Mention the names Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela in any public platform in South Africa something will ring a bell. People will take immediate trips down memory lane, and historical events like the Passive Resistance of the early 1900 and the South African peace and reconciliation post the 1994 dispensation will be recalled with ease.
The personality cult and leadership charisma of the two world renowned leaders have certainly rocked the history of humankind.
It doesn’t matter really whether leaders are born or made by circumstances. What matters is that it’s difficult to separate a person’s personality cult and leadership appeal. A leader is able to leave an indelible mark through his/her persona and leadership style. It’s all about MADI, i.e. making a difference, as SABC Education Outreach would coin it.
Through Leadership & Management theme, and the eight others, SABC Education seeks to make a difference in people’s lives. South Africa, and the world at large, is blessed to have had personality cult and leadership charisma of people like the late Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela. These two leaders have left indelible marks with their personality cults and leadership appeals, albeit in different times and contexts.
Ghandi’s “Passive Resistance” in early 1900s and Mandela’s reconciliation push post the 1994 era in South Africa testify to the assertion. The leadership styles of these two great charismatic leaders made a meaningful difference in people’s lives.
Personality cult is critical for the kind of leadership that can make a difference. The personality cult of Mandela carried the struggle for freedom through even during his twenty seven years of absence incarcerated by the apartheid regime. Mandela led the struggle in absentia. He was the symbolic leader.
Mandela’s “leadership in absentia” situation can be likened to the absence of Ghandi’s leadership during negotiations for India’s independence. Ghandi had undertaken a hunger strike, but his personality cult and leadership charisma ushered hope for the Indian people.
Mandela provided leadership for the people of South Africa, across racial and tribal lines to forgive and forget, and strive for a united, non-racial and non-sexist South Africa. The peoples of all races and tribes rallied behind his leadership, and forged for a united nation. Everybody wanted to make a difference to reconcile and reconstruct the country.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu coined a Rainbow Nation label for the reconciled and reconstructed South African nation. The nation was bestowed on Mandela’s personality cult and leadership charisma.
Attached to the personality cult and leadership charisma, illustrated through Ghandi and Mandela, is “leadership combined with management” approach. There is no other best example to cite other than the manner in which Mandela’s world renown leadership managed the reconciliation process post 1994 in South Africa.
Who can easily forget how Mandela’s leadership also managed to bring South Africans across racial lines together, and inspired Amabhokobhoko (the Springboks, South African national rugby team) to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup?
Personality cult and leadership charisma are ingredients of effective leadership under any circumstances. With these ingredients one is able to make a difference as a leader.
Mandela’s charm as a person and a leader melt the hearts of even the hardened conservatives. In Orania, a small white only town in the north western province of South Africa Mandela got even the old fashioned Afrikaner community to smile as he sips tea with Mrs Betsie Verwoerd, the widow of his former jailer and the former prime minister known as the architect of apartheid (Verwoerd).
This was interpreted as “a gesture of reconciliation that bordered on the surreal”. In a leader with personality cult and leadership charisma of Mandela, this was real.
The South African Journal of African Languages Vol 28, No 2 (2008), Nelson Mandela’s personality traits include attributes like bravery, determination, humility, goodness, peace, and tactical skills. A complete leader would certainly show these qualities. These are the attributes that put Mandela ahead of his peers when it comes to leadership styles.
According to the Negotiation Journal, Volume 19, Number 3 (2003), Mandela's personal attributes are equated to peacemaking. These are distinctive aspects of peacemaking practice, and they are only common among accomplished peacemakers and negotiators.
Added to Mandela’s personality traits and leadership charisma is what is presented as high degree of cognitive complexity that give Mandela the edge amongst other revolutionaries, for the transition to post-liberation leader.
Ghandi’s attributes as a person and a leader are more or less the same as that of Mandela in that non-violent civil disobedience, peaceful, patient, brave and compassionate are also attached to his personality trait and leadership charisma.
The point here is not to present Ghandi and Mandela as similar leaders. It is juts to draw from the personality traits and leadership charisma that are common with the two. It should also be mentioned that the circumstances that shaped personalities and approaches of these two leaders were somehow different in that Mandela’s was also shaped by a lengthy incarceration which was not the case with Ghandi.
Mandela leadership approach took a more radical and inherently violent when he influenced the formation of Umkhonto Wesizwe (MK), an underground armed wing of the African National Congress. This is in contrast with Ghandi’s non-violent civil obedience he advocated through his Satyagraha ("soul force") approach. The two leaders however share attributes like brave, peaceful, patient and compassionate.
Dubbed as “Mandela’s proposal”, the formation of MK indicates a complex cognitive character in Mandela’s personality cult and leadership charisma. This was a well thought decision and it was influenced by some processes that demanded a change of approach: from political engagement with the apartheid regime to an armed struggle.
According to http://www.sahistory.org.za/topic/umkhonto-we-sizwe-mk, by the end of 1960 popular resistance characterised by political engagement seemed to have been crushed. Countrywide marches for the burning of passes had been met with violent reaction from the apartheid security agents that resulted to hail of bullets in Sharpeville and Langa (after the anti-pass campaign led by PAC’s Robert Sobukwe).
Mandela saw a turning point in the struggle against apartheid. "If the government reaction is to crush by naked force our non-violent struggle, we will have to reconsider our tactics. In my mind we are closing a chapter on this question of a non-violent policy."
In both Ghandi and Mandela, we see leaders that are not only born but also made by circumstances.