One Young World
One Young World

A Mandela for our generation

by Zamantungwa Khumalo

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?


Zamantungwa Khumalo is studying a Bachelor of Arts with a triple major in International Relations, Political Studies and Law at the University of the Witwatersrand.  She anchors the current affairs talk show The Edge on Voice of Wits FM and is sponsored by the University of the Witwatersrand to attend the One Young World Summit in Zurich, Switzerland.

  • Peter Joffe

    Mandala’s legacy? I don’t remember his great lagacy including:- Nepotism, graft, corruption, cronyism, greed, the destruction of the courts and the police force, excessive expense accounts, jobs for people with no qualifications other than loyalty to the ‘leadership’ of the party Mandela created. Mandela saw a country free of racial discrimination and a path to a bright future for all. Well now he can look on with dismay and see a country more divided on racial lines than it ever was before 1994. Those who now applaud the legacy of our Great Leader do not take any notice of what he did, what he meant and what he created. Our new ‘leaders’ tell their ignorant followers that the virtues of Mandala’s is what their goals are, but of course we all know that the new ‘leaders’ goals are nothing of the sort.
    Happy Birthday to our great icon Madiba! I wish that you would come out of your well deserved retirement and spank your fat children on their fat bums and get them to adhere to what your “Rainbow Nation” is supposed to be. They live in luxury and feed at the trough of kings whilst professing to be interested in uplifting the poor. JuJu is a prime example of how to live like a king on R20,000 per month. Lets ask him to teach all of us how to do that?

  • Bart

    Do we need a Mandela in our generation ?

    Are truly great leaders not born out of the worst adversity ? Are great leaders not shaped by their circumstances as much as they shape the world around them ? In asking for a Mandela for our generation are we not also asking for those circumstances that create great leaders ?

    Is it not enough to ask for competent leaders for men and women willing to work for their people without seeking to be anything more than hard workers. When one speaks of the ‘Mandela’ of our times we look to the politicians but may it not be a business leader or academic that can espouse those virtues we are looking for ?

  • Mike

    A very profound and interesting article.

    Please remember an important point: it is easy to appear a great leader during times of war or struggle. You have an identifiable enemy and an easy rallying call.

    This is why the current passing/older generation appear to be so morally rich and have praise heaped on them for their leadership contribution. But please remember that the Mandelas and Sisulus had it easy; they knew that they were on the right side of history and it is easy to make inspiring speeches.

    What is infinitely tougher is to run a modern country. You need to galvanise disparate needs and wants, and you need to surround yourself with the technical expertise, not “revolutionaries”.

    More than ever, South Africa needs to be run by well qualified, technocrats not singers and dancers.

    The war is over and we need to fight the global battle for market share. This is far more difficult than to blow up the power stations of an illegitimate regime.

    The sooner the country realises this, the better.

  • MLH

    I may have been politically uneducated in my early twenties, but I can’t believe I was ever this politically naive. South Africa has already been experiencing a leadership vacuum for well over a decade, Zamantungwa, or hadn’t you noticed? When the majority turns against its supreme political leader as it did against Mbeki and picks a leader of the quality of JZ, the vacuum is very apparent. And desperately sad. Or do you just put Mbeki’s downfall down to uncouth, belligerent and unenlightened behaviour? I’m not suggesting he was great, but he did have a few good points. The present regime learnt nothing from Mandela, it’s clear. Although I bet they all love getting out of the office each year on Mandela Day, that cannot negate their atrocious attitude every other day of the year. (I’m generalising, of course.)

  • A. Engelbrecht

    I agree with you about the importance of future leaders. I would like to add that we have future leaders in our midst, but the focus is not on them. The youth of ’76 is very much focused on their leaders, or rather the leaders they produced.

    Slowly but surely we are moving into the leadership position. Take note of the type of music being played on radio, the increase in coffy shops and you’ll see what I mean.

    Just like the youth of ’76 opposed, not only the apartheid regime, but also the descisions made by the previous generations, so will (maybe not to the great emotional extent)we have opinions of our own which will create the opportunity for leaders to come forth.

    People are always on the lookout for change; we don’t necessarily need difficult circumstance to have great leaders. Each generation will always have/need leaders to represent them as one voice on their way to realising their dream.

  • Puso

    Perhaps that Leader is YOU! Well written, a decisive call to action for all youth. Perhaps the future leaders are not stepping out to be counted, perhaps young people are too busy trying to fit the mould, consumed in fitting-in, so much so that we don’t stand out! The truth leaders don’t fit in, nor do they wait around to be ‘discovered’ or given a voice! The sooner we acknowledge our mission, the sooner we will begin to fulfil it. I agree Zamantungwa, betraying it, is no option as it will be to our peril.

  • Sam Bradley

    Awesome article Zamantungwa!

  • Amukelani Mayimele

    Nyc One Zama, I soberly choose to be a Mandela of my Generation….

  • Sara Gon

    Mandela achieved the sobriquets of leader and icon which in many respects he was. But the fight between good and evil inevitably results in romanticising the past. Mandela is also a symbol of this romanticism.

    He was also flawed. On his watch the seeds of the destruction of our education and health systems were sown. Hero-status does not guarantee all results. Hard work, integrity and courage don’t have to be flashy to work.

    Leaders have to take risks, be decisive and be prepared to do and be both, especially when urgent.

  • Sipho

    Zamantungwa, so you’re looking for a young person who’ll emulate a 72 year-old Mandela? I think Mandela was at this age when he was released from prison.
    Don’t you think you’re appropriating other people’s argument? The hatred for Malema has brought many permutations of what leadership should be. Most elites seem to be saying anything is leadership as long as it is not Malema. For most young people that has become a trap, in order to sound smart to other elites you must denounce Malema. You don’t have to sound clever while doing it, just denounce him. That’s all this exclusive audience want to hear from you. As a young scholar you need to interrogate these generously pepertuated attributes of what leadership should be. Young people need no Mandela, they need to chart their own course. No one knows what it is.

  • http://[email protected] ntsakisi


    you make us thing about our our future
    thanks for reminding us that we are a generation of tomorrow