What would you do if you found yourself in the middle of a violent carjacking event? This experience is often traumatic, life-threatening, and life-altering. It shifts one’s identity. One has choices – to react or to respond. This episode’s guest traumatic carjacking incident on April 11th became a defining leadership moment. Host Anne Pratt is with none other than H. E. Prof. Dr. Ambassador Tal Edgars. Professor Edgars is a multi-awarded businessman, academic, author, and diplomat and has been profiled as one of the most sought-after strategists of the 21st century. H.E. Professor Edgars also discusses how he defines ‘leadership,’ the biggest leadership challenges in South Africa and the world, the role of African kingdoms, and ‘Ubuntu’s’ current relevance and impact. Professor Edgars shares much-needed conversations. Tune in, and do not miss out!
Listen to the podcast here.
A Carjacking Leadership Moment with H.E. Prof. Dr. Edgars
React or Respond to a Traumatic Moment
Our bold leader joins us from the Southern tip of Africa from the land of my birth, South Africa. He was raised by his pioneering grandmother, who served as a diplomat, and was raised in exile on multiple continents. He’s a global multi-awarded businessman, academic, author, and diplomat, and has been profiled as one of the most sought-after strategists of the 21st century. That’s pretty intimidating.
He has not just 1 but 3 Doctorate degrees. The first is in Strategic Foresight, the second is in Diplomacy and Security Intelligence, and the third is in the Psychology of Law. He has a double Masters in Actuarial Science and Economics. He has been called the rainmaker, the kingmaker, a Pan-Africanist at heart, and a person who served and counseled kings, prime ministers, presidents, and corporate boards globally. Stay with us as he shares what drove his hunger to succeed, how he redefined his urgent ideals, and what kingdoms still have to offer us regarding understanding, knowledge, wisdom, and the clarion call for leaders. We warmly welcome His Excellency Prof. Dr. Tal Edgars. Welcome to the show.
Greetings, Prof. Edgars. It’s such a joy to meet you in person after our interaction. Thank you for being part of this global conversation.
Thank you for having me.
Looking at your background, I marvel at it. I have read thousands of resumes in my professional career and life. I can’t even imagine how you have begun to achieve all these accomplishments in academia, in the world of business, and in the world of giving back. As a starting point, what has been the critical factor that has created what you call this hunger to succeed for you?
Most people would liken it to persistence, motivation, and all the other things we would want to throw under the haystack. Mine was merely coming from motherhood. I watched my mother and my grandmother struggle in what was then South Africa and the identity of not being able to be at the leadership or the forefront of so many things. Still, I was much more blessed to have a front-row seat toward them being in leadership.
While we were in exile and rotating different countries, one common thing for me was to start to identify from a very young age that women had no place in leadership. Being honed by these women whom I looked toward as both mother and father, they then inculcated in me that when you get your chance, as you put on your crown, make sure you create space. It became as ordinary for me that whenever I could speak up about anything else, I would speak up about gender.When you get your chance as you put on your crown, make sure that you create space. Click To Tweet
Before I would speak up about security and anything else, I would speak up about gender because that was what was very reasonable to me, coming from a home setting. I was driven by the pains and the anguish of what was then the 3rd and the 4th administration of women in deliberation. Growing up in a more civilized world in the middle of the United States with democracy as much as they have and coming back home and seeing the reality that we must start to fix things is what drove me now to say, “How do we fix things in business, leadership, and religion?” That’s where it all started.
That’s remarkable. I was curious. I was delighted to learn that we grew up in the same home province of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. Having alluded to your young life, can you take us back to a particular moment in your young life that was a very difficult dark time or a specific event? What was that moment? What was the revelation? How did you navigate through that early childhood experience?
You have had a number of them. Growing up in apartheid South Africa is difficult for any young child of color or any young child. Many families, including myself, were very much part of the liberation struggle, but people in your position had added weight, pain, and trauma. Can you take us back to a moment in time? What was it? How did you feel? What was the revelation at that moment?
It was wrestling the moral advantage. Here we were in a country where there was so much disproportionate regarding what you could do and who you could become. Back then, you were known by where your ID was from. You were not allowed to cross over to certain parts. Freedom was not the element. We didn’t look at it and said, “This is what we wanted.” It was the idea that what becomes of that freedom when you finally get it? We were taught early in advance that it is not just about paying attention to you as a leader. It was the people around you. I’m saying I was wrestling with the moral advantage because many have seen that the people who went to exile were different from those who stayed back.
What year did you go into exile? Was there a particular event that triggered that moral advantage? Was it moving into exile?
It didn’t trigger it because my grandmother had also moved into diplomacy. While she was appointed to move into countries like Mozambique and Botswana, from Botswana into Tanzania, from Tanzania to Kenya, and from Kenya moving to Norway. Each of these moves as you would want to have them. They challenged the game’s rules because each of these countries was testing whether or not we had it in us to continuously fight for the same thing that we insisted we needed, not only in South Africa but across the African belt.
In South Africa, at that point, we were talking about apartheid. Does anybody remember the massacres that were happening in Botswana when we talked of the Francistown massacre, where many South Africans were killed? My grandmother used to eulogize and say, “Nobody visited the graves there.” You move on to countries like Tanzania. They opened their gates and said, “Come in. Create a community.” There was a community of South Africans in Tanzania. I remember quite well how that worked, moving into Kenya.
The issue was looking at what we could do in many countries and still remain with our identity. How were we going to bring that leadership identity back to South Africa? It saddens me that the people I stood on, and I say, stood on because half of them are not here and others are here, and when I look around, that leadership identity is lost. There’s a sense in which you can feel that we have long lost the courage to look at things from that moral ground and call it as it is, but now we are massaging and romanticizing certain ideals of leadership based on what is happening in the US or the UK.
We have drawn quite a blurred line for even the youth because you can tell that power taken is not power that can be worked with. They are not thinking about the impact on society anymore. We are thinking about how to transform and drive our society. In my little way, what we learned along the way while we were in exile was our brotherhood. When we talk about ubuntu, it is ubuntu in the real meaning, not just from the word, and we can call it once a time. It was in the sense of it.Power taken is not power that can be worked with. Click To Tweet
I wanted to check in. How old were you when you went into exile? Was it your mother and your grandmother? What roles did they play in these new countries you were moving to?
I was 6 or 7. It was only with my grandmother. The disadvantage was that you were clinging onto the traditions of the last point where you were and not those of where you are going. Everything was learning anew. Education, the idea around society, norms, and practices, gave you a whole outlook on globalization. You were not relegated to think about the township, as we would want to put it. I wasn’t relegated to thinking about Black or White. I was relegated to believe that society and the whole idea around universal suffrage and sovereignty of people come not by color, race, or creed of the religion. It came through the brotherhood, and the brotherhood had no lines drawn.
That’s interesting. Could you share a little more? You mentioned ubuntu, our common humanity. Can you share a little more? In your mind, how do you define ubuntu? What is the relevance and impact of ubuntu in the world?
I hold the objective view that if we were to take a stock of reality, ubuntu from what it was to what it is now is very different. A cadre of leaders (the forefathers of the African National Congress (ANC), a liberation movement for the freedom of South Africa) drove the notion of ubuntu. When I say the cadre of leaders, I will evoke the idea of Nelson Mandela, OR Tambo, Walter Sisulu, and the rest, but if you were to look at Nelson Mandela, let’s start there. His speech was very erudite. His tone was measured in debate. He fought high and alone. He became adept at religion and generous in philanthropy. He was calm.
Those are the traits that we are not onboarding. Why? Let us look at the cadre. I am not trying to take more of the fire and less of the friendly, but the cadre is committed to the conviction that discipline and organization are far greater virtues than ideals and doctrine. That’s classic distortion for me regarding what people would fall prey to one day. The elevation of means of our ends is starting to be justified, and the methods of aspiration are to be questioned.
Ubuntu has slowly become a stock of reality for many. Are we changing the rules of the game? Is ubuntu a tyranny of merit? Is it merely from the meritocracy of leadership, and what has become of the common good? Is it a doctrine of lapse that time has gone over and over? What has simply happened is that as much as we have lost the idea of our hyperactive conscience, the traditions of the last century are ignoring those of the last millennium. There’s a huge debate going on as to what ubuntu signifies. I believe it is way overdue for us to look at ubuntu and ask what the deviation is. What is the deviation from what it was meant to be at first?
That’s a great segway. What are the biggest leadership challenges in South Africa, Africa, and the world? What stands out? Is there a common thread?
What stands out for me, and I believe I will make this much more personal from my perspective, is I grow very wary of the broad issues. As much as we might applaud how far we have come, there’s a sense in which there’s a gap between the announcement of these issues and the fulfillment of issues. Everything in Africa now has become something much more likened to where it needs an act of parliament. If we talk about gender-based violence and infrastructure, it’s an act of parliament. Unlike what is happening worldwide, Africa has continued to push the agenda of an advanced state of decay.
The other part of it would be what is the difference between rhetoric and reality. There’s a huge gap in Africa because, for me, in leadership, we have many people who are more educated than they are informed. I would like to extrapolate that much more, perhaps. We have educated mindsets. I call this the tallest academic job. We spend more time turning out graduates in Africa. We ask, “What are we using that knowledge repository for? What is a formed mind?”
A formed mind is where we have ideas of what leadership would look like regarding the psychological components. What’s the leadership persona? How do we navigate this blocked leadership mobility between the old and the new? Are we leaving the government to be a functioning annex? Is it a non-negotiable? Where does the knowledge that we are churning from universities and institutions of higher education all go? Are we more educated than we are informed?
My biggest question is this. How, then, do we use this information? If you had to look at South Africa, and then let us look at Rwanda, perhaps the two for now, Rwanda has been a country that by far we could only tell from the massacres that happened, but what do we learn from the transition of that into a democratic state or into the state of transformation that it is undergoing? We are quick not to learn from ourselves and fast enough to adapt to others.
I’m more worried as to whether it is a deficient system of learning that we might have to worry about because if you look at the statistics of how many people are moving from South Africa to the United States, believing the United States to be a much better idea of where to live and raise their children. But is the democracy we yearn for in South Africa worth fighting for by saying, “These are the non-negotiables,” rather than leaving the state to anarchy?
Within that, what is your definition of leadership?
My definition of leadership is simple. Mine is to look at how we transform society and those around us, not only by what we do. Leadership, for me, is what we can do through us and not by us. If we can let go of the fact that my name is printed on this thing or my name is to be put out on this thing, we will be able to lead without wanting this to be a self-important exercise, but unfortunately, let us be honest, this is what Africa looks like. It is all about self-importance, “I did this.” It’s not about how I transformed this. That in itself would be the transition for me.
If you are to do anything, can it be done through us and not by us? If we talk about transforming economies and society, it wouldn’t need a whole group of people and an appreciation of a wider audience than yourself. That (for me) is the true definition of leadership, where your self-importance is let go of. It creates an audience that invites others so that you have this universal library of minds that can then say, “We did it.” That is the true ubuntu because ubuntu is a “we” function, not an “I” function.The true definition of leadership where self-importance is let go, inviting others, so you have this universal library of minds that can then say we did it. Click To Tweet
Coming back to our challenges, given this definition of leadership, namely what can be done through us, is not biased. In your mind, what are the biggest issues that you think of? What are the biggest threats facing the world?
Many people would liken it to sporadic terrorism and moderate constitutionalism. I would want to paradoxically name it to men and women who have understood the law and even seek its sanction by deliberately violating it in the name of a higher truth. That is our biggest concern. Those who take positions of power have violated that same existence of the law because they understand it and know it.
Let us be honest. None of the leaders we can periodically bring to the table and say they were wrong did not know they were wrong. They did, but they violated that truth because they understood it. They sanctioned deliberately violating it because they knew how to go about it. Unfortunately, that is true. The issues that will most likely damage the countries we work for will not be terrorism, constitutionalism, or capitalism. It will be people who have completely lost the value of the law.
I know you did one of your PhDs in the Psychology of Law. Perhaps leading into that, based on your thesis and your work, what do you think the psychology of the law is?
Let me term that in a much more slightly vexing aphorism, which we use in law, “De minimis non-curat lex,” of small things, the law has no cure. Quite of them, society has looked at as very small. Let’s look at history perhaps as if it was a stage play with scenes building upon scenes, our hero moving from one activity to the next in their remorseless strides to the climax, yet life is never like that. If life were a play, the noises off-stage and, for that matter, the sounds of the audience would drown out the lines of the principal actors. What do I mean?
There are so many realities happening outside the economy that we need to invite into the economy. These realities have become strong biases. When we talk about gender gaps, this is nothing new. Let us look at history and identify where it began. These are all institutional biases, cultural biases, and leadership biases. If we do not do that, then the democracy we fight for and the constitution we invite are only for the elite.
Only the elites can understand because the realities of the world are those who are marginalized, or the minority groups, as we would so far call them, have a very different interpretation of the law’s realities. That is what makes it difficult to cross the bridge. Bringing these people to the fore makes this interpretable for everybody for their good. That is why I said, “Is it then that there’s a tyranny of merit? Is it a doctrine of lapse? Has time gone by? Have we lost the truth of what lies in between the divide?”
It’s a very profound question. Moving to something very personal for you. You went through a very traumatic carjacking. You shared a message with me about how it had deepened your spiritual work and shaped you and how adversity has shaped you to be more, fight to become well again, and overcome. Can you take us back to that day? What happened? What did you go through emotionally, personally, mentally, and psychologically?
That is a question that I have had to ask myself over and over again. I am not one of the few that has gone through it. It is something that has become merely an occurrence of habit. If I were to look at it objectively, this happened to me in what you would call the safest suburbs. This did not happen to me in rural areas or township areas. It did not happen to me in what we would identify in the US as the areas of the Bronx or things of that nature.
What area was this?
This is in Sandton.
It’s in South Africa.
If you were to look closely at that, we term it as Africa’s richest square mile. Here you are with your family. You are driving out from the church. This is not coming from anywhere else. A car comes through, and you are hoisted out of the car. They pull out guns. Unfortunately, for me, it wasn’t the first time. It didn’t look like a surprise to have seen them, but I looked at the negative impact on the people in the car and what I felt, as a leader, felt for that split moment.
Who was in the car with you?
I had my family. I had my partner in the car with me. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a thing where you look back and wonder. I had to ask myself, “Am I going to let this define the feeling of where I am and what I need to do? What then becomes of the reality of tomorrow?” Here you are. You have been carjacked. Guns have come out. The security around both blocks of the buildings disappeared. You don’t have a firearm on you. You don’t have a bulletproof vested on you. You had to run to safety, but the bigger problem was the police did not arrive in time.
You can imagine it happened from around 6:00 to 7:00 in the evening. They arrived at midnight. That gave me again another couple of hours. If anybody else were about to try something, it would have happened. The shock for me was seeing what other people go through right before me. How does this happen to everybody? How do they come out of it? I spent months figuring out, “Why did this happen? It was 6:00 PM. It wasn’t 9:00 PM or 10:00 PM. Why did it happen to me?”
Far away from the feeling of being a victim is how you then burrow that into leadership. It became my urgent ideals starting the next day. The first thing that came to mind was, “How many people go through this? Why is it that we are doing nothing about it? We can say that crime is rampant, but what is driving the crime? What kind of leadership do we require to stamp out the crime but also address the issues of the victim?” The victims are ignored. Self-help, therapy, post-traumatic disorders, and readjustment disorders are things that we ignore.
Going back to work people believe that you should go back to work after 2 or 3 days. They do not understand that this event now shapes the identity of “I don’t want to be here.” I went through that whole phase, “I don’t want to be here. I want to go back to the United States. I’m safer in the United States.” I started to question all these things, but firmly enough, my identity was not shaped by this because of the power of having been through similar situations. This moment allowed me to speak and say, “We must craft a different identity for these people.”
There must be a reason that people are willing to take up and rob people rather than spend it sufficiently in looking for jobs or creating jobs. Why? They are out of work. Ideally, they spoke to me when they were holding the guns. In Zulu, they said, “This one seemed like they have money.” It is a money issue. It’s not a personality issue. It’s not that they chose me because I’m different. It’s not because they would choose you because you are different. It was a money issue.We must craft a different identity for these people. There must be a reason that people are willing to take up and rob others rather than to spend it sufficiently in looking for jobs or creating jobs. Click To Tweet
What are we talking about? The scales of the economy have keeled. They wanted to have a chance to have what others had. Can we address this through the various medium-term strategies we discuss through the APPs we channel out as departments? That is where now the dream began to get involved more in terms of the social development of South Africa. Can we speak about it?
Was that a catalyst for you to get more engaged in that social entrepreneurial?
It was a huge catalyst because before, you used to look at this from a security perspective and say, “It’s a security issue. If you want to live in the suburbs, have plenty of security in whatever it is.” Still, now it came back, and I said, “I want to solve this problem. Can I solve this problem?” Youth unemployment is big. The gender gap is big. The labor in extractive industries is being ignored. The rehabilitation of certain things is being ignored. I want to play in that space.
Before, it was much more high-level, “It was a crime, but I’m sure the government will take advantage of that,” but when I sit here, I look at it and say, “What is the part we have to play? Government is government. They have their duties. What part do we have to play as leaders to say this must not happen?” It is not okay to think that crime, carjackings, hijacking, sexism, or traditional ways of sexual abuse in the office are okay.
We ignore these things and mute those conversations because we believe, “It has happened to me, so it’s okay.” I looked at quite a chronology of comments that came from people. Everybody said, “It has happened to me,” but we had all never spoken before. In the same way, we don’t identify with the idea of plurality when it comes to solving challenges. We have done it so far that even while seeking help, we have lost the identity of ubuntu.
What do you think we could do differently in re-establishing the principles of ubuntu in our brotherhood and sisterhood seeking help?
The first thing is let’s start talking. Let’s not massage, politicize, or romanticize this with vox pops, tweets, and hashtags. Let’s get engaged in it. I believe that this doesn’t require an active parliament and historical facts. As we sit here in the floods that have taken over half of that section, we as leaders are becoming more reactive. We only react to situations, but this is nothing new. We know that the infrastructure there is bad. Why don’t we act on those things without being pushed by nature?
That is one of the things that COVID did. COVID tested how far we have ignored it until nature pushed us to start talking. We started talking about things we have ignored, like health and wellness in the workplace. We started talking about virtual working conditions in the workplace. We started talking about testing our workers. This has never been done before, but are we saying it never happened? It happened before. The swine flu was one of the ones that taught us this.
Here’s my comment on the same. While we focus on COVID, we have bigger issues that have been taking place. We have malaria that has been taking place. We have diarrhea, typhoid, and influenza. We have so many issues that we have ignored as leaders and business owners. COVID brought us down to our needs to tell us the common person’s situation.
This is the first time in history that one person was the only thing that needed to shut down an entire organization. One person walking in and having the symptoms would make us shut down our businesses. Why must we only respond to the loss of income? My bigger question about the idea that perhaps there’s a tyranny of merit and a doctrine of lapse is, “Do we have to wait for an event such as COVID for us to react to society?” Can we not start having this conversation in this discourse quite rightfully so as the one we are having? It’s important, but important in what way?
The significance of it cannot just be for knowledge production. The significance must be for policy change. If we cannot change policy through our conversations, then these conversations you and I are having will be repeated in another millennium, and they will continue. There are more muted good conversations happening but fewer actions to follow through.If we cannot change policy through the conversations we have, then these conversations will be had again in another millennium. Click To Tweet
You authored a book, Good Karma in Business. What struck me about what you said is, “Do we respond only to financial issues when it hurts our pockets and our bank accounts and puts food on the table?” Could you share the basic message in your book, Good Karma in Business, with us? What is the business case?
It simply argues, “Is CSI (Corporate Social Investment) as we perhaps know it confused?”
It’s Corporate Social Investment.
That is the terminology you and I would use because we sit on boards. We are executives but let us use the term that is heard by the people we would refer to as the collective. It’s a confused social investment. It’s the fact that once in a while, a corporation would go down to a place, donate things, and take pictures of it. When have you known good to have a picture on it? It hasn’t been the case. We are learning a whole new form of action in society. The book tries to question the social impact and what would be seen as profit for purpose, or if not, what would then be seen as progress for purpose.
The two identify quite differently in society because people are now starting to push the idea of this partnership for progress, but where is that progress in terms of EBITDA and turnover? We are more justified by what we seek to do. Organizations are cleverly starting to identify how to tie themselves to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Here is where I am about to be much more of the devil’s advocate. What is sustainable? Goals in themselves would not be. Actions are. Is it sustainable goals or sustainable actions? If you were to look at it differently, then we would say, “What are we set to achieve?”
In the medium-term and the interim of society, we have the Global Compact program and many of these programs. I would not want to ignore their significance of them. Still, I need to ask, and I beg to ask, “How do they change the narrative for that one person in Empangeni and not the corporation with a corner boardroom of executives with the highest pay dividend?”
If we can answer that, quite honestly, we would push society to a place to say, “We have a much better society that we have now that was left in our hands than the ones that we have seen.” We are good at strategizing. We ignore what is happening. COVID tested what is happening, but people have had strategic plans. For five years, no risk planning said, “What if there was an event like this?” For you to see the questions, there was a disruption of the supply chain, common living, the idea around relationship building, and so many more.
A strategy is meant to lead us to good plans and action. It’s a question about where the gap is. If there are Sustainable Development Goals that lead us in a direction and say, “We want to make a sustainable difference with a good strategy and a good plan,” it raises the question, “Where is the gap in this?”
It begs the question. You raise a very important point in that. When we talk about sustainability, what kind of leadership do we require to achieve that sustainability? We ignore what that question lies there for. The metaphor has constantly been that it doesn’t matter what strategy we put on the table. It will be achieved. A certain set of leadership criteria is required to create the sustainability we are discussing.
If it costs us R100,000 per job and we are talking about an R1.3 billion investment in South Africa, what kind of leadership do we require to produce 1.3 million jobs within the R100,000 per person index line item to work with? We have ignored that. We are saying, “Whoever has a strategy will be delivered.” Can we not have a merit system that checks and challenges the leadership that we want to see? If we can have that, we will have a formed mind, not an educated one.
It leads me to the next question. You alluded to the global icon and symbol of freedom, Nelson Mandela, or Madiba, as we so fondly call him. In your mind, how relevant are Mandela’s example and leadership in the world when you talk about that kind of leadership for sustainability?
The first would be that the only possible idea of Africa is that of a nation greater than the sum of its parts to him. I pose that to all leaders. The vastness of the continent did not matter. What we fought for in one South Africa was fought for across the divide. We ignore what has shaped our minds, anchored our identity, influenced our beliefs, and made us who we are, but if we were to be quite honest with ourselves, go back, and look objectively at what animated us into self-independence. We would reconstruct the new leadership construct because we have lost it somewhere along the way. We have decided that everything else would not matter.
Everything has become recycled, even dreams, “I have a dream.” Martin Luther King has been recycled by many into different versions of it, but are we acting on it? Are we just speaking of it? If we could go back to what animated us, I believe we would be able to answer such questions. What was the Madiba thought? What was the idea around multiple identities in South Africa, where they are all minorities?
The heterogeneity is a definitional part of the research. There will be a strong library, but how do we combine all this? How do we enforce a uniform rule that sees opportunities open to both men and women and sees opportunities open to colors, race, and gender without entirely having to define them within the roles of society every day? If we were to borrow his thinking and look at what we have created, let’s believe we would be ashamed because we lost it along the way.
Who are you alluding to in ‘we’ when you say we?
I’m alluding to all of us. We play a part in it. I am taking stock of reality, preferably with a clenched fist and eyes at the back of my head but either way, I am one of the leaders. I cannot question what others will do if I am not part of it. Some look at it as, “How do I play a part? What has my role been in it? How am I reintroducing and harnessing the thought of Madiba?”
If we were to go back into the sense of what we call mirror neurons in the world of neuroscience, leadership is imitated as much as it can be worked on. Can I translate that to 4 or 5 other leaders if I can do my best? What you are doing has come through a collective library of leaders whom you have been able to speak with. Individually, each of these leaders has shaped your mind. They have been able to have a strong belief pattern on you. If we could harness that through a strong list of 200 leaders across the continent, would we achieve a different set of leaders? I believe so.Leadership is imitated as much as it can be worked on. Click To Tweet
You believe so. You were born in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. At age 6 or 7, you then moved to various parts of Africa and then abroad to Norway. You came to the USA. You are a global citizen in so many ways. As we know, Mandela or Madiba was truly a global citizen too. When you reflect on so many moments we have witnessed his life and leadership, is there a particular date, event, or moment for you that stands out as a Mandela Moment that truly impacted you and how you think, act, and lead?
There’s one very simple moment for me, and many might not have paid attention to it. Perhaps I might not get the intricacies of it completely correct. I believe it was his first visit. He was debating with one of the famous radio hosts and presenters in the United States of America. It was Ted Koppel, if I’m not wrong.
That was in New York City.
The questions that were posed to Madiba at that particular point in time were questions that I would like to refer to leaders now. One of them was, “Why would he support Cuba when he very well knows that Cuba is an enemy of the United States?” In his answer, he inferred, “Why would the enemy of the United States be an enemy of South Africa?” He was saying, “We are comrades. If they are willing to support us for what we are doing back at home for similar issues that we are facing, then they are our comrades.”
Let us then look at that in terms of Africa. The same boundaries that were created during times of colonialism are the same boundaries that have cut us off from each other. We are very quick to adopt and romanticize the idea of likening ourselves to the West, the East, or Europe if you can. What happened to Africa? If you were to take a general idea, our knowledge production in Africa, perhaps if anything, is only merely happening within silos, yet each of us has got similar social issues.
When we talk about load shedding in South Africa, it is not different from what is happening in Nigeria. Power production is an issue. If we talk about having uncultivated arable land and we are buying more input in a year, it is not different than what is happening in Sierra Leone. If we are talking about gender-based violence, we are talking about contemporary feminism in Botswana and South Sudan.
Why should we not then say that the first dream of Pan-Africanism in the ’56 and ’60s to ’63 when the Organization of African Unity had Julius Nyerere bring the first idea of a United Africa? Where has that concept gone to? We have lost it. We have been much easier to bring up the idea that we are friends with the West and the East. By no means am I saying it is wrong? Don’t get me wrong. I am simply saying that as much as we would like to look at them and admire them, we must also look toward our brothers and sisters and say, “What can we do together that would change and shape the narrative of where we are going?”
It’s an important point because what strikes me about deglobalization, back to populism, and focusing on national sovereign states rather than this bigger-picture thinking of what unites us across boundaries. We think back to the global collective anti-apartheid movement. We had to transcend our national borders to engage the world with a common purpose to eradicate a dysfunctional, oppressive, and brutal system of apartheid.
If I’m hearing you correctly, you are saying that we need to rethink what created our success in overcoming apartheid in South Africa. It was looking beyond our borders. It was fighting those common threads and common purpose with our fellow brothers and sisters to fight a collective fight for freedom.
We have never been tested on the ideals of togetherness as we were during COVID. That ideal stood strong when all borders were shut down, and we could no longer ask for help. We have likened ourselves to the idea that we ask for help even when it’s not needed. COVID tested that because now, industries started to shut down while others started to give birth to newer generations of thinking. That is a novelty of what sometimes times of distress can bring about.
We could evoke that feeling that we can look toward ourselves with a solution to drive our solution because nobody else would interpret our problems to the best of our knowledge. We do, but we have ignored that and now give more presence. If anything, we first write to people from different worlds. I am not saying it is wrong, but I am saying that as much as we can inculcate that knowledge, let us produce our knowledge. Let us write stories of our women’s leadership, our youth leadership, our elderly, and the leadership that they were able to bring to the fore. What can we learn for us to embrace it? There’s a lesson if they survived a tougher time than we did.
If I understand you correctly, you are also saying about connecting across the borders of countries within Africa to form that collective around defining these solutions to many common problems.
We could because if you look at everything that has happened, we have very good knowledge production happening in Africa. We have got Prof. Ali Mazrui and Prof. Calestous Juma. We have professors in South Africa and even within the federal states. When discussing common and foreign currency, Sanusi was a former governor.
Suppose we could bring all that into the idea that knowledge production is being pushed from our African issues. In that case, we could learn a thing or two about novelty ideas, advancing our knowledge economies, and arresting the idea around anarchy. Still, we refuse and ignore what comes from another place, label it as foreign, and say, “That is a Botswana concept. That is a Kenyan concept.” It is a concept of African identity rather than national identity.
On a different note, shifting gears a little, here are a couple of fun facts about you. Moving countries as you did at a young age required much adaptation and change. What was one of your highlights in moving and living in these countries?
I believe the greatest highlight was learning new languages. It’s the idea of having to experience a whole new culture and a new appreciation for language and music. Far as it may be, if anybody in exile were to tell you, music held us together. I don’t know why and how, but I believe we frequently picked and identified with music and culture to the point that if you visited all the people in exile, you would find a taste of Africa in their homes.
That was one of the richest parts of being in exile and identifying and feeling the culture that we have. If you were to go down to the languages themselves, it was not far from what we speak. The difference might have been the dialect in itself and the pronunciation of it, but when you look at it in relative terms, it was the same. We were all banned to speak in the country. That was fascinating.
Which languages did you learn? Which song or music stood out for you?
We started learning things like Portuguese. As you crossed over to what was Rhodesia or Modern Rhodesia, you would look at the Shona and Ndebele cultures. When you get to Tanzania, you see the Swahili culture. Quite around Africa, much more of it was during that time. Many tribes were different. You would see people from West Africa who are in Botswana. They teach you some pigeon language, or you would hear Creole from Sierra Leone.
As confusing as it might have been, it gave you a little sense of identity because you started learning small terminology that could help. If we were to look at it, I believe one of the greatest works of a language was when Kiswahili was made the official language of the African Union. It was a long time coming because those who were in exile at one point in time must have engaged in that language before. It was fascinating to learn that in South Africa, we say inyama, and in Swahili, they say nyama. It’s not much difference.
Inyama is meat.
You can see there was not much difference in every living condition. What we saw as our dress code would be a different dress code with more colors or vibrance. It was a time to connect with the multipolarity of the fabric of African identity. It also created a sense of Pan-Africanism for many of us, not Black nationalism.
What’s your favorite music? Do you have a particular song or music?
We still had a lot of Miriam Makeba playing.
We would have Oliver Mtukudzi and Hugh Masekela music playing across Africa. That was the music that united us. Anybody who remembers jazz during apartheid would tell you that everybody sang along to a jig in the Pineville railway, where people used to jump on a train at 4:00 AM. The music was what united us. It was our escape. The musicians have traveled wide. Their experiences were in their songs. We felt we could identify with the richness of that song.
That’s so interesting. You have been called the kingmaker. You serve. You have been part of advisory councils and personal councils of kings across the continent. What attracted you to working with kingdoms? What do you think is the gift of those kingdoms still with these different institutional structures?
I believe that with kingdoms, one of the things that were there was the difference in the liberties and the limits of democracy versus the traditional context of democracy. They have maintained that rich culture, which we have ignored by far. In working with kingdoms, one of the very evident things was that leadership was not based on how I see you. It was based on communities giving up a person they believed would be the best option for leadership. How did it work?
If we were to question, that is why the federal system of government existed in areas like Nigeria and was newly introduced into Kenya, but the chief roles were still there. Being inside that kingdom, one of the things you also can see is this. Where did these biases come from? Predominantly the patriarchal systems. When we are talking about gender, diversity, and inclusion, this is where it all began. We had traditional forms of government that ignored the advancement of feminism. The richness of that culture ignored that this would be the state in another millennium.
They would only look toward history in terms of a century and what the former king did, but have women been ignored? Have the voices of children or youth been muted? That drove me to understand now as I sit to chair on social development and entrepreneurship. How can we change that narrative by inviting these collective corridors of power to a conversation in times of change? We must fix this injustice.
Which kings are you working with currently? Even if you selected one of them, what do you think their core message would be to the leaders of Africa?
I’m currently working with His Royal Majesty King Osei Tutu II of Ghana of the Ashanti kingdom, one of the oldest kingdoms and one of the most powerful kingship leaders in the world. I believe his message is simple. He’s a very new-generation king. One of the things he has been able to do is formalize the idea that education is a must. Why education? I believe that Nelson Mandela said that education will improve our society. Still, I believe also that what the king is trying to say is that we cannot rewrite the wrongs of today if we are not educated about where we went wrong.We cannot rewrite the wrongs of today if we are not educated to where we went wrong. Click To Tweet
Most of the reactive conversations we are having, if you were to sit in a room, are from a point of emotion, not from a point of education, information, or knowledge, “We don’t want to see this. We do not like to see women in leadership. We do not want to see youth take over the country. We do not want to see foreigners in the country.” It is a personal message, but let us take a step back and understand that education has shown us and taught us the misgivings of society between leaders and misleaders. There’s a leadership cadre that has sat on leadership but cannot inform society of where they are going. If we were to change that, we would also have a knowledge-based economy.
Education is the first. It has been ignored, and we need to go back to that and say, “What is it that is not in our current system that we would need to inculcate for the future of tomorrow?” We cannot survive on bringing up two tenets of what education in the future is as much as you would like to talk about the fourth industrial revolution. By no means am I saying it is a waste of time, but are we talking about issues to do with institutional prosperity bequeathing wealth between the old and the new?
If we cannot define that, that is why many tactics have been, “We want to take things by force,” not by conversing but by force. A lot of things are more litigation than they are mediated. Can we mediate this conversation? If in the olden tribes and the English of the old, many would liken that everything was based on mediation. We would speak in traditional circumstances, but now, we speak using the law. Our courts of law have more cases to do with a breakdown in education, not information.
Here’s one last question. What is something that people don’t know about you?
That would be very surprising, but most people do not know that as much as I love music, I equally love the idea of teaching. Teaching, by far, is my greatest soft spot than lecturing. People have not known the difference. To see a mind form under the gift of your hands is nothing more than a gift in itself. To be able to transmute that of our generation, for me, feels like a purpose. I often say, “It will be a shame to die without making a major contribution to humankind.” Mine, by all means, would be teaching. If I can teach a set of new leaders conclusively, my work will have proven itself.To see a mind form under the gift of your hands is nothing more than a gift in itself. Click To Tweet
You are in the right place and part of the right set of institutions and skills. Being part of this global Mandela leadership movement for change in the world, it’s a great gift to have you as part of it. I do not doubt that part of your purpose and passion is educating the next generation. Is there any final leadership message that you have to remind our generation but also to educate and empower the next, not only from your perspective? Are there any final thoughts that you think Nelson Mandela would share with the world?
I believe it is time that the clarion call is for leaders of a new set of rules and beliefs to wake up leaders who are not defined by the injustices we have so far gone through or the predominant biases we have had in society. They are leaders who are set to create a transformative society. It is time for us to ignore the very small issues we consider ourselves and say they hold water, whether you are defined as corporate, a 501(c)(3), or an NPO. We all have a seat at the table. If we can come together and discuss how we can transform society and set out to transform society, not for our good and children but with a real understanding of ubuntu, then Africa is in good hands.
We are not as backward or far off as people would want to imagine. We are in an advanced state of decay. We can rectify that if we can come together. I believe opinions and words matter. As we would love to celebrate so many leaders when we hear the Nobel Peace Prize laureates, let us celebrate leadership for the most common good that it has done. Let us look at the people in society doing a big change. Let us look at the ones who are trying to do something. Let us embody the spirit of ubuntu and say, “It starts with us.”We are not as backward or as far off as people would want to imagine. We are just in an advanced state of decay, and we can rectify that if we can come together. Click To Tweet
Professor, thank you for your remarkable mind, inspiring words, and caring heart. I look forward to us picking up this conversation again. Thank you for being part of this.
Thank you for having me. Thank you for the message that you are sending right across. I believe that you are a very important and integral part of the world’s future. I believe that many should support that cause.
In partnership, umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu.
You are because I am. Thank you.
A thoughtful bold leadership takeaway from Prof. Edgars is revealed in a life-threatening moment. Carjackers held Prof. Edgars and his family at gunpoint and targeted his luxury car. It was a Sunday evening after church in one of Africa’s richest square miles. The carjackers’ words stayed with him. They said, “These ones have money.” It is about the money, the deep divide between those with much of it and those with little or none.
What happens when we are faced with a traumatic or even life-threatening event? Do we react and come up with somebody to blame, a valid excuse, or a general complaint? Do we respond, pause, dig deep, and find the transformational leadership moment? Prof. Edgars did not react. He didn’t respond with a valid and frequent complaint about crime in South Africa. Instead, he spent months thinking about that life-threatening moment and what it meant about leadership, his leadership, the government’s leadership, and South Africa’s leadership.
He asked himself big questions, “Why did this happen? Why me? How many go through this? What drives this crime?” It was a point of catalytic change. He shifted his view from being about crime and security to consider social justice and social development as an important foundation for peace. He understood this was more than the government’s role. He asked himself, “What is my part of the mess?” He thought deeply about what leadership is required to create a significant systemic change. What happened? How do we get from carjacking and crime to find a moment of transformational leadership and an opportunity for change?
Like Prof. Edgars, we have a choice. Do we react or respond? When we react, we perpetuate more of the same, but when we respond, we dig deep, ask thoughtful questions, and find that transformational leadership opportunity for change. You, too, can make a choice. You can react or respond. Until next time, remember that leading boldly is about making thoughtful and clear choices. Bold leadership is about taking bold action one step at a time. One step for you, but together, a giant step for humanity. Take care and take thoughtful and bold action.
- Tal Edgars
- Sustainable Development Goals
- Global Compact
About H.E Prof. Dr. Tal Edgars
Visionary thinker, inspiring leader, and an intelligent strategist. Thought leadership, operations, program management, revitalization, and expansion expert. Resourceful networker and persuasive negotiator; identifying issues and delivering effective solutions; developing teams and leveraging resources; cultivating boards and donors; and driving communication and brands. Has met each goal in these complex environments with record-level measurable performance, visibility, impact, and revenue results.