One Day a Leader?

First Published in City Press, April 14, 2013

A reflection on the One Day Leaders show I was a part of at the time. 


Many years ago two struggle figures heads were flying over Mthatha on their way to visit Madiba. One, a Dr Motlana looks out of the window as the plane comes in for landing and seeing the dire conditions of the locals asks, almost rhetorically “what can such poverty produce?” 

Quick as a flash the other, a General Holomisa responds “Leaders.”

Recently I have had occasion to think long and hard about how young leadership is best developed. 

Of course it would have everything to do with my appearance on a special TV show that airs every Sunday at 6:30pm on SABC 1.

It is called One Day Leader and in the vein of an Apprentice presents a number of contestants with a myriad of challenges and head-on confrontations to ascertain which has the most chance of being dubbed “Leader” one day. 

Leader, certainly amongst the hundreds of applicants that came from all walks of live many months ago, but quite possibly a leading light in society as well. 

You see, each of the six contestants – Ndumiso Hadebe, Seadimo Tlale, Sanda Ncama, Anele Nzimande, Makovhe Masutha and Bongekile Radebe – that started on the show about 8 weeks ago (see the first episode here), speak passionately about their visions for South Africa in which “the youth are absolute in direction and fueled with purpose”, “education is harnessed to promote an integrated Mzanzi”, leaders are selfless and would “live for the growth of their people”, “equal access to opportunities exists for all” as does “free quality education” and “every South African takes ownership of their own economic emancipation” respectively. 

These are nicely threaded phrases to be sure, but what do they really mean? Over the weeks, each of these youngsters aged 19 to 22, have had occasion to test their theories of how to shape South Africa by tasked with different challenges – go to Orange Farm and figure out how to create sustainable jobs, devise campaigns to encourage condom use or discourage alcohol abuse among their peers, unpack the problems of teen dads that are absent and so on.

The last challenge was particularly moving as each of them has grown up with out a father.   And yet they are all particularly impressive in their own rights either excelling academically or starting community projects, tutoring their peers, running church groups or starting their own micro businesses.  

Their ability to articulate themselves and their understanding of their world is even more impressive. In the second part of every episode, once they have looked into a local problem and had a very short time to collectively come up with some practical solutions, they then have to debate their respective ideas of how lasting solutions could come about. 

I must admit here, that my fellow resident judge, Shanduka CEO, Phuti Mahanyele have been severe in our judgement, favouring practicality and civil action over notions that “wait for government”. The guest judges have been no less terse, penalizing incorrect fact or sloppy arguments. I must again confess that even the time they are given to debate would stifle some of our better parliamentarians. 

And yet it seems the greater disciplines are to be learned in their interactions. Like the pressure cooker reality TV is, they are almost always in each other’s proximity and have to constantly vacillate between co-operation and competition. It’s real life on fast-forward.  

Vastly different, one can almost correlate their respective styles and outlooks to specific idols – an Angela Davies, a Youth League firebrand, an evangelical pastor, a Wendy Luhabe, an Obama. Beyond their own personal tensions, one can discern the contestation between these archetypes – which sort of leader is best for SA? they seem to be asking themselves.  

I too wonder, because with just a few weeks till the show comes to an end, there is no clear winning style in sight. Perhaps this means they all have merit. The one thing that I have gotten a good sense of is optimism. Hope. 

And so do most of the viewers. Because for those rare moments we as South Africans are  seeing the better parts of ourselves instead of wallowing in the grotesque we have grown to accept. 


Ndumiso, the Obama’esque orator separated himself from the herd in the last three weeks, with fiery speeches that spoke to people’s hearts. He had lost out on a chance to be part of the 6 contestants in the first season and clearly had paid attention to just what to do to win. 

He walked away with a R 50,000 prize, a R 10,000 contribution to a project of his choice, and perhaps most impressively, a three year incubation with Shanduka, Black Umbrellas, the business mentorship and incubation hub. 

Well done to Ndumiso and his equally impressive fellow contestants.

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