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Julius Malema and the era of cowardly leadership

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True leaders never let their personal goals and ambitions cost the lives of people who trust them.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

His name was Ernest and he’s my lifelong hero. He arrived on the beautiful and barren island of South Georgia on January 4, 1922, leading his expedition to Antarctica. The next night he suffered a massive heart attack. He died in the morning, at only 47 years old. He was buried in South Georgia, an island so crucial in his life. His grave, unlike all the others on the island, looks straight into Antarctica. Her body may have been engaged in the frozen paradise in the middle of the South Atlantic, but her soul has remained immortal.

Ernest Shackleton’s grave in South Georgia (Photo courtesy of Povl Abrahamsen via Flickr)

His full name was Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton and he was one of the three great Antarctic explorers of the early 20th century, the other two being Roald Amundsen and Captain Robert Falcon Scott. Shackleton never succeeded in any of the feats he attempted: he never reached the South Pole and had to abandon the Antarctic crossing before it even began. And yet, to me, he was the greatest of all, the type of leader that humanity needs in times of great deprivation and turmoil.

Shackleton began as Scott’s companion on the failed 1901-1904 Discovery Expedition. He returned to Antarctica on his own Nimrod expedition (1907-1909). He and his three crew members got so close (about 180 km) to the South Pole that they could smell success. But Shackleton knew that at least some of them would die if they advanced, so he decided to turn around and renounce immortality so his crew could live.

Shackleton would have been a great hero even if he had simply returned to England and lived on speeches and presentations. But what turned a hero into a giant of mankind was the incredible suffering he and his crew survived on his 1914-1917 Imperial Transantarctic Expedition, which brought human and spiritual endurance to terrible times. levels never seen before.

His plan was for his team to be the first to cross Antarctica, but their ship, Endurance, was stopped and then crushed by ice in the Weddell Sea on November 21, 1915.

Endurance was crushed by ice on November 21, 1915 (Photo Library of Congress)

They were forced to evacuate their camp and travel nearly 600 km in three lifeboats to Elephant Island, one of the most inhospitable places on the planet. There they spent two Antarctic winters in the most gruesome conditions possible, huddled under the overturned lifeboats. Just before the second winter, and fully understanding the cost of doing nothing, Shackleton gave the order to carry out perhaps the most daring rescue attempt in human history. The less damaged 20-foot lifeboats were reinforced for the trip to South Georgia, 1,300 km away, where they knew there was a whaling station that could help them.

Shackleton sailed for South Georgia, April 24, 1916 (Photo US Library of Congress)

But Shackleton was not a leader who would not rule himself. On April 24, 1916, he embarked with a crew of five; it took them 14 days of sailing through the world’s roughest seas to reach South Georgia. There was one small problem – they landed on the wrong side of the island. Shackleton did not dare to reach the whaling station by sea, as the wild currents and insane waves would almost certainly have crushed their battered lifeboat. So he decided to cross South Georgia by land, a feat never attempted before and which was not repeated until long after.

Guess who was leading this impossible attempt again? A true leader, Shackleton took two of his best crews and covered 50 km through the dangerous mountainous terrain in just 36 hours, equipped with only a piece of rope. You can imagine the shock of the Norwegian whalers when they saw three disheveled Englishmen trip over their station – on the wrong side of the island. Shackleton immediately set out to save his crew across South Georgia and Elephant Island, which he succeeded in doing on his fourth attempt, due to rough seas on August 20, 1916.

And here’s a really shocking detail: After two Antarctic winters, only one of the crew lost their toes due to frostbite. To me, this is the ultimate proof of Shackleton’s greatness. He ruled indeed, but he ruled with humanity as the ultimate moral compass. Nothing was more important than his crew and their well-being.

True leaders never let their personal goals and ambitions cost the lives of people who trust them.

Compare that with some of today’s “leaders”. Donald Trump gleefully plunged the United States into a once-in-a-century upheaval in order to stay out of prison, and this after a year of mismanaging the pandemic, lest it affect his ability to campaign for the 2020 election. Leading from behind, he pushed for the January 6 upheaval, only, true to his cowardly character, to pretend he had nothing to do with it.

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Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, as mad as he is, is perfectly fine with turning Brazil into a searing mess, with the death toll from Covid-19 surpassing 500,000 as he is busy radicalizing the country in order to stay in power. All in safety in his presidential palace.

There are just too many cowardly rulers in the world right now, and humanity is paying the price.

There is a huge competition for the title, with Jacob Zuma, Ace Magashule, Dr Iqbal Survé, but the South African crown for loose leadership has to go to a certain Julius Malema and his sidekick, Floyd Shivambu.

Hypocrisy is one of the most hallmarks of cowardly leadership, and EFF leaders shine too much in it. Preaching the fight against corruption while themselves being corrupt is already a defining characteristic. But what really elevates them above everyone else is how easily they send out their armies of blind followers to intimidate and intimidate anyone Malema / Shivambu needs to break / scare / extort. All of this while they themselves sit safely behind, just cruising. Their infantrymen are sometimes arrested and left to fend for themselves.

In an article in 2018, I wrote:

“It takes extraordinary cowardice to verbally attack women journalists just for doing their jobs in a society plagued by violence against women. This cowardice, however, is taken to a Trumpian level when the suppression of free media, racism and violence against women is shrouded in an ongoing vicious attack that has just enough legal warning – if anything horrible. had to get to the targets of their attack – to pretend innocence and throw his own supporters under the legal bus instead.

Three years later, the only thing that has changed is that their supporters are now also exposed to the risk of contracting Covid-19 to wage the battle of Sahpra, which neither they nor their leaders know anything about.

Members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) chant and hold placards as they march towards the offices of the South African Health Product Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) in Pretoria, June 25, 2021. (Photo by Phill Magakoe / AFP)

Like so many times in history, they’re just fodder, a rounding error in someone’s sick ambition game.

Shackleton, the hero, the leader, was in many ways unique and might not return soon. Today’s “leaders” – Trump, Bolsonaro, Duterte, Zuma, Magashule, Malema – don’t know what real leadership is and never will. Let’s face it, it’s hard to see anything through the haze of smoke, mirrors and scam that is the world today. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Smart Pick n Pay shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.

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