News / Opinion / Columns

Yvonne Fontyn
3 minute read
15 Jun 2017
6:10 am

Zille has shown good ‘servant leadership’

Yvonne Fontyn

Would South Africans know good leadership if it hit them in the face?

Hellen Zille arrives at the Willows Conference Centre, 08 May 2015, in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, ahead of the first day of the party’s Federal Congress. Picture: Alaister Russell

Former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas recently told business people that the government should look to the quality of leadership in SA. That is like asking the fox to give the chickens lessons in etiquette.

The ANC’s top six haven’t set a good example. After 10 years of President Jacob Zuma’s cronyism and populism, who and what we call leaders is severely compromised.

South Africa has been particularly unlucky when it comes to leadership. From the Dutch to the British to nationalists, it has been a system of exploitation and oppression, of elites being promoted and minorities used and dismissed.

But we have recently seen an example of proper leadership – both from women.

In the UK, Prime Minister Theresa May called an early election and now, with the result being a hung parliament, commentators are saying the Conservative Party has “scored an own goal”. She did this to create a stable platform from which to apply Brexit.

When Western Cape Premier Helen Zille announced she would fight her suspension from the DA, journalist Gareth van Onselen claimed she was “following her own agenda” to the detriment of the party.

I disagree – I think Zille is a highly principled person and was fighting for what she believes to be right. Yet, many came out saying she should simply go because she was hampering the chances of the “new” DA.

Zille has since apologised “unreservedly” for her tweets – no doubt due to party and public pressure. But a true leader takes the temperature of the nation and responds.

Despite marches and petitions asking him to step down, Zuma has never even apologised.

So, I wonder, with all the bad examples of leadership around, would South Africans know good leadership if it hit them in the face?

In my view, a leader regards honesty as the highest value. May and Zille’s moves may look to outsiders like “own goals” but they are driven to do what is right, not what is expedient.

There is a perception that leadership is about winning. They may look like losers but in the integrity stakes, they are the victors.

They have taken these moves not for egotistical or personal reasons, but to be true to their values and remedy a situation. In the case of May, to create a stable platform from which to apply Brexit. Now, with a coalition government, her power will be diluted, but true leaders aren’t power junkies. They work for the common good.

Zille at the time believed the DA has not followed proper procedure and felt compelled to state publicly her belief that while many black people have expressed their views on colonialism, they have not been pilloried – but she has.

She was trying to honestly address the debate around colonialism – an unavoidable part of our history. It is odd that her detractors are willing to dismiss her entire career as a fighter for democracy to pursue this vendetta.

There has been much written about “servant leadership”. This kind of leader offers support, integrity and consistency. They don’t change their tune because the tide turns. The fact that the baying populist crowd doesn’t embrace them won’t stop them sleeping at night.

When you think of some of our so-called leaders in government, you can’t say this of many of them.

Yvonne Fontyn

Yvonne Fontyn