Leaders in South Africa – circa 2007


Answering the question of leadership in South Africa is an interesting task, and one I would gladly undertake. The potential scope to this task is monumental as South Africa has produced many incredible people in its rich history, but to simplify to a global audience it is necessary to divide the South African history into four main parts:

PRE-1652: Pre-colonization
1652-1910: Colonization and imperialism
1910 – 1994: Segregation, white dictatorship and APARTHEID
1994 – present day: Democracy

The leaders that can be mentioned are numerous, from the Zulu King Shaka Zulu to the leader of the first Dutch colony Jan van Riebeeck, the spokesman for peace Bishop Desmond Tutu to the last great dictator P.W. Botha, the captain of the National Rugby Team the Springboks Francois Pienaar who won us the World Cup, to the man who did the first heart transplant, Chris Barnard.

I will limit my dissertation to the following 3 highly Influential Leaders. The first two have been bridges from near civil war to democracy, the third is a role model for young people in the new South Africa…

Political-social: Nelson Mandela, former terrorist leader of the African National Congress, a prisoner for 27 years and the first black South African President.

Business-social: Raymond Ackerman, founder of the Pick ´n Pay retail group, a white Jewish Businessman who believed and fostered inclusive systems and the importance of social responsibility long before it became fashionable.

Business-social: Mark Shuttleworth, 30-something internet billionaire, engineer for social change, venture capitalist and the first African in Space.

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela was imprisoned by the white Apartheid Government of South Africa in 1963 for what was to be a period of 27 years. At the time he was one the leaders of the African National Congress, a black political organization who was fighting for civil liberties for the black majority in South Africa and was subsequently banned. A period of civil strife, sanctions and economic duress ensued with white and black South Africans living in segregation, a state of near civil war, rampant terrorism and cruel and violent surpression of black terrorist activity by the militant white government.

International pressure, coupled with a changing in the thinking of the white leadership and an untenable domestic situation led to a reformed National Party government under the leadership of F.W. de Klerk releasing Mandela from prison in 1990.

He could have emerged bitter and vengeful, eager to get back at his surpressors. Instead, he preached a system of inclusivity for white and black Africans alike, a new economic and social order of peace and democracy that would see all South Africans prosper. A model of renewal that would put South Africa firmly at the forefront of world affairs, a leader in Africa and a beacon of hope that would be a role model for others.

Under his leadership, this came to pass. He was duly elected President of South Africa in 1994. He did not accept this leadership sooner, as it was necessary to build the foundations to a new South Africa, including a ironclad constitution, a democratic system that was best of breed with an inclusive Parliament, Regional and National Government and a business environment that would foster growth.

Even more remarkable, he had earmarked a successor in Thabo Mbeki that would, in 1999, take on the mantel of national leadership and admirably fill the shoes of this legendary and almost mythical figure. Mbeki would bring South Africa to the next step of economic and social welfare with one of the strongest growth rates in the world, and sustainable social and economic programmes to ensure that it would remain an inclusive and internationally attractive country.

He is admirable for:

His capacity for forgiveness
His ability to inspire through the integrity of his character and the strength of his convictions
His complete lack of ego, and the resultant sustainability of his achievements through others

Raymond Ackerman

The Chairman of national grocery store Pick ´n Pay, he was fired by the then market leader Checkers in 1966, an action spawned by jealousy from his bosses at his success and often described as “The Single Greatest Mistake in South African Business – Ever.”

He proceeded to open a rival chain called Pick ´n Pay, and from humble beginnings this eventually grew into a market leader, built on fundamental principles he calls “The Four Legs of the Table”. Ackerman, and the whole of his thriving business, believes in and stresses the importance of Administration, Merchandise, Promotions / Social responsibility and People – with the sovereign consumer on top of the table.

His belief in Social Responsibility, specifically, has spurred him to implement social wellness programmes, educational benefits to staff, huge charity drives and numerous other initiatives that has firmly fixed Pick ´n Pay in the mind of the consumer as a company that cares about – and fights for- them. The public has resonded by supporting Pick ´n Pay to the degree that today is has long since eclipsed its old competitors and in reality now only face the Shoprite group in the retailer battlefield.

He is admirable for:

Doing what´s right on a social level long before it became fashion.
Formulating his guiding principles and sticking to them, and successfully transferring them to a massive organization as foundational principles to success.
Being a role model to other business leaders to what the modern South African can achieve through good corporate citizenship in helping change the landscape of our country.

Mark Shuttleworth

Mark Shuttleworth is of my generation, being born in 1973 in South Africa, a white South African. He sold his internet software company Thawte Consulting to US-based Verisign in 1999 for a reported $300 milllion, making him South Africa´s first internet billionaire (in Rand terms) and making him an immediately celebrity. Instead of just enjoying his windfall for the next few years, he proceeded to do the following:

He gave all of his 17 employees – including his gardener- a cool million dollars each to say thanks for their part in the success of his business
He immediately created several businesses, but most noteworthy would be HBD venture Capital (“Here be Dragons”) – to foster and support new technology businesses in South Africa.
On a social level, he initiated the Shuttleworth Foundation which runs the Hip2b² (hip to be square) campaign, a national campaign which encourages young South Africans to study Science and Maths as a key to eventual economic and social success.
He has broken several social taboos as one the most prominent young white South Africans, including dating a prominent black South African celebrity.
Currently, he is based in London and is spearheading the Ubuntu Project, an incursion on the territory of all-powerful Microsoft by developing free desktop software that can be readily available all over the world.

He entered the international consciousness, however, by using some of his vast fortune to buy a ticket to space in 2002. After seven months of intense testing and training, he launched with the crew of Soyuz TM-34 from Baikonur in Kazakhstan and docked with the International Space Station two days later. This event was the culmination of a lifelong dream and received wide international press for being “the first African in Space”.

He is admirable for:
His belief that there are no boundaries, whatever the mind of man can conceive it can achieve
· His generosity
His success as an entrepreneur, and his admirable use of capital gained in his pursuits to foster social upliftment and education
His willingness not only to spend on social initiatives but also to be gratuitous even under significant criticism (the exorbitant cost of the space mission cost him some friends – but hey, I just think it´s jealousy…).


All three leaders had very different paths.
Mandela´s power came from character and integrity, and the ability to convince others of the validity of his convictions.
Ackerman brought a work and principle-centred ethic to his life and business, and is a role model for all South Africans in building a sustainable business that benefits the greater community.
Shuttleworth has firmly established that no young South African needs to see any limits for themselves in the new global community, but that your successes should not be used just for personal gain but also to the benefit of others.

Through integrity of character, hard work and self-belief or our leaders, South Africa will continue to build a new economic and social miracle, and truly become a Rainbow Nation…