This was part of the input Tefo Mokhine gave in South Africa’s inaugural Democracy Festival which was organised by Thuli Madonsela Foundation.
Good morning ladies and gentlemen,
Today I stand before you, hoping to provide the ideals of the kind of student leaders we need in South Africa and how we can best elect them. Before I do this, I would like to provide some brief context. History has so richly blessed us with examples of great leaders who emerged first when they were at the institutions of higher learning, dating back from the times of Pixley Ka Isaka-Seme(founding member of what would later be the ANC) to Robert Sobukwe (who broke away from ANC to form PAC). These then young leaders fought against the oppressive systems-colonial and apartheid regimes. We salute them and all the fallen heroes and heroines of their generations, for they are the real fathers of our democracy which was long conceived in their minds before it could ever be realized.
Our time is different, and therefore our ideals ought to be different. We have now entered an era of multi-faceted complexities, which are fast paced and largely fueled by advances in technology. Arguably, all the spheres of our lives are disrupted by new technological breakthrough- from nanobiotechnology in health care, highly automated and mechanized industries and artificial intelligence in robotics and more recently, crypto-currency in the banking and financial sectors.
All this amazing advances bring lots of conveniences and efficiencies into our lives. However, they also bring with their equivalence of serious challenges, being social, economic and political. Most assuredly, the most disturbing challenges that will persist for many generations to come will be high unemployment rates and widely polarized inequality gap that will cause many social mishaps from unending protests, high level of alcohol and drug abuse and domestic violence in our homes.
It is within this context that we should consider those whom we are to entrust with the responsibility of leading us.
In our respective campuses; we are surrounded by an ecosystem of diverse clubs, societies and organisations (“organisations”) that range from business, religious, sporting and political interests amongst others. These organisations are arguably the most prominent breeding grounds for leaders that will later take the country forward, one of the most exemplary of the universities in this regard is Fort Hare that has produced more statesmen than any other university in the whole of Africa. With examples of Mualimu Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia and other luminary leaders like Robert Sobukwe, Dali Mpofu and Dr Mamphela Ramphela from the University of the Witwatersrand who were active student leaders.
At a minimum, this should serve as an inspiration for those who find themselves in positions of leadership, to take their roles seriously and a motivation for those contemplating on it to raise their hands to be of service to their fellow students. That being said, it then becomes of great interest to wonder, of the current student leaders- are they ‘comparable’ with the likes of Ramphela and Mpofu? Or do we at least see them as leaders beyond their current positions? Are they a caliber of leaders we envision for our country and continent? This is of course with respect to their capacity for leadership, character, ethical and moral standing.
It is of paramount importance that our leaders embody these values, because they are our representatives and more importantly; the custodians of our shared vision and interests as a collective in an organisation. We must however realise that it is on the main, incumbent upon all the students to be present during the elective meetings to ensure that they elect the caliber of leaders who can pass through ‘the eye of the needle’. A metaphor for a leader of high moral and ethical conduct; with capacity to lead and a character that is above reproach. In my view, this is actually the first and most critical mistake we do as a society in general. We fail to elect this caliber of leaders because; amongst other things- we do not present ourselves to the elective meetings. We therefore find ourselves at the desperate mercy of incapable and unfitting student leaders who in some cases do not even deserve the honour of this title.
For this, we are to blame the electorate, the people that is, for the complacency and disregard of their duty and responsibility to ensure that they entrust the powers of the organisation in the hands of capable, credible and trustworthy men and women who will stand for their collective values and interests without fault. If people could heed this advice, a lot could be achieved as the mischievous and self-centered ‘leaders’ will not be found within the ranks of our student bodies and more energy will be invested in delivering the promised value and ideals to the members.
In my university term as a student leader, I have witnessed the sad demise of some progressive organisations, others malfunctioning to the equivalence of their obscurity while some were characterised by series of internal conflicts of the leaders due to their divergent interests and power struggles or in some instances looting of the students’ funds.
It is my sincere conclusion; that if we are to breed a caliber of leaders who are going to lead the society in the near future-to address our collective challenges and champion magnificent initiatives. Then we must educate, encourage and incentivize the student community to stand on their feet and be actively involved in assessing and electing the most credible candidates.
Our campuses continue to record low voter-turn-outs for the annual general elections, this in my view points to the growing trust deficit between the leaders and the people and the degrading value and character of leaders. People do not believe in leaders anymore. Hence we need to elect the most suitable candidates possible. To address this burgeoning conundrum, I challenge universities and other civic organisations to start running democracy dialogues and symposiums prior to election seasons, to quell the growing apathy of the students and the society in general and also to educate the students of this very critical and potentially powerful democratic right.
Take part, be counted and contribute to change. Amandla!