Zamantungwa Khumalo

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A Mandela for our generation

I don’t believe in Mandela Day. I really don’t. Now I realise that this is probably the most blasphemous thing I can say, especially on this day. However, inasmuch as I don’t believe in this day, I recognise the impact that it has and I recognise what today symbolises. It is because of a day like this that I can’t help but wonder whether my generation will produce leaders that are of the same calibre as the generations before us. It is on this day, that my generation needs to ask, “Who will be the Mandela of our generation?”

I was chatting with a friend about the state of leadership on the continent the other day. Whenever people have this conversation, things such as corruption among our leaders, being lead by leaders with no vision and leaders not leading with integrity, are bound to come up. The conversation I had with my friend was no different. However, what was different about this conversation was that we took it a step further than just talking about the problem with our leaders. My friend and I noted the passing of great leaders like uMam’Sisulu and Kader Asmal and what that meant for our generation. A generation which, unlike the youth of ’76, doesn’t seem to have a common struggle.

Now, more than ever, my generation needs to have the conversation about leadership – the baton will be passed down to us and we need to be ready to build on what the likes of Biko, Sobukwe, Hani and many other icons spent their lives working on. We need to make sure that we not only celebrate the heroes and heroines that dedicated their lives for a better South Africa, but we also need to make our own mark. We need to produce our own Biko’s, Sobukwe’s, and Mandela’s.

During that conversation with my friend, we began to question the calibre of the leaders of our generations. My friend alluded to the fact that South Africa will experience a leadership vacuum in a few years, unless the young leaders in this country stand up and make themselves heard. The young leaders in this country need to wake up to the reality that we are the future ministers, future diplomats and future decision makers. We are the ones who need to start addressing some of the problems which we see in our society, We can’t afford to wait until we’re 35, living in Sandton and driving expensive cars until we address the pressing issues of our generation.

Whenever I think about the state of youth leadership in this country, I’m always reminded of what Frantz Fanon said, “”Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it.” The ‘microwave generation’ needs to have a serious introspection about what our mission is. Betraying it shouldn’t even be an option. It is because of this assertion: of fulfilling our mission, that I am able to appreciate the symbolisms behind today. The older generation has fulfilled their mission, they have done their part in addressing some of the atrocities of our past. It is now up to us to step up to the podium and do our part in shaping the future of this country.

The big question therefore becomes, who will be the Mandela of our generation? Is there a person, who is willing to take on the responsibility of being the voice of our generation’s mission? Is there a young leader out there who is willing to dedicate their life to serving other people? Will our generation have a Mandela of its own?


This article first appeared on the Mail & Guardian Thought Leader Blog on July 18 2011

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