Ethical leadership displayed by Luthuli urgently needed today — Suttner

Raymond Suttner. File picture
Raymond Suttner. File picture
Image: Raymond Preston

Whereas the late ANC president chief Albert Luthuli believed the only way to lead was to serve, today’s politicians believe they are entitled to take whatever they want by virtue of being leaders.

This is according to Raymond Suttner, a visiting professor attached to the Centre for the Advancement of Nonracialism and Democracy (Canrad) at Nelson Mandela University.

Delivering a webinar on Luthuli’s leadership on Wednesday, Suttner, who was himself involved in the liberation struggle,  said the chief was an ethical leader who often referred to the notion of a “gospel of service”.

He said no-one in SA politics today had such values and yet they were more necessary now than ever before.

“We live now in a time of a gospel of greed, where people believe that leadership entitles them to take what they can as a reward for being a leader, whereas Luthuli believed that the way you lead is to serve,” Suttner said.

“One of the reasons why Luthuli’s life is important to revisit is that it fuses ethics, especially personal commitment to the values of his religion and his political beliefs and actions.”

The webinar formed part of the Canrad living history series which provides a public platform to those who have lived through significant historical moments to share critical reflections and analysis.

Our current generation has very few ethical political leaders to look up to.
Samkelo Mngadi

Yesterday’s presentation by Suttner, to mark the 60th anniversary of Luthuli’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize, was the third in a series of five papers the professor is delivering as part of the series  between September and November.

Suttner said Luthuli’s life was relevant in a period when there was a widespread sense that the notion of public service was viewed with cynicism.

“In Luthuli we see an example of the type of ethical leadership that many call for today.

“He could have used his powers as a chief to impose fines and augment his income, as did other chiefs who had been granted criminal jurisdiction.

“He refused to do so, knowing the harsh conditions under which communities lived.

“We are in a time when we need to turn to the lessons of exemplary leaders, without blindness to the faults they may have or have had, and reconsider what it is that we can learn and transmit to others” he said.

“We need to build on this to inform our politics in a different way from that which now prevails.”

Suttner also reflected on the Luthuli’s view of the armed struggle, saying the chief believed in peace and non-violence but that the resort to armed struggle was justified as a form of self-defence against the apartheid government.

History master’s degree candidate at Rhodes University and former SRC president Samkelo Mngadi said Luthuli was a complex historical figure who did not often occupy the mainstream narrative on SA’s apartheid history.

“Our current generation has very few ethical political leaders to look up to.

“There’s a tendency, with [the] political history and literature on Luthuli, to focus on Umkhonto we Sizwe.

“The paper [Suttner’s webinar] is a welcome breath of fresh air, stepping away from the debate of violence and the professor highlights morals and ethics in a political context,” Mngadi said.

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