A ship in need of a true leader


NEXT year, outgoing public protector Thuli Madonsela says, she’ll be taking a sabbatical and writing a book about administrative justice, explaining the role of the public protector. Of course this woman will not be able to sit still for long.

Madonsela has made a definitive and impressive impact on South African society – both in the formal and informal spheres – during her tenure from October 19 2009.

The 54-year-old advocate has become known for many things, including her tenacity, her hunger for the truth and justice and her fearlessness in pursuing this. She has not, despite threats and immense pressure, flinched in her task.

These attributes and her approach to her position and governance has earned her the respect of the South African public and even her enemies would have to admit that she is formidable and relentless.

In 2014, Time Magazine named her as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in the Leaders category.

Madonsela’s replacement, Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane, has big shoes to fill.

But why are South Africans so enamoured with Madonsela? Recent developments in the country – the decision of the National Prosecuting Authority to charge Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan (which yesterday was described as “bloody foolish” by ANC NEC member Max Sisulu), the #FeesMustFall debacle and related violence and disruption of tertiary education and the Gupta “state capture” claims – may prove the key to these questions.

Citizens are hungry for honest, true and, most importantly, effective leadership as embodied by Madonsela. There are strong leaders in the ANC, but a lack of decisive action, silence when pronouncement is necessary or imperative and the clear definition (and implementation) of a vision which will see all South Africans being put on the path of prosperity is not currently materialising.

While the universities are burning and academics are looking to leave the country – leaving generations of young people at risk of no or inferior education in the future – and while Gordhan and his team battle to prevent South Africa being downgraded to junk status, citizens are looking at figures, like Madonsela, as beacons of hope.

As a country, we do have it in us, but let’s face it, currently we are floundering. In the words of the Latin writer, Publilius Syrus: “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.”

We need leaders to direct the ship during stormy weather.

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