HomeEditorial CommentGreat leaders make themselves unnecessary

Great leaders make themselves unnecessary

Searching my heart this week, the temptation was strong to write about the insatiable appetite and the shameless sting of death, the emaciating horror of cancer and the unrelenting valour and courageous legacy of one Morgan Richard Tsvangirai.

By Mathabelazitha/ The Anvil

The evil hearts of men, walking in our midst connived with the wanton jealousy of disease in a marriage most foul, to deny the democracy warrior his moment in the sun, and to rob a whole nation of its express choice of leadership and governance.

The muted pain runs deep in 10 million weeping hearts, but the true reward of God’s warriors must surely be beyond the grave. In the fullness of time, the “foolness’’ of my heart believes verily that someday from the heavenly mezzanine, Tsvangirai shall join that full bench of the betrayed liberators of the children of God and those silenced defenders of humanity and human dignity in Joshua Nkomo and Josiah Tongogara, in Sydney Malunga and Lookout Masuku, in Reuben Mabhena and Dambudzo Marechera, and in thousands more whose graves remain unknown, whose histories were obliterated by deceit and treachery that — together — they will soon get to watch “the people turning it around” and finally, savour the ultimate glory of their earthly endeavour. For the work of God only knows happy endings!

But even as my sad wife urged me to write about Tsvangirai, I realised that no tear I can shed, nor word I can pen in sorrowful praise or in betrayed anger has not been expressed by someone and everyone about the people’s hero. His race is run. Suffice to send my most sincere condolences to his kith and kin, to his party and to the broad fabric and diverse democratic family of Zimbabwe.

Harvest House, what leadership legacy are you harvesting for party and country from this long drawn-out departure of Tsvangirai?

It is the same question we asked of Jongwe Building and Zanu PF when they “kindly” elbowed out their iconic leader a couple of months back… What demonstrable leadership legacy does Robert Mugabe’s departure bequeath his party and the country?

It is indeed the same leadership question we pose to the ANC and South Africa around the not-so-ceremonious exit of Jacob Zuma — an unresolved leadership succession and governance question that makes Africans and their institutions look like an archaic orgy of clowns, their governments an embarrassing tragedy of good governance.

How is it we are so invariably clumsy in the departure lounge? Why are we so utterly incapable of anticipating time and space beyond ourselves, of embracing the inevitability of change and planning frankly for it? So devoid of basic strategy… grooming our organisations, parties, governments, families for the future and mentoring the people that must replace us in our most certain moment of farewell? Nothing, absolutely nothing, is as constant as change around us. It is the seemingly spontaneous waves and spasms of change that recur with predictable regularity and increased ferocity, which we can count on without hesitation! Yet somehow in our minds, we are indispensable, we still believe in our own invincibility, omnipotence and permanence of space in this fluid architecture of our societies. What is it with us Africans?

Perhaps that was then, but “uNkomo wafa leZapu yakhe” [Nkomo has died with his Zapu], in rather the same way that my late granddad Ndabakayithethwa Khumalo was virtually buried with his amazing wealth of 600+ head of cattle back in the day! None of their fervent loyalists, chosen ones, trusted sons and favourite cadres ever got a clue as to how to hold it together, how to carry the torch forth and how to grow that authentic, irresistible powerful Mqabuko brand of Zapu or the case of “ukhulu’’, how, with so much more education and resources at our disposal to turn his cattle farming acumen into a trailblazing beef business of regional reckon! The script and the skills, the talents, the tools and the tool kits were buried with their authors!

Mugabe and Zanu PF quietly accepted in the depths of their hearts, a good 15 years ago that the grand old horse was a great leader that had outlived his usefulness both to party and to government. Though it was an open secret, neither the leader nor the institution had the frankness, the guts nor the wherewithal to dare the future. As such, no purposeful effort was invested either way to the deliberate mentoring of leaders and potential successors and Mugabe and Zanu PF happily nursed a simmering leadership boil for all the two decades. Thirty-eight years later, we are landed with an unelected government, a deeply polarised party and uncertain democracy.
It is a monumental crisis of leadership when at the time a leader must leave, conditions are such that it is inconceivable to proceed without him/her. The worst type of leader is that leader who makes himself and his person the pith, the very heart and soul of the organisation and becomes inseparable from it. The leadership cult is the greatest possible risk to the sustainability of organisations.

The converse is true. The greatest of leaders is that leader who makes himself unnecessary — the leader, in the absence of whom the work of the party / organisation happens as effectively and as efficiently as if he were there. Jesus Christ is your unparalleled leader par excellence! The guy actually had to leave for his kingdom to thrive. It is after his death and his designed absence that we see the glory of his leadership.

We loved Tsvangirai dearly. Both Tsvangirai and his party had been aware of his terminal medical condition for a fairly long time. Both were not unaware of the party ramifications and national implications of the leader’s condition. Yet Tsvangirai had not blinked his last before the readily polarised organisation further mutated and dismembered itself into newly emerging smithereens of political splinters.
It was always difficult for the MDC-Tsvangirai to imagine itself without Tsvangirai. Arriving at the point where they so brazenly unprepared themselves for, the unfolding leadership drama and circus that is soon to play itself out and hand Mnangagwa an unsuspecting electoral blank cheque must not surprise anyone.

If Tsvangirai is not to go down as a leadership failure, his deeds and his legacy must not be buried with him, but the greatest milestones of his leadership must begin to show and shine now in his absence. It is Miles Munroe who underlines the critical role of mentoring and nurturing a successor as the single most important act of leadership. For the enduring essence of leadership is neither in fat bank accounts nor material accumulation, but recreating one’s vision in people.

Where effective leadership mentoring has occurred, the leader voluntarily and consciously elects to vacate the scene to enable his students to shine as opposed to the evident fear of kingdom collapse that consumes our institutions. The true essence of visionary leadership is measured by the absence of the leader, for as the greatest leader of all time said: “It is better for you that I go away. If I don’t go away you won’t be great!”

Go thee well, Morgan.

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