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Black Leaders, Where You At?

We have to invest in black leadership. There is something powerful about this ordinary statement to me.

South Africa is incredibly complex in its history and present context partially the diversity narrative has deluded us. Those that push to advance the agenda of prioritising the needs of black people are often perceived to be doing so in the spirit of segregation; seeking to unwrap the wounds of our ugly past and are often discredited because they don’t stand for a “united nation”.  We have to learn to speak confidently against the notion that being intentional about the upliftment of black lives comes at the expense of the rainbow nation legacy. The reality of this is that there is no other way to invest in black leadership than to actively invest in black leadership and that takes intentionality and a specific focus on well…black people.

This investment begins with humanising the existing leaders. People are imperfect. It is the very nature of who we are and why we need each other. South Africa’s principle of Ubuntu “I am because we are” is a globally acclaimed phenomenon yet we are rapidly losing its essence as a nation. Leaders have to be held accountable for their conduct and face the consequences of their actions. Equally, they should not be expected to exempt themselves from lapses in judgement or the likelihood of simply making bad decisions. We need to encourage collective leadership by making the process of correcting our leaders rehabilitative instead of destructive. I have spoken to far too many incredible individuals who have rejected leadership because they are afraid of what may happen if they get it wrong or slip up.

Then we must reject the idea that celebrity and leadership are branches of the same tree. There is a difference between leaders and celebrities. The danger of modern leadership is the natural inclination to demote leaders to celebrity status. Our relationship with celebrity is frivolous at best. We tend to appreciate them when they suit us and turn against them when they so much as wear a t-shirt that we don’t agree with. This is not reflective of our relationship with leadership. Leadership is deliberative and consultative. When we make the real investment in leaders that look like us we will learn that the institution of leadership requires engagement and processes. We do not drag one another on public platforms for the sake of showmanship; we disciple and correct in the spirit of building a progressive agenda for all. I don’t believe that there is a lack of black representation in our public domain. We exist in most spaces. But I am starved for black leadership. Our rise to celebrity has fooled us into thinking we have assumed leadership but exposure does not equate to leadership. This is not to say that there is anything particularly wrong or right with celebrity, that is not my conversation to have, but we should never think that the amount of social media followers an individual acquires is a reflection of their contribution to actual change.

I’ve been particularly bothered by our societal obsession with the celebrity culture over the past few years. The most recent example of this has been the Vusi Thembekwayo & Sizwe Dhlomo twitter story. What a distraction. Here are two black men; both incredible in their respective fields and among the few public influencers who demonstrate true thought leadership (in my opinion). A misunderstanding on social media very quickly reduced them to celebrities who had a petty fight over some issue. The issue behind their spat wasn’t the topic of conversation, the heated exchange of words was.

The irony was the pertinence of the root issue; the idea of formalising the taxi industry in South Africa. An industry that almost exclusively affects people of colour. What an interesting conversation to have. We could have spoken about what such a regulation would look like? Exchange ideas on who we could entrust with that responsibility. We could have even discussed the mechanics of plagiarism. The conversation was on social media which has become the touch point of society and primary level of engagement however the story became “the twar of two celebrities”. What a wasted opportunity and shame on all of us. From this I learn that the inclination for us to monitor and relish in one another’s’ downfalls is cancerous and blinding.

Lastly (for this instalment of the conversation), we need to promote the spirit of team. The idea that there is limited space for black leadership must be assassinated and this must be done by the very people that reinforce it; us. Those that climb up the ladder need to stop kicking it down upon ascension because it does not advance us as a people. We need to invest in the content of our psychology such that we work as actively to build each other up as we do to pull each other down.

There are many things that need to happen-they can only happen if we do them. Let’s talk about how we’re going to go about doing this…

By Nozipho

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