OPINION: How the death of George Floyd should make South Africa ask: where is the next Nelson Mandela?

The unjust killing of George Floyd troubled my soul, and brought me to tears. The global outcry prompted by the deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many others has prompted a much needed discussion on racial justice. The stories I have heard about the injustices in the United States today has triggered a reminder for me of South Africa’s apartheid that was similar to America’s Jim Crow. While advancements were made with the U.S. Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, and apartheid ended in 1994 just over a quarter century ago, both countries still deal with structural and historical inequality that affects access to quality education, health and finance.

In South Africa, the recent global protests are a harsh reminder of historical inequality along racial lines. The celebration of Youth Day in our country commemorates the Soweto uprising and South Africa’s own ardent protests which have shifted from calling for democratic freedom then to economic freedom now. Protests are powerful because they bring people together to build social cohesion by rallying around a set of noble values. A common value for all nations to mobilize around is the reduction of inequality. We need to address and acknowledge those who are— and continue to be— marginalized in order for our countries to move forward.

As we see more and more division in the world, we must focus on establishing social cohesion in our communities by sharing our personal stories. Storytelling is the cornerstone of the human experience and human connection. Through stories we construct our world. In my book “My Blood Divides and Unites”, I tell my story and those of others around the world. There is power in your story and how it can connect to others, bring healing from lingering emotions and instil a culture of empathy. As I write in my book My Blood Divides and Unites: ‘’That’s because empathy— listening to the other person with an open heart and connecting with the other person’s feelings even if you don’t agree— can put you in the other person’s shoes, and that can often be a catalyst for repairing and strengthening broken, even hostile, relationships.’’

In the book I call on individuals, businesses, government and the media to use stories and actions to become inspirational leaders. There are many examples of true leadership and reconciliation that happens at a grassroots level. Individuals across all levels of society are utilizing the personal and professional tools at their disposal to engage in racial reconciliation, however, this reality is not always displayed by the media. I believe we can and should share positive stories of racial harmony and social cohesion. We must be intentional about being inspirational leaders in the area of racial reconciliation in order to motivate our peers to play their parts in ending inequality.

In closing, an extract from my book:

“Now is the time for inspirational leaders to move the needle and change the hearts of individuals and nations by bringing people together….”

Who is today’s Rev. Martin Luther King? Who is our Nelson Mandela, our Abraham Lincoln?….I cannot say who the leaders history remembers and writes of will be, but I can say with absolute certainty that everyone can inspire others with their forgiveness,kindness, and authentic desire to connect. Each and every one of us can be an inspirational leader amongst our families and friends, and in the workplace and place of worship. Each and every one of us can be a “mini King,” and from this many, a few will rise to inspire us to even greater heights. Of this I am sure.’’

Jesmane Boggenpoel is an experienced business executive and former Head of Business Engagement at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. She has served on the boards of various international organizations.

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