Ciro De Siena on Leaders

By Ciro De Siena

I got stuck in Joburg this weekend. I had to travel north for my best schoolmate’s 21st, and then missed my bus home. Which was really stupid.

Diving into my savings, I got myself onto a flight the next day, and finally made it back to G-town. Funnily enough, British Airways were the cheapest and they also hand out a complimentary copy of The Star. At the moment, once a week, The Star comes with a free comic book detailing a chapter of Madiba’s life, which is brilliant. It’s perfect for lazy sods like me who have had a copy of Long Walk to Freedom sitting around collecting dust for years, yet are so keen to learn about the iconic leader’s life.

The comic book itself is nothing short of expert; it really is a fine piece of work. I received Issue No 5, which details his time in prison on Robben Island. Don’t worry if you miss them. An anthology will be published next year.

I must be honest; I was nearly brought to tears reading the little book. The man gave up so much for a cause he wholeheartedly believed in. He suffered enormously while in prison, completely missing the chance to watch his kids grow up. He wasn’t able to bury his mother as his custom dictated and he wasn’t able to help when his wife was imprisoned and tortured for 18 months.

Honestly, after reading just the condensed version of his trials, I cannot believe that he tirelessly strove to understand his oppressors, wanting nothing more than to sit down and talk with them. If it was me, I would have run out of Robben Island brandishing an enormous gun and an even bigger sense of anger, but we all know how far attitudes like that would have taken us.

His strength is truly admirable, and I feel weak as a human in comparison, when my biggest complaint in life is that it’s hard to find a bit of petrol money every month, and that Pick ‘n Pay only stock fat-free yoghurt.

The reason I’m bringing up Mandela is that I truly feel that we have an example of his character here at Rhodes. He’s been ploughing away under the clocktower for some time now, however he was officially inaugurated this last week: our new VC, Dr Saleem Badat.Like Mandela, and like another leader I hugely admire, Evo Morales of Bolivia, our new VC has chopped off a massive R200 000 from his annual salary from Rhodes, setting up the Jakes Gerwel Rhodes Scholarship. The scholarship, named after the chancellor of Rhodes University, will help four or five socially disadvantaged youths from the Eastern Cape through their studies at Rhodes.

Mandela did the same while in office, and more recently Morales has as well.

This show of selflessness is incredible, and although Badat seems to avoid the limelight, I’m going to heap the praise on him anyway. A colleague who had the pleasure of interviewing the new VC last term described him as “amazing”, and I must say without having met him I have to agree. Sir, your quiet but resolute leadership has already influenced many, and I hope you have the strength to continue for a while to come. All the best in your new position.

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