Democratic South Africa’s call for leadership
The birth of the concept of the African Leadership Group of companies pre-dates the advent of open democracy. Many agree that the period after the 1976 Soweto uprisings unleashed a period of robust, disciplined and forward-looking dialogue about the shape and form of South Africa beyond apartheid. Much of this dialogue centred on the subject of leadership. One of the most frequently asked questions was, “Is the country in a position to produce the calibre of leaders capable of taking the new South Africa along “high road” to freedom, peace and prosperity?” Captains of industry and various sectors sought assurances that the country would deliver men and women who possessed a higher brand of leadership discipline, ethics and morality. Assurances were duly given that this leadership subscribed to loftier yet highly principled leadership values and conduct.
Eric Mafuna’s answer
New democratic South Africa attracted much international attention. At the start of “Democracy Now”, a significant international forum on the new democratic South Africa, Nelson Mandela announced to the gathering of South African and African-American business representatives that Eric Mafuna, the founder of the African Leadership Group, would take charge of the deliberations. Whilst his action may not have been motivated by serious leadership considerations, to visiting delegates Eric Mafuna suddenly emerged as a leader worthy of Mandela’s attention. As a result, over the next two to three years, Mafuna was involved in the formation of an institutional bridge between black South Africans and African-Americans.
One of the tangible outcomes of the meeting was the establishment of new business links and partnerships between South Africans and American businesses wishing to re-enter the South African marketplace – Reebok was one such partnership. As part of this business association, Eric Mafuna and his colleagues took to spending time in the Harvard book stores, otherwise known as ‘The Coop’, for publications on leadership. On one occasion, one of the eminent Harvard professors asked, “Why would you people be looking for leadership lessons from Harvard when the global leader of the movement is right amongst you?” He then enquired about the possibility of hosting himself and a delegation that was about to go to Africa to try and figure out the world’s new moral leader – Mandela.
The mission to explore African Leadership
This showdown at The Coop provided a humbling wake-up call for a generation of South Africans that had grown so dependent on America for its intellectual and leadership capital. As a result, Eric Mafuna, together with Reuel Khoza, resolved to find the necessary resources needed to research the leadership challenges and opportunities in the Mandela era. Within months, Thabo Mbeki announced Eskom’s commitment to fund an exploratory foundational study. The study sought to answer questions such as, “What is the X-Factor behind individuals or race/ethnic groups who become more effective leaders in their fields, whilst their peers or members of their own generation fail to provide outstanding leadership?”.
The study also attempted to understand the leadership experiences amongst indigenous African people – South Africa’s first people, the country’s Semitic groups. It was hoped that answers to these questions would encourage leaders across diverse communities to share their unique experiences and join hands in providing adaptive leadership that is grounded in our respective histories and experiences. This provided the basis of what was to be termed African Leadership – a brand of leadership whose DNA and footprint represents the best that our respective race/ethnic groups are prepared to contribute. In the idiom of the Freedom Charter, our definition of African leadership encompasses leaders or leadership concepts or lessons from all communities that call themselves African.
The birth of the African Leadership Group (ALG)
Eric Mafuna, together with his consulting team, then set out to achieve the goal of mounting serious research about the history and evolution of the leadership concept across Africa, culminating in the delivery of one of the world’s most revered moral leaders – Nelson Mandela. The findings of the study were shared with delegates at the 2004 World Economic Forum in Maputo and President Thabo Mbeki lead the discussion about the value of the research findings. Two years later, Mbeki presided as a keynote speaker at the formal launch of the African Leadership Group and its affiliates.
The South African public’s overwhelming response to this leadership initiative drove a few positive and not-so-positive messages home – that our society harbours severe leadership hungers; that the Mandela moral leadership is one of the rare occurrences; that our new democracy calls for a rare breed of leadership; and that nurturing a decent leadership cadre calls for serious investment in resources – it takes time and funding. Leadership development programmes cannot be funded from the levels of CSI budgets that we have been accustomed to, all stakeholders within the Republic of South Africa must put their weight behind this critical task of developing the leadership that our beautiful democracy requires to fulfill its potential. Thus the African Leadership Group.