Intellectual Skhokhoism – A Redefining of Leadership

African People, being black, arabic or white need to take pride in their context-specific history and surroundings. We should allow our own constructs to inform our discourse. We should put our own frames around our own pictures.

For too long have we listened to slightly overweight middle aged American and European men telling us what leadership is. What we don’t realise is that behind their capped teeth and fancy suits they have already framed the conversation by introducing certain words and questions. The question is not only what leadership is, but whether there still is or should be a thing like leadership? Is it a valid and useful construct? If I had to hear another conversation about star fish or the difference between management and leadership I am going to evaporate! We miss the forest for the trees.

Hence my ‘nuutskepping’ or concoction of the term “skhokhoism”, in particular “intellectual skhokhoism”. Derivitives can include skhokhoist (pertaining to the character of-), skhokhobility (ability to be skhokhoist), skhokholectual (person revealing the particular traits) and even skhokhonitis (wannabe cool to the extreme).

What is a Skhokho? In Mzansi townships being skhokho means being “the man”, or “the shit”. (If you ether don’t know what Mzansi is or if you are upset about the word shit, please leave this page, its not for you) Back to the point: Skhokho is a tough guy, a hard guy, a survivor, not to be messed with. Feminist News Flash: girls or women can be Skhokho too! The term originates from the legendary cullinary South African delight called: pap (phutu). At the bottom of the pot there normally remains a hard section, slightly burnt, a crust; some people like eating this.  That bottom crust, hard piece is called skhokho, hence a Skhokho is the last man standing, the ‘bittereinder’, the hard one… In Africa its good to be called Skhokho. “Sho skhoko, uhamba kanjani?” “ngi grend mfuwetu” And there you go… leopard vest and all.

Back to the boardroom brainstorm of the domesticated classroom word called ‘leadership’: In the title of this blog a proposed a redefining, not a redefinition. The emphasis thus falls on a constant change and adaptation, a perpetual discourse and dialogue in an attempt to keep the notion of leading (following?) fresh. Leadership, like it or not is a bit of a sissy word these days; ascribed to the consultant type that impress with clothing, drawing models or making up acronyms. Leadership has become a specialist field of linguistics, it thrives in conferences, on stage and on paper.

Yet, to get right into it, if leadership is influence, then every single person is a leader since we all influence each other. If leadership is manipulation, then surely some are more gifted than others whether by training or genetics. Ubuntu’s “I am because we are” affirms that leadership is perhaps sold these days as a linear simplicity, a dichotomy implied between leaders and followers. The more you grapple with the word the more you realise that the concept of leadership is as slippery as an Italian politician. If leadership becomes linked to performance or ambition it loses it’s authenticity. It lost its authenticity. Westerners have commodified leadership into a label used for personal upward mobility. But Westerners aren’t the only ones who castrates the idea of leadership…

In Africa there is a further problem, pertaining to chiefs. For centuries the notion of chiefs has ruled (pardon the pun) African societies. Even today, hidden just below the buzz of cash, universities and politics, lies the paralysing layer of traditional chiefdoms where some unspectacular old man and his addicted followers view him as god. This idea of chiefs have snuck into African politics. The politicians, whether Mayor, Minister or President is not seen as a public servant, but as a boss. These are our so called ‘leaders’. Hence the driving with ten blue light police cars and building R200 million houses. Africa has a long history and reality of interpreting leaders as chiefs, to the benefit of the chief. Yet ‘the people’ seem hesitant to stand up against a chief if the chief has the same skin colour as the oppressed. (insert Mugabe and a myriad of other examples)

So for normal people today, what do we use? Servanthood, which is according to me the ultimate form of  ‘leadership’ should perhaps be called just that: servanthood. It is something very different than the things ascribed to leadership these days. Those who wish to ‘serve’, ironically wants to be called leaders, not servants! So I will protect the concepts of serving and ubuntu and hide it from the leadership discussion. Don’t waste your life trying to resuscitate dead things. I will propose two concepts attached to leadership: firstly, the idea of being respected or feared and secondly, the idea of someone causing more change than others. In this sense, and to the extent that leadership has been perverted, I thus think a contemporary definition of leadership has to do with strength; not real strength hidden behind humility or service, but blatant strength revealed through power. In this sense leadership is not a virtue, it is a burden, opportunity and curse. Being a ‘leader’ greatly increases your risk of being an asshole. So to set aside all the pretence I will now call a leader a ‘skhokho’: it is a move that exposes and enlightens, it turns the conversation towards honesty and less fuzziness.

Skhokho’s are often tall, beatiful, confident, smart, skilled, rich, sneaky, reflective, creative, intimidating, charismatic, analytical, brave, strong, from good homes, from bad neighbourhoods, short, challenging, aggressive, arrogant, or any mixture of the above. Skhokholectuals are more than physically imposing or skilled, their strength lies in their minds. Intellectual Skhokhoism is not a noble art. It is the messy business of interference in other people’s lives. Ironically, it can cause good or harm, it can be selfish or giving. Let’s be honest however, 95 % of skhokhos use their skhokhotude for personal gain. Few Skhokhos use their skhokhoist dendencies to pursue love and justice. I say few, because they are there; just in the minority. Yet, skhokhos are encouraged and praised simply for being skhokhos! The admiration asks no questions of social justice or integrity, it revels in results. Hitler was a Skhoko. Taylor, Amin, Stalin, Pinochet and Mao were all Skhokhos. MIllions died under the Skhokhoism of these Skhokos. Today, millions of selfish Skhokhos reveal great Skhokhoism to the destruction of our planet and communities. Should this idea of influence, dominance and manipulation be valorised, should thousands of institutes dedicate itself to Skhokhoism? Why is it so popular to celebrate strength? It serves the purpose of those in power, those who has and seeks  power.

If we on this planet could take all the money, words and time dedicated on ‘leadership’ and instead dedicate it to ethics (ancient variety of leadership) our planet would be transformed unimaginably! But chats and institutes for ethics does not serve the discourse and system that produce super-rich and super-poor. The illusion that anyone can become educated (on paper) and have a career path (through leadership) keeps the billions in submission. The niceties are not kind, they are meant to blind and chain. Kindness can kill.

When I hear leadership, i hear evil. Sure, call me extreme or reactionary. But, that would be a cop out and simplistic evasion.

I embrace my Skhokhoism, but I don’t call it a virtue. I don’t want a planet where every kid becomes a Skhokho- despite my affection towards my fellow Skhokhos.

You have to go through a thing to leave it behind… So if this article makes no sense to you, push harder, become a greater leader… more, more, more… one day, after all the books, tedtalks, seminars, promotions, plans, awards-

revisit this.