Time for tears and visionary leaders


Violent strikes are on the increase in South Africa. (PHOTO: Times Live )
Violent strikes are on the increase in South Africa. (PHOTO: Times Live )

South Africa is burning at the hands of strong men. As strikes and protests persist around the country, violence and destruction is on the increase. Reports are flooding in of people being intimidated, assaulted and even killed. In the process property is being destroyed and the expenses to clean up and repair damages are adding up.

I was shaken by an early morning call from a distressed colleague last week  on Tuesday. She was traumatised by an incident that happened that morning as she drove to work.

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I had a talk with this colleague and these are her words: “It was disheartening to witness a man sjambokking another man as he ‘punished’ him for allegedly going to work. One cannot help but wonder what the aim of a strike is when unpleasant incidents such as these happen. Others lost their lives, others lost limbs as legs and arms were broken. But most of all their dignity was publicly stripped during this ‘punishment.’ All of this under the banner of trying to force the employer to accept certain demands.

“The construction industry strike and others which swept across the country had unwelcome consequences. With each strike, our country bled. The workers will now return to work as a bleeding workforce, wounded and stripped of their dignity.”

Another colleague, who is a shop steward for one of the unions, was equally troubled. “We must find a different way to get what we want. This is no longer acceptable. Can’t we learn to negotiate differently?”

Both these colleagues wished to remain anonymous as I asked them about writing about their experiences.  They are both black and from the same communities that are affected by poor working conditions and the effects of the strike. 

May I submit that the culture of beating, afflicting and hurting others to get what we want should be buried in the past, with the evils of segregation and inequality? May I submit that South Africa needs visionary leaders, who are empathetic and open minded enough to accept those different to them?

May I submit that such leaders, if they would position themselves in society and the power-bearing structures of business and unions, would win more favour from their followers and opponents?

Mature leaders
These new leaders would have to be confident enough to go into negotiations ready to articulate their position very well and with enough maturity and willingness to get what they want, but not just at any cost.

The title of Don Caldwell’s book, No More Martyrs Now, sums up exactly what South Africa does not need.  

The shortest verse in the Bible is packed with deep emotions from the greatest and strongest leader to have ever walked this earth: “Jesus wept.” The country needs weeping leaders. Though men considered it weak and woman-like to cry, tears can bring healing to our country.

Our president needs to cry about the poor who continue desperately with no relief; councillors need to cry about the squalor in squatter camps as services are not provided; CEOs need to cry about those children who are longing for their fathers to afford to buy them shoes to walk to school.

As leaders cry they would be able to empathise with the pain and needs of others; and they would be less likely to beat, afflict and hurt others to get what they want.

Jesus wept and so should we – for our country.  


  1. Thank you for an insightful thought. I feel challenged myself. As much as I do not lead anyone nor do I wish to get followers for me but Christ, I think your article goes a long way towards waking us up. I think many of us fear being in front like Joseph…..or David or Daniel…..or Nehemiah….or Jesus himself. I cannot work out why this fear exists in us because Jesus did all the work, we simply have to confess who he says we are and move forward with the Great commission work in all positions which he has given us. I see this leadership in the President of COSATU, a Christian who is enduring ridicule because he believes leaders should be accountable and subject themselves to proper processes like everyone else. Jesus subjected himself to the cross…..how few of us stand up….how many of us stand on the sidelines …..God help us. Thank you for the article.

  2. Hugh G Wetmore

    Thank you Bongani for such a powerful, insightful, sympathetic and courageous article. These labour disputes are sabotaging our nation. Please write more columns on a Christian view of Work, Labour, Management, Inequality and Labour Laws. Why is it that God commanded us to Work, yet the Right to Work was replaced by the Right NOT to Work (strike) in our Constitution? When will the Church proclaim with James (ch5) “You rich, weep and howl for the miseries coming upon you; for the wages of the labourers which you kept back by fraud have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts”? We need to hear God’s Word on Labour issues.