Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
As I celebrated my 85th birthday this week, several journalists contacted me to ask about the secret to my endurance and the highlights of my life. Of course, the usual question came up, about when I plan on retiring.
But one journalist more inventively pointed out that I am not alone in working beyond retirement age, as Sir Alex Ferguson managed Manchester United into his seventies and is still involved at Old Trafford, and Warren Buffet, perhaps the most successful investor of the 20th century, is still Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway at 83. In fact, Mr Buffet celebrates his birthday today.
Naturally many people have also asked Sir Alex and Mr Buffet about their secrets to endurance, longevity and success. The umpteenth book about Mr Buffet, which has just been released, titled “Secret Millionaire’s Club: Warren Buffet’s 26 Secrets to Success in the Business of Life”, focuses on his advice to children.
Not unexpectedly, one of the 26 secrets is the importance of pursuing your passion in life. Another is the importance of protecting your reputation. In my own life, I have learned both these lessons and have offered them as advice to young South Africans. If one looks at the most successful people in history, the common denominator is surely that they loved what they did.
One of the most eloquent ways this principle has been expressed, was by the late Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple. Addressing the graduates of Stanford University in 2005, he explained his reasons for dropping out of college when he saw his parents’ hard-earned savings being used up to teach him courses he was not particularly interested in. Instead, after dropping out, he started “dropping in” on classes that captured his imagination.
It was hard going, because without the credentials of being a full-time student he seldom had a decent meal and didn’t have a place to stay. But he developed a passion for his courses and followed his interests in unusual directions. What he learned then enabled him to become a pioneer in his field and to set the standard for computer technology. His poignant speech at Stanford is worth watching – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1R-jKKp3NA
During the 21 years that I was Chancellor of the University of Zululand, I spoke to successive classes of graduating students and impressed upon them the importance of becoming life-long learners. That is how I have lived my own life, and it has led me to think more deeply about what I see and hear and experience.
It has enabled me to consider different perspectives and understand how someone else might see things.
This has proven invaluable in the arena of politics, where opposing ideas can create tremendous conflict. Being able to understand the perspective of my opponents, and how it was formed – even while disagreeing – has stopped me from seeing my opponents as enemies. I realise that some of the most colourful politicians are quite sincere, albeit sincerely wrong.
Unfortunately, my opponents have not always seen things the same way, and many do consider themselves my enemy. Speaking to the media on my birthday this week, I expressed how worried I am for the future of politics and leadership in South Africa because that sense of working together for the betterment of our people, across different political parties, is now markedly absent.
Under the leadership of President Mandela the constitutionally mandated Government of National Unity gave every South African a role in strengthening and shaping our country. In terms of the interim Constitution, negotiated at Kempton Park, any political party receiving more than 10% of the vote in 1994 was entitled to a seat in Cabinet. With more than two million votes, the IFP claimed a significant stake in the governance of South Africa.
With the final Constitution, the Government of National Unity ended and President Mbeki was under no obligation to invite anyone into his Cabinet outside of the ANC. Nevertheless, in the interests of reconciliation and broad participation, he asked me to serve as South Africa’s Deputy President.
This was torpedoed by the then Deputy President of the ANC, Mr Jacob Zuma, and other ANC leaders in the province of KwaZulu Natal, because Mr Zuma wanted the position for himself. They demanded that I should pay a price for the Deputy Presidency and give the premiership of KwaZulu Natal to the ANC. I declined to take the position under those terms.
President Mbeki then requested that I continue serving in his Cabinet as the Minister of Home Affairs, for the sake of consolidating reconciliation between the ANC and the IFP.
That spirit of shared responsibility and a shared vision for our country’s stability, prosperity and wellbeing, is now a thing of the past. The ANC of today would not contemplate sharing leadership and refuses to consider that anyone outside the ANC has a valid role to play or a justified stake in South Africa. It’s a short-sighted view, born of obsession with power.
The result is an ever-widening chasm between leaders and the people they are meant to serve, as the ANC sets itself apart and holds itself to a different standard. Thus many young people have been turned off of politics and see political leaders as “those people”, “those corrupt guys at the top”. They feel far removed from leaders, as though they live in a different reality.
Sometimes when I read the papers and listen to the news, I am tempted to think that we do indeed live in a different reality to many of the leaders in the ruling party. They talk about how many jobs will be created, when we go another day without work. They talk about sustainable development, when we haven’t got transport to the nearest clinic. And they talk about economic growth, while corruption eats away at national budgets and inflation pushes poverty higher.
At my age, I can look back on decades of social and political evolution, and I can see the danger in the present trajectory. Because of this, when anyone asks my advice to the youth, I say, “Get involved”. Don’t accept this status quo that our country’s leaders are above the law, above reproach or above being answerable to the people. Don’t drop out of the political discourse, even when you feel you are banging your head against someone else’s wall.
We need your voice. We need your participation. You have a stake in this country and South Africa belongs to you as much as it does to any of the political elite. Don’t be tempted to think that your vote won’t matter or your involvement won’t make a difference. This is your time, and your country.
South Africa’s youth have the power to close the gap between themselves and their elected representatives, and make their leaders once again the servants of the people. It will take a massive effort of sustained participation, but it can be done. It starts with your vote, but it doesn’t end there. You need to find a political home and strengthen the voice of those who oppose a one-party South Africa. Please go out and register to vote today!
The IFP is calling on this generation to find their passion and get involved. Do it through a party that understands the past, serves today, and knows that the future belongs to you. Do it with the IFP.
Yours in the service of our nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP