Our country needs more selfless leaders such as Basetsana Kumalo

Basetsana Kumalo. Picture Credit: Instagram
Basetsana Kumalo. Picture Credit: Instagram

I gate-crashed the launch of Somizi Mhlongo's book at Exclusive Books at Hyde Park Corner the other day - and it was unintended, I promise you.

I was browsing the shelves at the bookstore when a wave of excitement suddenly rippled across the otherwise austere environment.

When I looked up, there was Somizi with quite a colourful entourage. It was only then, after a hurried ask, I was told he was launching a book.

I thought I should go home, seeing as I didn't have an invitation. But a part of me said I should stay, and gate-crash. I don't regret having stayed.

It turned out to be unlike any book event I'd attended before. This, after all, was the Njomane motor mouth launching a book. A fellow snob standing next to me said he never would have associated Njomane with books.

Anyway, the highlight for me was the presence of Basetsana Kumalo. By the time Kumalo became Miss South Africa in 1994, that pageant already oozed power and glitz. But Kumalo and Jacqui Mofokeng, who had made history by being the first black Miss South Africa in 1993, infused gravitas to it. During their respective reigns, and immediately thereafter, Miss South Africa went beyond the incumbent's looks and body shape.

They raised the bar. After their tenure, a reigning Miss South Africa became the country's ambassador. She could be counted upon to make articulate statements about world poverty and inequality; about how to fight for gender equality, how to combat epidemics. To put it bluntly, Mofokeng and Kumalo brought brains to the Miss South Africa contest.

Which forces me to claw back to a time when, as a young journalist in Durban, I was once asked to adjudicate in a local beauty contest.

At some stage during the contest, which was held at Diakonia Ecumenical Centre, a contestant was asked: "What is your favourite dish?"

To which she answered proudly, "Tupperware." Then another contestant was asked, "What are you going to do after school?" To which she responded, "Homework." Yet another one was asked, "How do you stay in such good shape?" She responded, "I run away every afternoon."

Don't ask me why we had to pose our questions in English considering the fact that everyone at the hall spoke Zulu.

Back then, and sadly it is still the case today, English was erroneously used as a measure for intelligence.

Be that as it may, Mofokeng and Kumalo not only proved their mastery of the English language, but they also showed that a beauty queen could be intelligent, classy, and, above all, boast leadership qualities.

And that's what Kumalo still is: a leader. It is through Kumalo's unstinting moral and intellectual support that Somizi is where he is.

Yes, he's got his own talent, but talent is not enough. When he loses focus, and falters, he turns to Kumalo. That comes through in the book that he was launching that evening.

With the black community being in the doldrums when it comes to exemplary leadership, it is refreshing and inspiring to have the likes of Kumalo using their platforms to inspire our youth not to give up hope.

Kumalo's message - she wrote the foreword to this book whose title is Dominoes: The Unbreakable Spirit - is that our youth do not all have to aspire to be showbiz personalities. They can excel in whatever field, as long as they dedicate themselves, focus on their dreams and goals, and avoid shortcuts.

Even at my age, reading the book and remembering Kumalo's speech at the launch I couldn't help being re-inspired.

We need more selfless life coaches like Basetsana Kumalo.