng from Serageng Village, who was raped and killed last month, 11-year-old Thandi Mampane from Ga-Marishane Village who was abducted and killed and Mphephu Sophie Vukeya, 59, from Muswana Village, who was attacked while collecting firewood and died in hospital in June after being raped and beaten. These heinous acts point to a crisis of leadership in our country.

Whilst we welcome the efforts by President Cyril Ramaphosa to deal with bringing an end to this senseless violence I believe that to overcome this scourge we need more than just the President speaking out, we need all of our leaders to condemn these crimes and say in no uncertain terms that we as South Africans will not condone these atrocities with our silence.  Our collective stance should be clear, “zero tolerance for those who perpetuate violence”.

It is said that evil thrives when the good among us keep quiet. This is as true in the religious community as it is in every other sector. The questions must be asked: Where are the Community Leaders? Where are the Business Leaders? CEOs in the Corporate space?  And, dare I say – Religious Leaders? We are too quiet, or our responses are not good enough. Women and children are crying out for our leadership.

The crisis of leadership is not only a South African problem, but a worldwide problem.  Great leadership, both politically and socially is sadly lacking. One has only to look at how leaders deal with racism or migration laws and foreigners, how leaders respond to  economic challenges, the displacement of people, the threat of global warming and trade wars.   We see powerful “first world” leaders disregard Human Rights.  These are some of the many challenges facing our world today.

When you see the response of leaders across the world you are reminded of our Former President Nelson Mandela, when he said: “Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.”

Leaders that are willing to sacrifice for peace, prosperity, and unity are rare. The world is crying out for leaders with integrity and honesty.

Many of today’s leaders are arrogant, thinking only of themselves and unwilling to draw close to anyone. At this point, we truly miss the values left by our Former President Nelson Mandela. It was these values that gave his leadership the influence to go beyond the borders of South Africa, making him a global icon. If his values were to be lived out today by our current leaders, most of the challenges we are facing would be resolved.

Let us reflect on some of these values.

Madiba stood for non-racialism. Addressing the court in the same speech cited above, he stated: “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination.” He had a deep conviction that “no one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin……people must learn to hate and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love….”

At a time when issues of racism are manifesting around the world –on news headlines, social media and television, Mandela’s view on the matter teaches us that racism is not a given and can be defeated (or a better word may be eradicated). One of the saddest things about racism is that it can be passed down from generation to generation – depending on what we teach our children. But Madiba pointed us in the right direction on this matter: saying we can socialize, especially our children, out of all forms of racial prejudice by simply teaching them to love the next person.

Madiba was a servant leader who put his country and the needs of others first before his own needs; he would defend other people’s rights and opinions. A great example of this was when some people in the country wanted to remove the Springbok emblem, Mandela defended it and it has remained.

Madiba displayed the spirit of humility and compassion, saying “Our human compassion binds us one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learned how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future”.

Compassion is the human quality of understanding the suffering of others and wanting to alleviate that suffering. While many see compassion as a weakness, true compassion is a characteristic that converts knowledge to wisdom. Good political leaders use compassion to look into the needs of those they lead and to determine the course of action that would be most beneficial to all involved.

Lastly, Madiba was a unifier. I think it was Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu who described him as unifier from the moment he walked out of prison. Mandela emerged from prison, not a bitter man. In one of our interactions when I had asked him why he was not bitter after spending so many years in jail, his response was that “he had left jail behind”. He epitomized forgiveness, compassion, and reconciliation. Whether at the level of his political organization, his country or globally, Madiba worked hard to unite people.  Nelson Mandela in the midst of division believed that both black and white and those from all races could live together in peace and harmony and hence the term ‘Rainbow Nation’ was born in our country.

I fervently hope that reflecting on his values is not something that will only be confined to the ordinary people, but all leaders worldwide. His selfless spirit, non-racialism, servant leadership, humility, compassion, ethics, and love for humanity were exemplary



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