Friday, 18 July 2014

Mandela Day: followership, alienation and longer-term solutions to exclusion

Nelson Mandela Day represents as good a time as any to discuss the idea of good followership. We often emphasize the need for good leadership; we seldom give attention to the need for a good quality of ‘following’ in human affairs.
Some may take a critical view of the notion of followership. They may argue that writing about it in this way is elitist and accepts that some are lower in a pecking order. But followership is a reality of life – everyone plays the role of follower at one time or another. Many people play both roles; they may be a leader at the office, but a follower at a family or community meeting – or vice versa.

Followers may not realise it, but they are pivotal for attaining above average performance by organisations, associations, companies or departments. In the workplace, good followership takes the individual beyond the sense of simply “bringing one’s body to work” and operating only from a sense of duty. Through a sense of followership, employees connect to leaders and the vision that has been set.

In democratic organisations, good followership is even more important. It means taking responsibility for the people we have nominated and elected to lead us. In this regard a good follower holds the leaders to account; asks for information and report-back; assists with implementation, and; supports elected leaders in their role.
Good followership is linked to the idea of civic activism. There are many who only frame active citizenship in terms of confrontational activity.  True, it does include challenge and questioning. But it also involves notions of co-operation, community organisation and self-reliance. These notions were embedded in Ghandi’s notions of ‘passive resistance’ as well as in Julius Nyerere’s ideas of self reliance as part of the process of rebuilding in the years following independence. They were also picked up in South Africa through the core messages preached by the Black People’s Convention and in the work on co-operatives by the Serowe Brigades in Botswana.
Mandela Day can therefore be seen part of the process of combating passivity, and awakening us to our contribution to society. Even if there was redistribution and effective service delivery, no developing country government has the kind of war chest that can address all development needs on its own. There will always be shortfalls rooted in historical realities or global imbalances. Thus, even while demanding greater justice and fairer redistribution, it makes no sense to encourage people to sit back and expect government to solve all their problems.  In areas such as health and education, true community development addresses immediate issues (awareness raising, prevention work, effective parent involvement) while maintaining pressure on the public sector to resolve the larger issues.
This year’s Mandela Day will see the usual wide range of activities. As usual, it aims to get the widest number of people involved. It seeks to draw people out of isolation and into community-ness. Importantly in South Africa, it aims to get people to combat alienation and to connect beyond the divides.

As far as possible, those taking part should avoid making their Mandela Day contribution from a distance. They should seek to do their Mandela Day activity together with members of under-resourced communities. They should talk to those being assisted and listen to their stories, dreams and frustrations. In this way, we will break down the problem of “othering” and the lack of human connection that blocks shared solutions to problems of social deprivation and exclusion.
This year, the spectrum of Mandela Day activities includes work in these areas:

§  Finding a connection to the work of charities focusing on vulnerable groups.

§  Education, including involvement with organisations that promote libraries and reading.

§  Gender violence; one of the biker groups taking part will use the day to give practical support to organisations opposed to violence against women and girls

§  Environment; President Jacob Zuma has called for a focus on local area clean-up campaigns and many government departments will this a big push.

§  Health interventions: each year, some Mandela Day initiatives – whether by government or private sector professionals – focus on taking health services to marginalised groups.

§  Youth work; engaging young people though leadership development initiatives or practical assistance for budding entrepreneurs,
If you are part of our society’s better off, the challenge this Mandela Day is to do one’s 'act of kindness' in a way that does not entrench the status quo or leaves you more complacent about deeper problems. Taking part should widen possibilities for awareness, true engagement and longer-term solutions to Mzansi’s social problems. In doing so, we practice good followership and good citizenship and, in turn, take South Africa a big step forward.



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