Professor Derrick Swartz, Vice Chancellor of the NMMU, Rev Frank Chikane, Chairperson of Kagiso Trust, Esteemed Johan Naudé representing the Naudé family, Participants, comrades and friends:
I would like to thank Rev Chikane and the leadership of Kagiso Trust and this University for inviting me to participate in this important event which, among others, seeks to discuss the issue of “conscious leadership”.
Before I proceed any further, I would like to take this opportunity to convey my congratulations to Kagiso Trust as it celebrates its 30th anniversary.
I am certain that many of us are happy and honoured to join in this birthday celebration because of the esteem the Trust enjoys as a result of the quality of leadership it has demonstrated during the decades of its existence, its sustained commitment to the upliftment of the poor of our country, and its durability as a responsible and exemplary corporate citizen.
Similarly, this year we also celebrate the Centenary of the birth of one of the Founders and original Patrons of Kagiso Trust and an outstanding leader of our people, the late Oom Bey, Beyers Naudé, to whom my Address this afternoon is dedicated.
The fact of this Centenary must surely remind us of the example of leadership which Beyers Naude left behind for us as our heritage – an inheritance we need to draw upon at a moment in our history which calls for effective and principled leadership successfully to address our many challenges.
When I began my remarks as we said our final and sad farewell to Oom Bey in September 2004, I quoted some lines from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s lyrical play, Prometheus Unbound, which lines celebrated Prometheus.
An academic primer on Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound says: “In Shelley’s mind, Prometheus was the embodiment of humanity’s hope for a better tomorrow. A tomorrow free from the restrictions of corrupt government, class, religion or other social distinctions. Prometheus…understood that in order for this dream to become reality, people had to free themselves from the hatred that those distinctions often create.”
The lines I quoted say:
"Gentleness, Virtue, Wisdom, and Endurance -
These are the seals of that most firm assurance
Which bars the pit over Destruction's strength...
To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;
To forgive wrongs darker than death or night;
To defy Power, which seems omnipotent;
To love, and bear; to hope till Hope creates
From its own wreck the thing it contemplates;
Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent;
This, like thy glory, Titan, is to be
Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free;
This is alone Life; Joy, Empire, and Victory."
As you will understand, I cited these lines because they spoke ever so eloquently about Oom Bey, who, as the academic primer said of Shelley’s Prometheus, was also an “embodiment of humanity’s hope for a better tomorrow. A tomorrow free from the restrictions of corrupt government, class, religion or other social distinctions.”
To be that, and to borrow from Shelley, we needed Beyers Naudé to be as he was, distinguished by gentleness, virtue, wisdom, and endurance, one who knew how to suffer woes and forgive wrongs, how to defy Power, never losing hope, determined neither to change, nor falter, nor repent, at all times remaining good, great and joyous, beautiful and free, and permanently committed to the victory of the common cause in the service of humanity.
Oom Bey was all these things because he was truly and deeply committed to a noble value system. In his case this was and is contained in the Holy Bible and proclaimed in the Christian faith.
Some of those who have written about Oom Bey as a man of faith have cited some of the verses in Chapter 5 of the Second Epistle of Saint Paul to the Corinthians as being the real message which informed his belief and value system, with particular reference to Verses 17 and 18 of that Chapter which say:
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
“And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation…”
In this context I therefore believe that Professor Charles Villa-Vicencio was correct when he wrote, 30 years ago, that:
“Today, when he (Beyers Naudé) is asked to explain theologically what the Word of God is, his response is rather precise. ‘It is…one’s understanding of the declared will of God made known in the Scriptures.’… It must be concretised in relation to on-going political and economic analysis, and ultimately verified in a deeply personal inner conviction. He is today at once a deeply spiritual and a profoundly secular person.”
Everywhere I go on our Continent, I keep hearing a repetitive refrain about a troubling perceived phenomenon, whether this is correct or not – the phenomenon of a serious leadership deficit in Africa.
The truth however is that the very same observation is made about human society as a whole, again whether this is correct or not – that there is indeed the same leadership deficit globally.
Writing in The (US) Washington Post in 2009 after the onset of the global financial and economic crisis in 2008, under the title Where are the leaders?, David Rothkopf said:
“We do need strong leadership. The world is in chaos… Everywhere you look, it seems that the men and women in positions of power are receding. The closer you look, the smaller they get. Once there were titans running the financial and business worlds, lions of the legislature, great statesmen astride the global stage, individuals who weren't just victims of history but who bent it to their wills…
“How did we get here?...After Vietnam and Watergate and oil crises and the failures of Euro-socialism in the 1970s, many people bought into the idea of government as the problem. The efficient markets would tell us what and who should succeed…The values of business - profit above all, wealth as the prime measure of success, short term over long term - became society's values. We came to expect too much of our business leaders and too little of our political ones.
“Then it all came undone. Bubble after bubble burst, in emerging markets, technology and real estate. The gap between the richest and the poorest started to rival historical extremes…And as this latest crisis has unfolded, the myth that the people in charge knew better collapsed faster than an over-leveraged investment bank.
“The result has been a leadership void.
“So if we face a leadership deficit that rivals our economic deficit, who's going to bail us out of it?”
Rothkopf, now Editor at Large of the US magazine Foreign Policy, returned to this theme three years later, in 2012, and wrote in an article entitled The International Leadership Deficit:
“One reason today's seeming global power void is so frustrating is that we actually live at or near the moment of the world's greatest aggregate wealth, a time when more nations possess more engines and instruments of real power than ever before.
“Our problem is not that the biggest powers are incapable of action to address current problems. It's that just when the promise of a new post-Cold War, post-single-superpower era of collaboration among nations seemed to be greatest, many of the big powers have revealed themselves to be unwilling to assume the responsibilities of true global leadership -- of motivating, cajoling, inspiring, intimidating, confronting or blocking actions by other powers. It's not so much that we are in a G-Zero world as it is that most of our leaders are zeroes. . .”
David Rothkopf may have been right to pose the question – Where are the leaders?, and write about an International Leadership Deficit.
But was he correct then to assert that the problem has been that “many of the big powers have revealed themselves to be unwilling to assume the responsibilities of true global leadership - of motivating, cajoling, inspiring, intimidating, confronting or blocking actions by other powers.
”I think that this brings us back to the important matter of the leadership example which Beyers Naudé bestowed to us and the rest of humanity.
And therefore I return to the comments I made earlier relating to Oom Bey.
He played a role as one of our eminent leaders because, among other things:
• he acted at all times informed by a value system focused on securing the greatest good for the people of South Africa, especially the oppressed and the marginalised;
• he functioned within a context in which there was a clear definition of the content of that ‘greatest good’;
• he worked to ensure that there was the necessary strategy to achieve this defining objective;
• he was ready at all times to show the necessary tactical flexibility to respond to the evolving situation without this undermining the agreed strategic posture;
• he helped to ensure the existence and implementation of the necessary programme of action directed at achieving the set strategic and tactical goals;
• he sought to ensure that at all times especially the oppressed and their allies were fully informed of these strategic and tactical goals, understood and accepted them, and participated in the programme of action for the realisation of those goals;
• he worked to ensure that he should, as much as possible, maintain sustained contact with the struggling masses, at all times exposed to their mood and feelings, working with them without imposing himself as a leader;
• he sought to entrench the understanding and practice that people involved in the struggle were equal combatants for a common cause, sharing the obligation to act together and support one another as comrades-in-arms, with the leaders being only first among equals; and,
• being one of these, who were first among equals, he strived to ensure that he leads by example in terms of unwavering respect for the truth, dedication to the struggle and to principle, humility, and a simple life style, at all times fully accountable concerning the proper management and prudent utilisation of the resources to wage the struggle, without using these resources for personal benefit.
All these constituted the attributes which made Beyers Naudé stand out as one of our eminent leaders:
➢ exercising the necessary authority and decisiveness as a leader without antagonising the people he was leading, by behaving in a domineering and authoritarian manner; and,
➢ inspiring confidence among these people that he represented and would never betray their interests and aspirations, ready to sacrifice everything for their achievement.
Indeed, as Professor Villa-Vicencio had written – Oom Bey was “at once a deeply spiritual and a profoundly secular person.”
I believe that it is because of shortcomings among many of the leaders in Africa as a whole compared to the excellent attributes which Oom Bey demonstrated and lived by, that the issue of a leadership deficit is raised so insistently on our Continent.
As an example of what many on our Continent are complaining about concerning this leadership deficit, a French journalist and author, François Mattei, has written:
“At the end of the Second World War, after the humiliation of German occupation…, de Gaulle decided to establish Françafrique, a model of imperialism peculiar to French culture…It was an attempt to force the states of Africa into submission, in total contradiction to the speeches of de Gaulle glorifying the right to self-determination of all peoples…
“The advent of a submissive African political class, hand-picked from institutions inculcated with the parameters of France’s own survival and its narrow interests, helped the system (of Françafrique) to prosper. In presidential mansions across Françafrique, nothing is decided without a phone call or a trip to Paris…Those who don’t play by the rules pay dearly…Not being received at the Elysée is cause for extreme concern. The Elysian “papal” anointing is an essential ingredient for the making of African presidents and their opponents as well. Even the latter run to Paris to (assure) the pontiff of the Republic that, if they come to power, they will not preach dissident heresy.”
[Truth and Justice, Laurent Gbagbo talks with Francois Mattei; NextAfrika, Inc., 2015.]
Here, François Mattei, who would know better about the matters he discusses than we would, is talking about a leadership on our Continent which:
• has no value system which commits it to promote the interests of the people;
• has no programme to achieve this objective;
• is not accountable to the people;
• serves the interests of others outside of Africa who are not interested in the all-round advancement of the African people; and,
• is free to abuse and abuses its access to state power for corrupt self-enrichment at the expense of the people.
Given this kind of leadership and in the concrete situation on our Continent in which the masses of the people expect their leadership to focus on the vital challenges of the eradication of poverty and underdevelopment, the entrenchment of democracy and respect for human rights, the achievement of a stable peace and stability, the empowerment and emancipation of women, social and national cohesion, the decisive narrowing of socio-economic inequalities, and so on, it is inevitable that the people will speak up loudly or softly about a leadership deficit.
To come closer home, I would like to quote some comments made by Professor Barney Pityana in a book published in commemoration of Beyers Naudé.
Professor Pityana identifies a whole variety of negative development which have become part of our national reality. For instance he writes:
“The prevalent culture of South Africans these days is one of demand, violence and shouting, rather than dialogue, communication and listening to all points of view. South Africans no longer speak the language of dialogue, or listening, or hearing, or appreciating one another’s points of view. The predominant theme is one of anger, suspicion and rejection.”
After identifying some of the negative developments, he says:
“Sociologists will perhaps tell us that South African society has reached a point of anomie. That is when society and individuals in society are no longer certain about themselves and their sense of belonging. They find that the rules of society that they had believed in no longer apply or they no longer apply to their benefit as had been expected. Social relationships are fragmented and no longer offer security. To that extent society loses meaning to their lives…
“What I fear most about our society today is a culture of compromise with evil, a failure to challenge wrongdoing because we have become too comfortable in it and cannot imagine a future without, and fear to let our voices be heard and truth is blunted. I fear that we are being herded like cattle into a state of dangerous acquiescence…
“That is the reason that our country is in dire need of an ecumenical vision for social justice, and ecumenical leaders who cannot be corrupted or bought off, and a church that is resilient in the face of harsh challenges from erstwhile friends.”
[Faith as Politics: Reflections in Commemoration of Beyers Naudé, Uppsala: Nordic Africa Institute 2015: “Ecumenical Witness for Social Justice: Beyers Naudé and Denis Hurley for our Times”, Barney Pityana.]
When I read these words, which are surely a heartfelt appeal to all us to join together in unity and without exception, to right what is wrong, I could not but recall what Oom Bey once said as he engaged the Dutch Reformed Church in defence of what was right and just:
“I asked myself: ‘How long are you going to remain silent and fearful?...By unconditional obedience to the (Dutch Reformed Church), I would save face but lose my soul.”
I believe that through their recent successful demonstrations against the then proposed increase in tuition fees, the students have indeed confirmed the need for all of us together to engage the many and serious challenges our country faces.
In this regard it is important that we welcome the decision taken by President Zuma and our Government to enter into a dialogue with the students and the rest of the university community to find commonly agreed answers to the challenges facing our system of higher education.
I would like to believe that all of this confirms that there should be no need for us to ask the question Oom Bey asked himself - ‘How long are you going to remain silent and fearful? – and therefore that neither should we fall into the acquiescence which Professor Pityana decried.
Thus would we ensure that we do not suffer from the bane of a leadership deficit which would make it difficult for us constructively to address the problems which Professor Pityana identified in the article we have cited.
But, of course, neither South Africa nor Africa is an island sufficient unto itself. Rather we are all of us part of the common globalising world, which world community plays its own and important role in terms of helping to determine our destiny as Africans.
Accordingly and consequently, we must also be interested to understand what David Rothkopf described as an international leadership deficit.
As you may recall, we posed the question whether Rothkopf was correct to assert that the problem relating to that international leadership deficit has been that “many of the big powers have revealed themselves to be unwilling to assume the responsibilities of true global leadership - of motivating, cajoling, inspiring, intimidating, confronting or blocking actions by other powers.”
Fortunately, the fact of the matter is that this is impossible and, in any case, does not correctly define the nature of the so-called international leadership deficit as far as the billions of the peoples of the world, who include us the Africans, are concerned.
As reflected in a whole number of international agreements, including the Action Plan adopted at the International Conference on Financing for Development and the Agreement on Sustainable Development Goals adopted this year in July and September respectively, as well as earlier UN agreements, the common fundamental interests of these billions are fairly clear. They include:
• the eradication of poverty and underdevelopment throughout the world, including in rural areas characterised by peasant and subsistence agriculture;
• ending unemployment globally, including youth unemployment;
• a functioning globalisation process which benefits the peoples of the world equitably, working against the growing and gross socio-economic inequalities between and within countries;
• universal access to food security, health services, education, water and sanitation, energy, modern means of communication, and so on;
• gender equality and women’s emancipation;
• the effective protection of the environment;
• access to resources to achieve all the development goals we have mentioned;
• the real independence of all countries;
• the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means; and,
• a global system of political, economic and other governance, including through the United Nations, which respects such independence of countries, and ensures that each of these countries has the right and possibility to participate as an equal member in terms of determining the future of humankind as a whole.
Accordingly, for the billions who subscribe to this agenda, the international leadership deficit means the absence of a sufficiently strong, cohesive and determined international leadership collective which would ensure the accomplishment of the goals we have mentioned, and therefore the realisation within our countries and globally of what we might call The Progressive Agenda.
Of course of vital importance with regard to the matter of the international leadership must be the understanding of the emergence of the so-called unipolar world after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Of this unipolar world, in 2002 the well-known US journalist and public commentator Charles Krauthammer, wrote:
“There is little need to rehearse the acceleration of unipolarity in the 1990s…. The result is the dominance of a single power unlike anything ever seen… Today, American military spending exceeds that of the next twenty countries combined. Its navy, air force and space power are unrivalled. Its technology is irresistible. It is dominant by every measure: military, economic, technological, diplomatic, cultural, even linguistic, with a myriad of countries trying to fend off the inexorable march of Internet-fuelled MTV English…The American hegemon has no great power enemies, an historical oddity of the first order…The challenge to unipolarity is not from the outside but from the inside. The choice is ours. To impiously paraphrase Benjamin Franklin: History has given you an empire, if you will keep it.”
[“The Unipolar Moment Revisited”, Charles Krauthammer: The National Interest—Winter 2002/03.]
This is not the moment to describe the negative consequences of this unipolarity. I would like to believe that all of us are familiar with this matter which was exemplified, for instance, by the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 despite the absence of the necessary UN Security Council authorisation.
However, given the fact that nothing in human society remains frozen permanently, it is obvious that this situation of unipolarity could not last for ever.
After Russia recognised Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states in 2008, directly defying US wishes, the British journalist, Seumas Milne, wrote:
“That this month's events in the Caucasus signal an international turning point is no longer in question…What is clear is that America's unipolar moment has passed - and the new world order heralded by Bush's father in the dying days of the Soviet Union in 1991 is no more. The days when one power was able to bestride the globe like a colossus, enforcing its will in every continent, challenged only by popular movements for national independence and isolated "rogue states", are now over. For nearly two decades, while Russia sunk into "catastroika" and China built an economic powerhouse, the US has exercised unprecedented and unaccountable global power, arrogating to itself and its allies the right to invade and occupy other countries, untroubled by international law or institutions, sucking ever more states into the orbit of its voracious military alliance.”
[“Georgia is the graveyard of America's unipolar world”, Seumas Milne: The Guardian, Thursday 28 August 2008.]
I believe that current developments in Syria, characterised by the intervention of the Russian Federation in that protracted conflict, give a clear example of what Seumas Milne was talking about.
Relating to the leadership matter we have been discussing, and with a direct bearing on our future as Africans, I think the conclusion to be drawn from the observations made by Milne is clear.
It is that to ensure the realisation of what we have characterised as The Progressive Agenda:
➢ we must make every effort to develop in our countries the kind of leadership whose eminent exemplar was Beyers Naudé; and,
➢ we must join the effort to develop the cohesive, principled and determined global leadership which is emerging in the aftermath of the collapse of the unipolar world order.
To end, allow me to quote some important words from the Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si’, issued by His Holiness Pope Francis earlier this year:
“In the present condition of global society, where injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable, the principle of the common good immediately becomes, logically and inevitably, a summons to solidarity and a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters. This option entails recognising the implications of the universal destination of the world’s goods, but, as I mentioned in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, it demands before all else an appreciation of the immense dignity of the poor in the light of our deepest convictions as believers. We need only look around us to see that, today, this option is in fact an ethical imperative essential for effectively attaining the common good.”
[Laudato Si’, Paragraph 158.]
I thank you for your attention.
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