Leadership is not about power.


by Cherie-Lynn van der Merwe


Jesus said to them,” You’ve observed how godless leaders throw their weight around, how quickly a little power goes to their heads. It is not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done.” Matthew 20:25-38 (The Message)


South Africa is in a leadership crisis! As our 2024 elections draw closer, political parties turn inward as their members jostle for top positions, and service delivery slides from poor to non-existent. But lest we forget, our vote handed our current leaders their positions.


It is time we rethink who we entrust with our communities’ well-being.


Jesus gave us pearls of wisdom around leadership, and we should take them to heart. Bad leadership, he pointed out, focuses on power. Good leadership focuses on service. We see this all too clearly now, don’t we? But how do we sift through all the grand promises and election manifestos to choose good leaders? In the South African system, we currently vote for the political party, not the individual. However, political parties are made up of people. It is time to look at the people who make up those parties’ leadership. Are they people of integrity, arguably the most essential quality required of a leader?


The integrity of involvement might be a good start. Words quickly become empty when we talk the talk but do not walk the walk. As we listen to potential leaders, is there any evidence that they are already involved in serving their communities? Leaders don’t simply step into big shoes; they grow from small acts of service to more significant projects. What were the fruits of their labour – self-importance or community development?


The integrity of engagement with those whom you serve is vital too. Someone who rigidly insists on their way is simply a dictator and, as such, self-centred. But someone willing to listen and learn from the myriad of voices of their community is informed and engaged. Those who have lived within a community for many years have the wisdom of experience, a memory of successes and failures that ought to feed into a leader’s thinking and planning process. Likewise, the fresh, vibrant ideas of the youth need to be heard; that old dated process and stale thinking might find energy and change. Communities evolve, and so do their needs and desires. A leader who engages meaningfully can negotiate change constructively and will know how to empower a community to be a part of that change.


The integrity of resilience is found in a seasoned leader determined never to give up on a stable, united community. Our country’s history has instilled fear and distrust in our people. Previously disadvantaged people still carry the scars of disempowerment, and previously advantaged people fear alienation or retribution. We do not need leaders who will stoke the fires of fear but passionate negotiators who will encourage healing and wholeness with patience and understanding.


Our 2024 elections are looming large. Many ambitious, power-hungry people are lining up to grab the opportunity to enrich themselves. It is time the community took back their power by making informed decisions about those eager to win our votes. It is time to invest interest in our future and find leaders of the calibre Jesus suggested.

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