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While politicians jostle for votes we need leaders with the strength to show us love

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Zukiswa Pikoli is a journalist and columnist at Daily Maverick and is part of the founding team of Maverick Citizen. Prior to Daily Maverick she worked as a communications and advocacy officer at Public Interest Law Centre SECTION27.

It is incumbent on us to resist accepting a leadership that would lead us astray from what comes naturally, which is leading with compassion and love.

It occurs to me that love is one of the most difficult things to turn to and draw guidance from in moments of great turmoil and upheaval.

It is often dismissed as an airy-fairy attitude to have when “serious” things need to be discussed and resolved. And yet it is actually the absence of love that leads us down a path of discord and division.

In a 2020 article in Forbes magazine, leadership and strategy expert Doug Sundheim said something quite thought-provoking: “We need more full-throated endorsements of love from our leaders. While these days we hear a lot about empathy as a critical leadership characteristic, we hear little about love.

“Is empathy love? It is not. Empathy is a foundational and necessary precursor to love, but it is not love per se. Where empathy seeks to understand, love seeks to do something. Love is empathy in action. Love moves past awareness through vulnerability to take a stand and lay something on the line.”

As we head to the polls in May, I wonder which political leaders among our current crop have shown this in an unequivocal way. More to the point, has there been any modelling of a leadership of love that would make South Africans demand this of their leaders and recognise its urgency?

As our country and the world face what is now popularly referred to as the “polycrises” of climate change, economic turmoil, genocide in the Middle East and threats to democracy and human rights defenders, such leadership has never been more needed. But it cannot be reactionary and focused on single issues. It cannot be an attempt to claim power or be underpinned by fear.

Read more in Daily Maverick: 2024 elections

One of the sleeve quotes for the book Love and Courage: A Story of Insubordination by renowned South African activist Pregs Govender comes to mind. Written by feminist, writer and academic Amina Mama, it states: “Pregs reminds us, as Che Guevara did, that ‘the true revolutionary is guided by love’.”

What more powerful words could one hope to hear, knowing the selfless and inspiring leadership of Guevara and the indelible impact he’s had on inspiring people – not only to fight for just causes, but also to lead from a stance guided by love for people and country, even at great personal cost.

I have been struggling to hear any position of love being articulated by our leadership cohort as they jostle for our votes. All I have heard is political posturing, which inevitably has been about getting into positions of power.

Govender’s book, in its call for insubordination, calls on people to challenge corrupt systems and greedy leaders who seek to divide in their pursuit of power. Her personal accounts of doing this herself can only encourage us in seeking and demanding a leadership of love to guide us through our next phase of democracy.

Read more in Daily Maverick: The power of love, panel agrees, is imperative for moral authority

The words of the late Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, when he spoke out about former president Jacob Zuma regarding his and his government’s indiscretions and generally corrupt behaviour, which led to the denial of basic services to people in need and the violation of people’s constitutional rights, also resonate with the sentiment of insubordination.

“Mr Zuma, you and your government don’t represent me. You represent your own interest and I am warning you. I really am warning you out of love. I’m warning you like I warned the Nationalists. I am warning you: one day, we will start praying for the defeat of the ANC government.

“You are disgraceful… You are behaving in a way that is totally at variance with the things for which we stood… Watch out, ANC government. Watch out.”

These words must have pained him to utter, given his history of supporting the ANC and its liberation efforts, but they were very necessary in pursuit of correcting the course of a wayward government.

When faced with being steered off course, it is incumbent on us – as Govender, Tutu and others did – to resist accepting a leadership that would lead us astray from what comes naturally, which is leading with compassion and love. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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  • Malcolm McManus says:

    “I am warning you: one day, we will start praying for the defeat of the ANC government.”
    Sadly when it comes to the point where the majority of South Africans have to pray for the defeat of the ANC, It will already be too late. By then we will be a dictatorship. Currently the majority still have a choice. They can put their cross in a better box in the upcoming elections and oust the ANC and avoid the EFF and MK at all costs. The ANC is a revolutionary party and dictatorship is part and parcel of their mandate. The same applies to EFF and MK. There is no future with them in the picture.

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