One of the various qualities of authentic leadership is sacrifice.
Authentic leaders are always willing to make sacrifices in order to elevate the people and steer their nations in the direction of development. They are always willing to set aside their interests for the greater good.
Thomas Sankara: an African revolutionary
One such leader in Africa was Thomas Sankara, the late president of one of the world’s poorest countries, Burkina Faso. Sankara was a humble leader whose austere lifestyle embodied the much-needed quality of sacrifice in our politics.
As president, Sankara willingly relinquished traditional perks of power, citing that he could not, in revolutionary conscience, lead a life of luxury while millions of his people remained trapped in poverty.
Sankara kick-started the revolutionary project by making drastic cuts to his salary and other officials in government. It may be difficult to believe today, but the man reduced his salary to $450. This is roughly eight thousand in South African rands.
You can only imagine the shock Sankara’s comrades must have felt when he informed them that they would not be chauffeured around in German cars. The state’s fleet of Mercedes Benzes was sold, and they were forced to downgrade to the Renault 5 – the cheapest car in the country at the time!
As if that weren’t enough, those who had dreams of flying like kings in private cabins had to forget about them. Public servants were barred from flying first class, and they were demoted to the economy class.
When questioned about the reasoning behind this particular austerity measure, Sankara had this to say: “The plane is going to the same destination, so whether we travel first class or economy class, we will get to the same destination. And if it crashes, then whether we were in first class or economy class, we are going to die the same brutal way.”
Owing to Sankara’s sacrifices and those of his other comrades in government, more funds from the state budget were freed up for poverty alleviation and development. The remarkable progress that Burkina Faso achieved under Sankara’s leadership is well-documented. There is no need to delve into it here.
The case of South Africa
What can be said about our leaders in South Africa? Are they willing to sacrifice comfort for the greater good like Sankara did?
The answer is a resounding no!
The leaders in our country are typical African politicians, who have a taste for Western luxuries like German cars and an insatiable lust for lavish living.
They do not see any need to sacrifice for the greater good. They gladly accept fat pay cheques and traditional perks of power while millions of their people struggle to afford as basic a necessity as bread.
Ironically, the same politicians who clothe themselves in Western brands and drive around in convoys of German cars, claim to be “revolutionaries”. This is nonsense, quite frankly!
Real revolutionaries know it is counter-revolutionary to use state power to amass personal wealth at the public’s expense. Any “revolutionary” that disagrees with this assertion is a pseudo-revolutionary.
The sad reality we must accept is that we have no real leaders as South Africans. Our politics continues to be dominated by these parasites who struggle to see beyond their bloated bellies.
Against the backdrop of this leadership vacuum, it is apparent that we need a new breed of leaders who, like Sankara, can sacrifice for the upliftment of people and development. The kind of leaders who understand that it is abominable to live the high life with public resources while people starve, and rural areas remain largely underdeveloped.
Given that these leaders cannot be found in political outfits that are plotting to inherit state power after the ANC loses it, we, outside the political arena, have a collective responsibility to begin developing and preparing them to lead us in future.
~ written by: Ayanda Sakhile Zulu, politics student at the University of Pretoria.