South Africa

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Who will save South Africa? The country is in dire need of good leadership

Who will save South Africa? The country is in dire need of good leadership

Justice Malala’s new book, ‘The Plot To Save South Africa’, provokes readers to question the quality of leadership needed during a dire systemic national crisis.

The Plot To Save South Africa by Justice Malala, political commentator, author and columnist at TimesLIVE and Business Day, is one of two significant books published this year about South Africa’s recent past.

Malala’s book, along with Winnie and Nelson by Johnny Steinberg, offers studies on the quality of leadership and what it takes for an individual to rise to power. Both books are relevant to the country’s continued lack of good leadership.

On Tuesday, 11 July, Malala launched The Plot To Save South Africa: The  Week Nelson Mandela Averted Civil War during a Daily Maverick webinar with assistant editor Marianne Thamm. In the book, Malala documents his findings within a novel-like structure that reveals the quality of leadership not only of Mandela, but also that of FW de Klerk.

The killing of the uMkhonto weSizwe chief of staff and South African Communist Party leader Chris Hani on 13 April 1993 in some senses birthed modern-day South Africa. 

Janusz Waluś, Polish immigrant and rightwing sympathiser, assassinated Hani during the transition to democracy in the hope of halting talks to transform South Africa into a non-racial democracy. 

Hani’s death inspired the Multiparty Negotiating Forum to finally set a date for South Africa’s first democratic elections.

On the morning of Hani’s death on “Holy Saturday”, Malala was a rookie in the journalism field at The Star in Johannesburg. It has taken Malala more than two decades and a move to the US to revisit these ruinous events.

“I had seen this happen, I had lived through that time, but I had always felt that I had not taken measure, if you will, of Nelson Mandela properly. I was just too much of a rookie. I was not going into Dawn Park [where Hani was assassinated] and witnessing, and writing down the stories of witnesses. I had not actually dug into the story.

“I had not thought it through. I had not placed him in his historic context,” Malala said, in explaining his reasons for not tackling the topic sooner.

Malala had hoped to live in a time of freedom and democracy and an era of respect for human rights post-1994.

The traumatic Jacob Zuma presidency forced Malala to re-examine everything he had believed in since he was a child when it came to what it meant to experience good leadership in South Africa. 

While we do not know what Hani would have been like in modern-day South Africa, his death brought about significant change. And although Hani appeared to be a man of great nobility, Malala argues that he did not come across as someone brave enough to stand up for what was right, especially when it came to the horrific acts of cruelty that took place in the ANC detention camps.

“I think Chris Hani holds up to our current leadership, the leadership of the past – the past 14 or 15 years in particular – a lens which says ‘look at yourself and interrogate yourself’, but I think he is also himself someone who really stumbled,” Malala said.

The author suggests that society is capable of producing good leaders and bad ones, depending on what society is brave enough to endure or call out. If enduring brutality, exploitation, corruption and endless violence is our culture as a society, then the government and those in power will mirror our expectations.

“If it is part of our culture that… we expect our leaders to stand up and swiftly suspend and swiftly call for the arrest of the people who, in broad daylight, beat up a civilian, if our society says this is what we stand for… (then) we, you and I and many of us in the room should be outraged that you have a video trending worldwide that shows the people who I pay, the police, to protect me, we have these videos of the police beating up people. 

“If our culture is that we expect our leaders to act, then we will produce leaders that… meet up to that expectation,” Malala said.

“There was a time when the standard for leadership and for being in a leadership position was much higher,” he said. DM

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